Giles Farnaby

Giles Farnaby


• c.1563 1640


A talented and original, if somewhat uneven, composer of the English Elizabethan and Jacobean age, Giles Farnaby was noted especially for his music for the virginal, a domestic keyboard instrument.

His parents were Thomas and Jane Farnaby. Some accounts conclude that he was of Huguenot descent on his mother's side, since she gave a bequest to the Dutch Reformed and French Protestant churches. Thomas was a joiner (cabinet maker), and trained Giles (sometimes spelled Gyles) in that craft. Farnaby gave "joiner" as his occupation for most of his life.

Farnaby's Uncle Nicholas was also a woodworker, and specialized in making virginals. Farnaby sought a degree in music, studying at Christ Church, Oxford from 1580 to 1592. It is likely that he was also working at the family trade during this period. In 1587, he married Katherine Roane at St. Helen's Church, Bishopsgate. They settled in that parish and had five children, including two daughters named Philadelphia (the first Philadelphia died in infancy). Richard Farnaby and Joyous Farnaby, two of the sons, also became composers.

In 1592 Farnaby wrote nine settings published in Thomas East's Whole Book of Psalms. In 1598 he published 20 Canzonets to Four Voices. Around 1600 the Farnabys moved to Aisthorpe in Lincolnshire, where they received the lease of an estate in return for Farnaby's instructing Sir Nicholas Saunderson's children in music. By 1611 they were back in London, where they lived in the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate, until Farnaby's death.

Farnaby had one other publication, The Psalmes of David, for voices and viols. He wrote a considerable number of works that were never published, but some of his keyboard works appear in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, the most widely distributed English keyboard collection of the day. The best of these pieces are highly spontaneous and original, and in general his style was advanced for the time. The best of his virginal works are perhaps his 11 keyboard fantasias in variation form. His polyphonic works are less praiseworthy, for his large-scale formal thinking was not at the level of his imaginative variation and fantasia treatments. Farnaby's secular vocal works, the canzonets, are engagingly tuneful, with novel harmonic ideas.