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John Bull

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Biography

John Bull (1562/63–1628) was an English composer, musician, and organ builder. He was a renowned keyboard performer and most of his compositions were written for this medium.

Bull’s place of birth is shrouded in uncertainty. In 1573 he joined the choir at Hereford cathedral, and the next year joined the Children of the Chapel Royal in London, where he studied with John Blitheman and William Hunnis; in addition to singing he learnt to play the organ at this time. After being appointed to the Merchant Taylor’s Company in 1577-78, Bull received his first appointment as organist of Hereford Cathedral in 1582, and then became Master of the Children there.

In 1586 he received his degree from Oxford, and became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal that same year. In 1591 he became organist at the Chapel Royal; in 1592 he received his doctorate from Oxford, and in 1596 he became the first professor of music at Gresham College on the recommendation of Queen Elizabeth who admired him greatly. There is some evidence that she sent Bull on espionage missions: his eighteen-month trip to the continent in 1601-2, ostensibly for reasons of health, has never been satisfactorily explained, and his whereabouts there, apart from a visit to Brussels, remain a mystery. On the death of Elizabeth, he entered into the service of King James. Throughout this time he was establishing a reputation for himself as a skilled composer, keyboard performer, and improviser. He married Elizabeth Walter in 1607, with whom he had a daughter.

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