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.

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