Posted By Claire on September 28, 2015
Thank you to Jane Moulder, the Tudor Society’s music expert and a member of the Renaissance music group Piva, for letting me know about this beautiful performance of “O death, rock me asleep”, a lament which some say that Anne Boleyn wrote while she was in the Tower of London.
There is, however, as historian Eric Ives has pointed out, no evidence that Anne did write it and Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower at that time, makes no mention of her composing it in his careful records of what she said and did in the Tower. It’s beautiful though and is still an example of a 16th century lament. Enjoy!
In the video description on YouTube, it explains:
“The authorship of the work is entirely speculative, as is any attribution based on style. In addition, it would have been very risky, to say the least, for a musician at the court of Henry VIII to pen such a work, although Anne had many friends. Because the work is so unusual, it is also difficult to date. Nonetheless, it is tempting to speculate on the author of the setting. One possibility is Philip van Wilder, musician and lutenist to the court of Henry VIII: van Wilder was unusual in that he preferred the old-fashioned, dense counterpoint of the Netherlands school of composition to the simpler French styles in vogue in the 16th century. Next, van Wilder–who was the same age as Anne–wrote several elaborate works using repeating bass patterns, as is the case for Anne’s lament. Another possibility is that the work could have been written after Henry’s reign, when Elizabeth I—Anne’s daughter—was queen. And in the case Alfonso Ferrabosco I, who served the queen for decades, is the frontrunner.
Both the poem and the musical composition created ripples throughout the 17th century—William Shakespeare quotes from the song on five separate occasions in five different plays—more than any other text—and the gloomy ostinato of the music was used 100 years later by the composer Henry Purcell.”