Ravenscroft, Thomas

, an active English musician and publisher, who flourished from the beginning of the 17th century to 1635, was the editor and composer of the best collection of psalm tunes in four parts, which had till then appeared in England. He was a bachelor of music, and a professor not only well acquainted with the practice of the art, but seems to have bestowed much time in the perusal of the best authors, and in meditation on the theory. This book published in small octavo, 1621 and 1633, contains a melody for every one of the hundred and fifty psalms, many of them by the editor himself, of which a considerable number is still in use; as Windsor, St. David’s, Southwell, and Canterbury. There are others, likewise, which are sung by the German, Netherlandish, and French Protestants. To these the base, tenor, and counter-tenor parts have been composed by twenty-one English musicians: among whom we find the names of Tallis, Dowlajid, Morley, Bennet, Stubbs, Farnaby, and John Milton, the father of our great poet. The tunes which are peculiar to the measure of the lOOdth psalm, the 113th, and 119th, were originally Lutheran, or perhaps of still higher antiquity. And though Ravenscroft has affixed the name of Dr. John Dowland to the parts which have been st to the lOOdth psalm, yet, in the index, he has ranked the melody | itself with the French tunes; perhaps from having seen it among the melodies that were set to the French version of Clement Marot and Theodore Beza’s Psalms, by Goudimel and Claude le Jeune. Ravenscroft, in imitation of these harmonists, always gives the principal melody, or, as he calls it, the playn-song, to the tenor. His publication is, in some measure, historical: for he tells us not only who composed the parts to old melodies, but who increased the common stock, by the addition of new tunes; as well as which of them were originally English, Welch, Scots, German, Dutch, Italian, French, and imitations of these.

No tunes of triple time occur in Claude le Jeune, and but five in Ravenscroft: the principal of which are Cambridge, Martyrs, Manchester, and the 81st. This last is still much used, and often played by chimes: it is called an imitation of a foreign tune, and has the name of Richard Allison prefixed to it. Muller’s German edition of the psalm tunes at Frankfort is exactly that of Claude le Jeune, in two parts only; except that he has transposed some of the melodies, and inserted easy leading and connective notes, to assist, not only the singer, but sometimes the tunes themselves; which, without them, would now be very bald and uncouth. Many of these old melodies are still sung to German hymns as well as psalms.

In 1614 Ravenscroft published “A briefe Discourse of the true, but neglected. Use of characterizing the Degrees by their perfection, imperfection, and diminution, in measurable Musicke, against the common practice and custome of the times,” 4to. He had been educated in St. Paul’s choir, under Mr. Edward Pierce, and was particularly conversant with old authors; he, therefore, wished to revive the use of those proportions in time, which, on account of their intricacy, had been long discontinued. He practised these exploded doctrines ineffectually, though to his discourse he added examples to illustrate his precepts, expressed in the harmony of four voices, concerning the pleasure of the five usual recreations of hunting, hawking, dancing, drinking, and enamouring. He was not always very successful in his attempts at imitative harmony; and melody was then so crude and uncouth throughout Europe, as to afford little assistance in imitative strains. Ravenscroft was also the author of a collection of songs, entitled “Melcimata, Musical Phancies, fitting the Court, City, | and Country Humours, in three, four, and five Voyces,” published in the year 1611. 1

1

Hawkins and Burney’s Hist, of Music, and the latter in Rees’s Cyclopedia.