Anthony [Antony] Holborne [Holburne or Olborner] (c. 1545 –November 29, 1602) was one of the most acclaimed and prolific composers of English consort music during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. We know almost nothing of the life of Holborne. A shadowy figure before the late 1590s, an ‘Anthony Holburne’ entered Pembroke College at Cambridge University in 1562, and it is possible that this person is the same as the composer. A Londoner of the same name was admitted to the Inner Temple Court (London) in 1565, and again this may have been the same person. It is certain, however, that the composer was the brother of William Holborne, and that he married Elisabeth Marten on June 14, 1584, in St Margaret’s Church Westminster, the parish church of the House of Commons. In the 1590s he entered the service of Sir Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury.
Holborne’s first known book was the Cittarn Schoole of 1597, consisting of compositions for the cittern. The preface indicates the pieces were composed over a number of years. He writes that the musical compositions are “untimely fruits of my youth, begotten in the cradle and infancy of my slender skill.” It contained 58 of his own compositions, and is considered to be one of the most important sources of music for cittern. Six of his brother William’s madrigals were included in the Cittarn Schoole. Holborne contributed introductory poems to publications by Robert Morley and Giles Farnaby during the next couple of years, but no more music appeared until a collection of consort music, The Pavans, Galliards, Almains and other short Aeirs, both grave and light, in five parts, for Viols, Violins, or other Musicall Winde Instruments was published in 1599 and consisted of 65 of his own compositions. It is the largest surviving collection of its kind. Most are of the pavan-galliard combination. Other pieces are of the allemande style. The rest are unclassified. This collection constitutes the only known dance ensemble music by Holborne, his work otherwise being mainly for solo lute, cittern and bandora. Furthermore, the size of the collection and the quality of the part-writing makes this publication a milestone in the development of English chamber music.
On the title page of both his books Holborne claimed to be in the service of Queen Elizabeth in some fashion, although it is uncertain what his exact duties were. He does not appear in any of the registers or accounts of the Chapel Royal. In January of 1599 he travelled as a letter courier ‘for her Maiesties service.’. He was held in the highest regard as a composer by contemporaries. John Dowland dedicated the first song I saw my lady weepe in his Second Booke of lute songs printed in London in 1600 to Holborne. Lute arrangements of three of Holborne’s dances were published in Germany in 1600, but employment as a courier seems to have distracted him from much further composition and apparently even hastened his death. His patron was the Countess of Pembroke, Mary Sidney. According to a letter written by his wife, he suffered from a bad cold in November, 1602, which was the cause of his death at the end of that month. He died of this ‘cold’ in sometime between November 29 and December 1, 1602.
My collection includes the following works by Anthony Holborne:
The Fruit of Love.
The Honie-suckle II.
The Image of Melancholy.
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources