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John Browne

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Biography

There are two artists with this name:

1) The composer represented by several pieces in the Eton choirbook. (Died 1505)
2) The ex-Fellsilent and current Monuments guitarist.

1) John Browne (fl c 1490) is first among the composers of the Eton Choirbook both in size of contribution and excellence of achievement. It is astonishing that work of such exceptional interest should be known to us only from the Eton Choirbook, even given the paucity of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century sources; works by Walter Lambe and Richard Davy are after all found elsewhere. Carols ascribed simply to ‘Browne’ are preserved in the early sixteenth-century Fayrfax Book (British Museum, Additional MS. 5465), but it is possible that they were composed by William Browne, Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1503 to 1511.

Nothing is known for certain about Browne’s life. A John Browne from Berkshire, born in 1425 and scholar successively of Eton and the sister College of King’s, Cambridge in the 1440s, is almost certainly too old to be our man: for musical reasons we should expect Browne the composer to have been born at about the same time as Lambe, or a little later, rather than a quarter of a century earlier. Therefore it is extremely likely that the composer was the John Browne from Coventry elected scholar of Eton in July 1467 at exactly the same time as Lambe, and aged 14 in December of that year (which would make him just a year or two Lambe’s junior). The John Browne (d. c. 1498) who was Rector of West Tilbury and canon of St Stephen’s, Westminster had important legal and civil service connections and is almost certainly not the composer.

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