Talk:William Cornysh

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Which Cornysh?

Recently, some scholars argued cogently that William Cornysh the elder (d. 1502) is the contributor to the Eton Choirbook, while others think it is this one (d. 1523). Further complicating these issues is Robert Cornysh (aka. Robert Cornysk in at least one catalog), who might be this younger William Cornysh: birth-death dates are the same, and the sole work at CPDL, Adew, Adew (Robert Cornysh), seems to also to have been included as a William Cornysh (the younger) work on a CD by The Sixteen, which also attributes Eton Choirbook works to the younger Cornysh. There seems to be much room for disagreement and ambiguity. -- Chucktalk Giffen 15:42, 14 June 2009 (UTC)

The works in this page (including "Adew, Adew") are listed in Grove Dict. as being by Cornysh, the younger. The only work not included there is "Mannerly Margery Milk and Ale". Grove says nothing about a "Robert Cornysh", and I guess someone probably made a confusion with Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), a contemporary of William whose name frequently appears associated with his own. —Carlos Email.gif 19:18, 14 June 2009 (UTC)

Reply by: Chucktalk Giffen 02:48, 15 June 2009 (UTC)


I would have thought the same, namely that Robert is being confused with the younger William Cornysh and Robert Fayrfax ... but, consider these citations:

  1. also pointing to: - see the June 21, 1970 -- Shirley Marcus Ensemble concert programme.
  5. (Robert "Cornysk" but the same birth-death dates).

The misassociation, if it is real, is pretty wide-sread - of Robert with the younger William. The competing views that it was the elder William, not the younger William, who composed the music in the Eton Choirbook is yet another matter.

Well, it's not impossible that a Robert Cornysh may have existed, but it seems highly unlikely, as you'll see:
  • Links 1 and 1b talk about a "Fantasy" for viols composed by Robert. Both Grove and this link cite a composition called "Fa la sol" a 3 for 3 viols by William. The same fantasy, perhaps?
  • Links 2 and 4 both associate Robert with the song "Adew, adew". The Grove states that it was composed by William.
  • Link 3 cites Robert as the composer of the song "Ah, The Sighs That Come From My Heart". According to The English madrigal, by Edmund Horace Fellowes, this was composed by William too.
  • Link 5 is just a list of composer names in a personal website, so we can't be sure of their source; this is also the only link that shows up in Google where the form "Cornysk" appears associated with music.
I'm not trying to convince anyone of this (lol) but I'm really inclined to believe that a person called Robert didn't exist, and that it was perhaps just an alias or second name of William, if not a "modern" mistake.
Now about the controversy between the Cornyshes Senior and Junior, that's what the Grove has to say:
A number of impressive sacred works are ascribed in other sources to a composer named Cornysh. In addition, there are works now lost that are attributed to someone of this name: an antiphon Altissimi potentia (NOHM, iii, 1960, p.318, n.2); a Magnificat, a Stabat mater and a five-part antiphon Ad te purissima virgo (formerly in the Eton Choirbook, GB-WRec 178) and some masses listed in a 1529 inventory of King's College, Cambridge (HarrisonMMB, appx iv). In the extant Eton Choirbook pieces the style ranges from the flamboyance of the surviving Stabat mater to the simple eloquence of the Ave Maria mater Dei. It has been suggested that the sacred works are the work of William Cornysh Senior rather than the younger man (see Skinner, 1997).Carlos Email.gif 04:15, 15 June 2009 (UTC)

Reply by: Chucktalk Giffen 17:21, 15 June 2009 (UTC)


Actually, I'm inclined to agree with you, Carlos, that Robert Cornysh and William Cornysh (II) are the same, and I've added Robert as an alias for this William.

On to elder versus younger. The tide has recently been turning, Grove notwithstanding. It is now becoming more and more widely accepted by music scholars that William Cornysh (II) - the elder (ca, 1430? - 1502) - was the composer of Gaude virgo, mater Christi, Salve regina, and possibly Ave Maria, mater Dei from the Eton Choirbook, as well as Magnificat from the Caius Choirbook. Notably, in the most reissue of "The Sixteen:The Crown of Thorns (Eton Choirbook series, Vol. 2)", the Stabat Mater is listed as being by "Cornysh (I), William", while on "The Sixteen:An Eternal Harmony" the Ave Maria, mater Dei is listed as being by "Cornysh (II), William" but the Salve Regina by "Cornysh (I), William". The Cardinal's Musick "William Cornysh:Latin Church Music" recording asserts all four of the above works are by William Cornysh the elder:

This disc contains all the music left to us in a complete state by William Cornysh the elder, and in so doing draws attention to the difference between the two composers named William Cornysh – the father and the son. The father is the composer of the Latin church music in the sweeping pre-Reformation style: the son, the writer of pieces in English and courtly songs. David Skinner’s research, printed in the CD booklet, provides the evidence and makes the connection between the Cornysh Magnificat and two other setting of the same text by Edmund Turges and Henry Prentes which obviously use Cornysh’s work as their model.

Elsewhere, from we have:

The Eton Choirbook, compiled for liturgical use at Eton College around 1500, provides a unique view of English music at the turn of the sixteenth century; no other comparable repertoire source for this time has survived the depredations of the English Reformation. Among the 25 choice composers represented stands the name of William Cornysh, contributing eight pieces to this national anthology of devotional music. He also composed 13 of the secular part songs in a 1520 anthology of music known as Henry VIII's Songbook, after its collector and principal contributor. Clearly Cornysh held the respect of King and Church alike; very little straightforward information about his life, however, survives. In fact, recent scholarship suggests that these two repertoires may be the work of two separate individuals: William Cornysh the elder, composer of the mature Eton Choirbook church music, and William Cornysh the younger (possibly his son), actor, singer, and courtier.

And from Wikipedia:

The traditional ascription of all the works to Cornysh junior is the one more generally accepted. However, the possibility that the Eton works are the works of a generation earlier remains, and has interesting implications if true.

Finally, there is a complete page in HOASM about William Cornysh 'senior' setting forth the argument that the provenance of the Eton and Gaius Choirbook works are by the elder Cornysh.

See also:

Since these represent recent (as opposed to traditional) scholarship, I'm inclined to agree with this new view - at least for now.