'This day the organs did begin to play at White-hall before the King': The work and influence of Christopher Gibbons (1615-76)

PhD Thesis

Stubbings, P. 2022. 'This day the organs did begin to play at White-hall before the King': The work and influence of Christopher Gibbons (1615-76). PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Creative Arts and Industries
AuthorsStubbings, P.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

Too little is known of Christopher Gibbons’ life and work: the vicissitudes of record keeping have been particularly cruel to this quiet servant, a major figure in the Tallis-Byrd-Tomkins lineage, whose eminence, pioneering and industry were much celebrated in his day. Key data are missing from the stories of other great artists from early modern British history—none more so than Henry Purcell. Yet, whilst the near-hagiographical status enjoyed by Britain’s Orpheus has had admirers joining biographical dots in romantic flights of fancy, in the case of Gibbons, too much has been pieced together using a starting point that the man was a drunk. (We have one particular biographer’s notes to thank for this.) A new investigation of the structure of teaching practices at court now brings welcome clarity to the biographies of bothmen. Purcell, through his formative years, knew and admired Gibbons. For him and the other Children of the Chapel—John Blow and Pelham Humfrey—their earliest memories would have included Gibbons’ dazzling, virtuosic improvisations, the élan of which accompanied an air of confidence at Whitehall, as the organ, long outlawed, became, literally overnight, the clamorous object of political defiance. These vignettes of theatrical brilliance were captured by their inquisitive quills, and thus the flowering of a peculiarly English stylus phantasticus cameto be preserved. This study examines performance aspects surrounding the three extant double-organ voluntaries that were intended for a new type of instrument Gibbons had commissioned at phenomenal expense from the greatest of craftsmen. Through these and other pieces, Gibbons’ influence on his successors, particularly Blow and Purcell, is assessed to be significantly greater than previously estimated. Further, the present study finds his distinctive compositional style deeply rooted in three well-loved Restoration anthems long-attributed to Purcell. It is the aim of this thesis that Gibbons’ reputation as a Father of Modern English Church Music be earnestly and urgently reappraised.

KeywordsOrgan (musical instrument); History; Musicians; Restoration period; English Church Music
Publication process dates
Deposited25 May 2023
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