BULL, John

(1562-1628)
The English composer and musician John Bull was recognized by his con­temporaries as the most skillful keyboard performer of his day, but his personal life was less esteemed. His career playing the organ and virginal with the mu­sicians of the Chapel Royal lasted for twenty years, during which time he com­posed both religious and secular pieces. In 1596 Elizabeth I* recommended Bull as lecturer in music at newly founded Gresham College; unable to write lectures in Latin, he was granted special permission to use English. Since one of the requirements was residency at the college, and his assigned rooms were occu­pied, he battered down a wall to hasten the previous tenant's departure.
In recognition of his talent, Bull was granted doctorates in music from Cam­bridge and Oxford; his portrait still stands in the Bodleian Library. Favored by Elizabeth I, James I,* and the latter's heir Henry, he served as music tutor to James's daughter Elizabeth and wrote an anthem to celebrate her marriage. He also enjoyed the patronage of many wealthy Roman Catholics, for whom the virginal was a favorite instrument. One of his better-known pieces is "Lord Lumley's Pavan," for an aristocrat who also patronized William Byrd.* Bull collaborated with Byrd on a collection entitled Parthenia that contained some of the earliest keyboard duets (c. 1612). The following year he fled to Antwerp in disgrace, pursued by the king's wrath and a letter from the archbishop of Canterbury informing Archduke Albert that Bull was charged with adultery and other "grievous crimes." Bull apparently had had a long history of sexual epi­sodes, including one that resulted in a forced marriage that in turn cost him his position at Gresham College. The archduke protected Bull, who became the organist of Antwerp Cathedral in 1617; in his application, he claimed that his exile was not for adultery but for adhering to the Catholic faith. It is not recorded that anyone believed this assertion. Bull remained in Antwerp until his death in 1628, known to contemporaries as a brilliant composer and performer with "more music than honesty."
Bibliography
D. Wulstan, Tudor Music, 1985.
Jean Graham

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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