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CORNISH COMPOSERS

Not many people would associate the name "Cornish" with great music but there were several Cornishes who were singers, musicians or composers of some note.

One JOHN CORNYSH in 1472 became a scholar at Winchester College aged 11. Another JOHN CORNYSH in 1488-9 was working as a scribe at Magdalen College Oxford. With his son, he made repairs to choir books etc. at New College in 1509-10. A third JOHN CORNYSH wrote a florid two-part setting of the Easter Processional "Dicant nunc Judei" in the Ritson Manuscript.

There were also two WILLIAM CORNYSH musicians.

The first may have been the brother of the third John above. From 1480-90 he was Master of the Choristers at Westminster and then became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He died in 1502 and his funeral expenses are given in the Accounts of St Margaret's Westminster.

The final WILLIAM CORNYSH or CORNYSSHE lived from circa 1468 - 1523 or 4. He served in the courts of Henry VII & VIII and was a noted composer, playwright, actor, poet, and pageant master. And that is not all! He seems to have been ready to put his hand to anything and supplied Henry VIII with guttering, paving, and even sanitary conveniences!!

William was convicted and imprisoned through false witness and while locked up wrote "A Treatise Bitwene Trouth and Enformacion." (See BRITISH MUSEUM: Royal MS 18 D.11) In this poem William refers to himself by the pseudonym "Nyssewhete" formed from "Cornish" - "wheat" being used as a synonym of "corn".

He was Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal from 1509 until 1523 at a salary of 26.13s.4d. p.a. He trained the choristers and was responsible for their very high standard noted by the French when William took the choir to France in 1513.

William's compositions are very beautiful and mark the development of English music from a most florid style to a more simplified technique. Many of his surviving works are excellently performed and recorded by the Tallis Scholars on an LP (GIMELL 1585-55), cassette (1585T-14), CD (CDGIM 014) and the record sleeve makes very interesting reading.

In 1511 William played two prominent parts in a pageant at Westminster, "The Golldyn Arber in the Arche Yerd of Plesyer". For his costumes he was allowed 14 yards of material for a gown and bonnet and 46.5 yards of green satin for another gown. The audience was so unruly that, by the end of the pageant, the costumes had been ruined! I'm not sure what this said about the performance?

At one point there was a dispute between William and Cardinal Wolsey over a chorister. William won the day and the lad was transferred to the Chapel Royal.

William was obviously held in great esteem by Henry VIII for he paid William 200 for playing for him with the Children of the Chapel when the normal fee was only 6.13s.4d. William was obviously wealthy, for he possessed 8 feather-beds and received an allowance from the monasteries of Thetford and Malmesbury and a grant in survivorship was issued to him, his wife Jane and Henry his son, of the Manor of Hylden, Kent.

SOURCES: F.L.Harrison Music in Medieval Britain (London 1958,2/1963)
Calendars of State Papers, Henry VIII, Domestic Series
Collier's History of Dramatic Poetry, ed.1879
Magd. Coll. Registers, ed.Bloxam, ii 263
Skelton's Works, ed. Dyce, 1843
Dictionary of National Biography Volume 12