1570 - 1601
born in Oxford, England, composed during the Renaissance period
John Farmer enjoyed a short but productive career, though he was but a lesser star in the vast musical contellation that was late Elizabethan England. Farmer contributed to the growth of the English madrigal (and its separation from its Italian heritage), as well as numerous other genres of native English music such as the consort song and the English Psalter. His career may have only lasted a decade or so, however. Though no evidence survives to prove his date or place of birth, he claimed to still be in his "youth" in 1591; a birthdate around or shortly after 1570 thus makes the most sense. Farmer made the claim of youthfulness in a poem with which he prefaced his first publication, the Divers and Sundry Waies of Two Parts in One ... uppon One Playn Song. This volume collects no fewer than 40 canonic pieces by Farmer; despite his tender years, his contrapuntal skill is already evident. He dedicated the volume to his patron, the Earl of Oxford. He also attracted the attention of publisher Thomas East with this music; East brought Farmer into collaboration on a new English Psalter in 1592.
The young East needed to travel a bit to find his first job, however. In 1595 he accepted a position as organist and master of the Boys at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. His income was supplemented by a position as vicar-choral in the same church from 1596, though by 1599 he had been nearly dismissed from this job, and was instead living in London. In 1599 he released his First Book of English Madrigals, once again dedicated to the Earl of Oxford. Most commentators see this volume as a fitting amalgamation of both Morley's lighter style and the increasing seriousness of Weelkes' and Wilbye's madrigals. His work appears in a number of other prominent anthologies of the 1590s, and he contributed a fine madrigal to Morley's 1601 multi-author collection, Triumphs of Orianna. After 1601, unfortunately, John Farmer vanishes from the historical record. ~ Timothy Dickey, Rovi