by Jerric Chong
Richard Farrant (c. 1528 – 1580) was a Tudor musician and theatrical producer who sang in the Chapel Royal (the royal choir) and later became the master of its boy choristers. His job – besides directing the choir and playing the organ – involved helping to entertain Queen Elizabeth I by getting the choristers to perform annual plays before the royal court. A few of his compositions have survived; one of them (although possibly composed by someone else!) is ‘Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake’, a lovely little anthem for four voices that despite its penitential theme sounds quite chirpy.
About John Farrant we know rather less. There were at least two church musicians by that name (probably father and son) who worked at Salisbury Cathedral. Farrant senior had a great temper and was ignobly dismissed from the choir in 1592 for physically threatening the dean, who was intervening in a domestic dispute, in his study while a service was taking place in the cathedral! Farrant junior (1575–1618) was, happily, more gentle in demeanour. Unfortunately we have no conclusive way of assigning to either man the works attributed to ‘John Farrant’, one of which is a Short Service (a setting of music for Anglican morning and evening prayer and Holy Communion) that features lots of chromaticism and false relations, and is found in a few manuscripts scattered from Durham to Wimborne (Dorset). The evening canticles were edited by Edmund Fellowes, a musicologist and Orielensis, and published in 1928 as part of Oxford University Press’s Tudor Church Music series.
Were Richard and John Farrant related, and did they know (or even envy) each other? We may never know the answers to these questions. But what I do know is that you can listen to their music in college this week – John’s canticles will be sung by the Chapel Quire at Evensong today (Sunday 5 February) at 6.00pm, and Richard’s anthem at Compline on Thursday (9 February) at 9.30pm. All are welcome to come and hear these exquisite gems of Tudor polyphony.