Music from 16th century Scottish composer to be revived by choir
HE was a fugitive, a songwriter and a heretic, a Scot from the 16th century who was forced to flee his country under mysterious circumstances.
Now the music of Robert Johnson, a composer and priest who fled the Borders after being accused of heresy, but went on to write songs with royalty, is to have his music brought to life again.
Little is known about Johnson, who is believed to have died in 1560 at the age of about 90, but he left a legacy of sacred compositions, both in English and Latin.
From Duns, in Berwickshire, he left for England, after either fleeing or being banished for heresy.
He also wrote secular tunes, one of which, Dafyled Is My Name, had lyrics supplied by Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII.
Now an ensemble from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will sing in public
It would be fantastic to hear more people singing Johnson’s works
the music of Johnson, based on extensive research by Dr Elaine Moohan, of the Open University.
Dr Moohan said is it possible Johnson was charged under the 1525 Heresy Act in Scotland, because he was writing music with English words, rather than in Latin.
It might explain why he found favour south of the Border, where it is believed he worked in the Royal Chapel at Windsor under Henry VIII, who had instigated the English Reformation.
Nine pieces by Johnson, who is believed to have died in 1560, the year of the Scottish Reformation, will be featured at the concert at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, on April 4.
Ms Moohan, senior lecturer in music at the Open University, said: “I’m thrilled to be working with colleagues at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to bring this music alive once again.
“It’s a fitting culmination to my work on this project, which has seen me spend several weeks in research libraries across the UK consulting more than 60 original manuscripts and very early printed books that date from the 1530s through to the 19th century.
“We’re preparing a programme that will include some pieces that any church choir or school group will be able to add to their repertoire, as well as some that are trickier.
“It would be a fantastic outcome of this project to hear more people singing some of Johnson’s works more regularly.”
The concert marks the publication of Ms Moohan’s Collected Works of Robert Johnson, published by Musica Scotica, which brings together all of Johnson’s music for the first time.
The collection includes 24 complete and eight fragmentary pieces that are previously unpublished. Ms Moohan’s research was supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and built on work by her late colleague Dr Kenneth Elliot.
Gordon Munro, general editor at Musica Scotica, said: “Robert Johnson is one of Scotland’s pre-eminent pre-reformation composers.
“Musica Scotica is proud to be publishing his complete works, and to be supporting this.
“We hope that this concert will reveal the glories of Johnson’s music to a wider audience.”
“The ensemble will consist of 10 singers from the RCS and lutenist Martin Eastwell.”
Anne Boleyn played by Claire Foy in the BBC series Wolf Hall. The real Boleyn wrote lyrics to some of Scots composer Robert Johnson’s music.
Dr Elaine Moohan has researched the music of Robert Johnson.