Notes on the life of William Newark, Composer
Compiled by Michael J. Newark
William Newark (1450 – 1509) was an English musician and composer who flourished in the period from 1490 to 1509 when he was a Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal and a Gentleman of the King’s Chapel. The Chapel Royal is a group of clergy and musicians whose role is to serve the spiritual needs of the Sovereign. It has been in existence since before the Norman Conquest, and in its early years its function was to accompany the Monarch around the country and indeed beyond. The Chapel Royal went with Henry V to Agincourt, where Mass was sung before the battle, and with Henry VIII to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In Tudor times it played a major role in enhancing the splendour and magnificence of the court and the King, and in addition to their musical duties the Children were required to act in plays, masques and pageants to impress important visitors.
At some date before November 23,1480 William Newark was granted a corrody (a type of charitable payment) from the priory of St. Mary, Thetford. In the document of this date he is not called master of the children but “one of the gentlemen of the King’s Chapel.” In the grant (April 6, 1485) of a yearly rent of £20 from King Henry VII th’s manor of Bletchingley, county Surrey, he is spoken of only as “the King’s servant.” On May 23, 1509, he was appointed “gentleman of the Chapel in the royal household and master of the boys of the Chapel, during pleasure.” As this was scarcely more than a month after King Henry VIII th’s accession, and as he was already a gentleman of the chapel in 1480, the appointment, doubtless, was only a renewal of one made in the preceding reign. On November 12, 1509, he is mentioned as lately deceased; but the appointment of his successor seems, for some reason, to have been delayed for several years, for among the “Fees and Annuities Paid by the King in 1516” occurs a record of £26. 13s. 4d. to “W. Cornyshe, Master of the Children of the Chapel, Vice W. Newark, during pleasure.”
The musical period in which William Newark (also known as William de Newerk) worked is known as the late Renaissance, a major period of English music. The Eton College Manuscript (1490?-1504?) or the Eton Choir books are a major source of music for this period and gives William Newark’s work as the “Fayrfax Boke.” The Latin Service came of age in English Church music under a score of eminent composers and musicians such as: Cornysh, Mundy, Sheppard, Tallis, Taverner, Tye. There was also development of an English school of keyboard music under Redford. The reign of Henry VII and the early part of Henry VIII saw the emergence of music as a central component of English Court life. It was also the period when instrumental compositions came of age.
Obscure as William Newark’s work may be, an example of it can be heard today. The ensemble The Sour Cream Legacy with performers Frans Brüggen, Kees Boeke and Walter van Hauwe, recorders; Isabel Álvarez, soprano; Toyohiko Satoh, lute have recorded a number of pieces from composers of the period under the title “Passion of Reason” (CD label Glossa Nouvelle Vision GCD 921102 EAN Code 8 424562 21102 5). The CD includes a piece called “The Farther I go” set to music by William Newark
The farther I go, the more behind;
The more behind, the nere my wayes end;
The more I seek, the worse can I find;
The lighter leefe, the lother for to wend.
The truer I serve, the farther out of mind;
Though I go loose, yet am I tied with a line;
Is it Fortune or Infortune this I find?
This amazing poem is attributed to the poet John Halsham and plays with paradox and juxtaposition of themes in order to arrive at an inconclusive end (the truth?) Paradoxically, Newark's setting is of a disarming simplicity.
About William Newark’s life, where he lived, his parents, family etc., nothing further is known. Possibly he was part of the family of powerful and influential Newarks living in and around York (see Newarks of Acomb) who had connections to the Royal Court and an ancestor who was an Archbishop of York.