John Bull, (born c. 1562, –63,
Radnorshire, Wales?—died March 12/13, 1628, Antwerp, Spanish
Netherlands [now in Belgium]), English composer of
outstanding technical ability and a keyboard virtuoso.
Bull was educated as a
chorister of the Chapel Royal in London. In December 1582 he
was appointed organist and the following month choirmaster
at Hereford Cathedral; but in 1585 he returned to the Chapel
Royal, where in 1591 he succeeded William Blitheman, his
former music teacher, as organist. Bull became a doctor of
music at the universities of both Oxford and Cambridge.
In 1596 he was appointed by
Elizabeth I to the professorship of music at the newly
founded Gresham College in London. In 1601 he traveled in
France, Germany, and the Netherlands, where his virtuosity
as a keyboard player was much admired. On his return to
England he continued in the royal service, and although he
resigned his professorship in 1607 in order to marry, he was
evidently highly esteemed at court, being named doctor of
music to the king in 1612. In 1613, however, he left England
and entered the service of the Archduke Albert in Brussels.
Bull remained in the Netherlands, becoming in 1616 organist
at the Cathedral of Antwerp.
Little of Bull’s vocal
music survives, and his reputation rests on his extensive
compositions for virginals and organ (some 150 extant
pieces), published in Musica Britannica (1951). His music is
distinguished less by emotional depth or freshness of
invention than by an unfailing resourcefulness in devising
keyboard figuration. Bull combined with an essentially
conservative outlook a taste for technical experiment and
the solution of unusual problems—enharmonic modulations, for
example, and asymmetrical rhythmic patterns. His command of
the English virginalists’ technique undoubtedly had an
influence on his friend and contemporary J.P. Sweelinck, the
Amsterdam organist, and through him on Samuel Scheidt and
the north German school.