Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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V. Wilmer: ‘Lonnie Johnson’, Jazz Monthly, ix/10 (1963), 5–7 [interview]

R. Groom: ‘Lonnie Johnson’, Blues World, no.35 (1970), 3–10

V. Clapp: ‘I Remember Lonnie’, Jazz Journal, xxv/1 (1972), 22, 39

D.L. Read: ‘Lonnie Johnson’, Guitar Player, xv/11 (1981), 61–70 [incl. discography]


Johnson, Robert (i)

(b Duns, c1500; d c1560). Scottish composer. According to Thomas Wood (i)’s marginal notes in the St Andrews Psalter (EIRE-Dtc, GB-Eu, Lbl, US-Wgu, copied 1566–92) he was a Scottish priest, born in Duns, was accused of heresy and fled to England long before the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Although an act of parliament had been passed in Scotland against the Lutheran heresy as early as 1525, Johnson’s surviving music for the Roman rite appears on stylistic grounds to date from the 1520s and 1530s. Although all of it is extant only in English sources, Johnson could have composed some of the early items (e.g. Ave Dei Patris filia and Laudes Deo) while still in Scotland. Wood also stated that in England Johnson knew Thomas Hudson the elder, of the Hudson family of musicians from York, who entered service at the Scottish court in 1565. Johnson may have spent some time in York, perhaps on his way south in the 1530s. There is no clear contemporary evidence of his subsequent whereabouts in England, although he is described as ‘peticanon of Windsor’ in a late 16th-century manuscript. The charming (though totally unsubstantiated) fancy that Johnson was chaplain to Anne Boleyn probably grew out of the fact that he set a text attributed to her.

Johnson’s early Ave Dei Patris filia for five voices is a large-scale votive antiphon cast in a traditional mould: a sequence of well-defined sections for three, four and five voices in a mixture of free and imitative counterpoint, characteristic of British sacred music of the 1520s. Some of these sections were later often listed as separate items, and have since been erroneously referred to as individual works. Laudes Deo is an extended and luxuriantly decorative setting for two voices of a troped lesson for Christmas. The Easter verse Dicant nunc Judei, also for two voices, is shorter and much simpler in melodic outline and may be of a later date. Progressive structural imitation is a feature of this composition, as it is of the two settings for four and five voices of the Easter responsory Dum transisset Sabbatum, although here it is combined with cantus-firmus technique, producing some strong dissonances. The Matins responsory Gaude Maria Virgo for four voices (a fifth was added later in an instrumental version) shows growing assurance in the handling of imitation, and its short motivic phrases suggest the influence of the post-Josquin generation of continental composers, and a date somewhere in the 1530s.

From about 1540 in England polyphonic settings of verses from the psalms in Latin acquired something of the scope and function of the earlier votive antiphon. Johnson’s three examples in the form, Deus misereatur nostri (Psalm lxvii) for four voices and two settings of Domine in virtute tua (Psalm xxi) for five voices, are all large-scale works using consistently applied structural imitation throughout. The two settings of Domine in virtute tua are two different workings of the same (or very similar) material.

Also from the 1540s in England date the first attempts to adapt Latin compositions to English words, and to write sacred music to English texts and in a completely chordal idiom. Johnson’s O eternal God, written in the four-part chordal style that was to become standard for psalm and canticle setting, almost certainly dates from the late 1540s. Perhaps contemporary with this is Benedicam Domino, a mixture of chordal writing and close imitation. Slightly later and more polyphonic in character is I geve you a new commaundement; this, together with O eternal God, was published in John Day’s Certaine Notes (1565), a collection of English service music. An English version of Johnson’s Deus misereatur nostri with a rhyming text (not very satisfactorily underlaid) entitled Relieve us, O Lord also appeared in Day’s collection. Johnson’s music for the Morning, Communion and Evening Service (Te Deum, Jubilate, Benedictus, Creed, Magnificat, Nunc dimittis) is written entirely in homophonic style and probably dates from the 1550s. O happy man, sometimes attributed to Johnson, is almost certainly by Sheppard.

Secular vocal music by Johnson includes Ty the mare tomboy, an extended song that survives only in a single part in a manuscript of Durham provenance, perhaps dating from Johnson’s sojourn in the north of England about 1530. The anthem-like setting of Defiled is my name is traditionally linked with Anne Boleyn (d 1536), but musically more akin to the sacred compositions of around 1550. Com palefaced death by ‘Johnson’ could be a theatre piece in the newly developing consort song style of the 1560s, or it may be by a younger contemporary of the same name. Instrumental consorts by Johnson include a five-part In Nomine and a five-part piece A knell, based on an ostinato. The In Nomine, two canonic settings of O lux beata Trinitas and a fragmentary setting of O lux mundi seem to be early works; A knell appears to be a mature middle-period work.


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