(bc1570; fl 1591–1601). English composer. The approximate date of Farmer's birth is deduced from a prefatory poem to his published collection of canons, which makes it clear that he was at that time (1591) still ‘in youth’. This publication, like Farmer's later madrigal volume (1599), was dedicated to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, whose patronage he enjoyed. Farmer was, with George Kirbye, the most liberally represented contributor to East's psalter (RISM 15927). On 16 February 1595 he was appointed Organist and Master of the Children at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and on 10 August 1596 he became a vicar-choral there. In 1597 he was threatened with dismissal for unauthorized absence, and he returned, remaining there until 1599, in which year he is known to have been living in Broad Street, London. He contributed to The Triumphes of Oriana (160116).
Farmer's Divers and Sundry Waies of Two Parts in One (1591) is a demonstration of technical expertise in 40 two-part canons, each in combination with the same ‘playnsong’ cantus firmus. East was evidently impressed by Farmer's skill, and employed him in the following year for his psalter, not only to set seven of the standard psalm tunes, but also to harmonize the 13 introductory items (canticles, Lord's Prayer, etc.). In his four-voice madrigals (1599) Farmer followed in the line of the light madrigal naturalized into English music by Morley, though there are already hints of an added seriousness which relates them to the new trends appearing in the work of Weelkes and Wilbye. The rising chromatic opening of The flattring words, for example, is modelled on the conclusion of Weelkes's Cease sorrowes now, published two years earlier. There is also a general affinity with Weelkes's massive sonorities in Farmer's eight-voice You blessed bowers, which concludes the volume; this contrasts sharply with the finer textures typical of most other pieces in the book. The unbroken liveliness and precise musical characterization of textual details of Faire Phyllis I saw sitting all alone have made it one of the most popular English madrigals. In most of his madrigals Farmer mixes passages of gentle pathos or melancholy with facile canzonet-like counterpoint. The one clear exception to this style is Take time, a cantus-firmus piece composed on repetitions of an ascending and descending hexachord in the tenor; this appears to be an instrumental work to which words of a markedly pre-madrigalian moralizing character have been added. Farmer's first-rate Oriana madrigal, Faire nymphs I heard one telling (in 160116), confirms his position as one of the better minor English madrigalists.
Divers and Sundry Waies of Two Parts in One, to the Number of Fortie, uppon One Playn Song (London, 1591); ed. in Bowling
20 works, 15927
1 contrafactum, GB-Och
The First Set of English Madrigals, 4vv (London, 1599/ R); ed. in EM, viii (1914, 2/1978)
Madrigal, 6vv, 160116; ed. in EM, xxxii (1923, 2/1962)
Cedipa Pavin and Cedipa Galliard in P. Rosseter's Lessons for Consort (London, 1609/R); ed. in Early Music Library, cxcv (London, 1991)
E.H.Fellowes: English Madrigal Verse, 1588–1632 (Oxford, 1920, enlarged 3/1967 by F.W. Sternfeld and D. Greer)
E.H.Fellowes: The English Madrigal Composers (Oxford, 1921, 2/1948/R)
L.P.Bowling: A Transcription and Comparative Analysis of ‘Divers and Sundry Waies of Two Parts in One’ (1591) by John Farmer (DA diss., U. of Northern Colorado, 1982)
Farmer, John (ii)
(b Nottingham, 16 Aug 1836; d Oxford, 17 July 1901). English educationist and composer. Brought up in Nottingham, where his uncle led the town’s amateur musical life, he received his professional training at the Leipzig Conservatory and under Andreas Späth at Coburg before spending several years as a music teacher in Zurich. He is remembered for bringing music to life at Harrow School, where he taught between 1862 and 1885; but the circumstances of his joining the school are obscure, and for some years he was not formally a member of staff. Resisting an academic approach, he showed the boys that massed singing was enjoyable, writing many songs for them that celebrated events in school life, introducing light-hearted songs, glees and partsongs, and instituting house singing. In 1885 he was appointed organist at Balliol College, Oxford, where he instituted evening concerts and a music society in the college. He published Harrow School Songs (Harrow, 1881), Harrow School Marches (Harrow, 1881), the Harrow Songs and Glees (London, c1890), Gaudeamus (London, 1890) and various ephemeral works including an oratorio The Coming of Christ (performed 1899), a children’s oratorio Christ and his Soldiers (Harrow, 1878), and two operas, Cinderella (London, c1883), produced at Harrow in 1883 and in London the next year, and The Pied Piper (London, n.d.). His instrumental works include two septets for piano, flute and strings and a piano quintet.
DNB (E. Walker)
J.D.Brown and S.S.Stratton: British Musical Biography (Birmingham, 1897/R)
P.A.Scholes, ed.: The Mirror of Music, 1844–1944: a Century of Musical Life in Britain as Reflected in the Pages of the ‘Musical Times’ (London, 1947/R)
B.Rainbow: Music and the English Public School (Aberystwyth, 1990)