Richard Ayleward

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Born: ca.1625*

Died: 15th October 1669


Richard Ayleward was an organist, composer and harpsichordist in the mid-17th century.

Ayleward was probably born in the 1620s, quite possibly around 1625*, although no definitive baptism record for him has yet been found. His father, also Richard Ayleward, worked as a priest in Winchester in various roles in the 1630s and 1640s. At this time, it is likely that Ayleward Jr. sang in the choir at Westminster Cathedral, and was taught composition by the Organist there, Christopher Gibbons. This seems plausible, as Ayleward’s hand is remarkably similar to that of Gibbons, and to other pupils of his, including Humfrey, Blow and Purcell.

During the Civil War and Interregnum, we lose all traces of Ayleward’s family. There are several possibilities for what happened to Richard Ayleward during this time. He may have worked as the private organist for a wealthy noble patron; this might be suggested by the themes of some of his choral music, which could well have been written for performance during the Interregnum. Alternatively, he may have worked as a harpsichord tutor, which might be suggested by his prolific number of surviving harpsichord works. Or, just possibly, given his Royalist sentiments and familiarity with continental styles, he may have been connected with the exiled Royal Court in France.

Whatever happened during the 1640s and 1650s, we find record of Ayleward’s family again with the Restoration of the Monarchy. The father remained in Winchester, working at the Cathedral there. Richard Ayleward himself became Organist at Norwich Cathedral in the spring of 1660, and worked in that post until 1664. At that time, he seems to have left for other work, and was replaced by Thomas Gibbs. After Gibbs died of the plague in 1666, Ayleward returned to the role of Organist, and worked at Norwich Cathedral until his death in late 1669. He was buried in the building, in the south aisle of the Nave. His memorial, which no longer survives, included a highly complimentary epitaph, which demonstrates just how well regarded he was in his place of work.

Ayleward is mostly known in the modern day for two portions of his Short Service: the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, and the Responses. However, this is some of the simplest of his output, and his other music deserved to be better known. Complete sets of parts survive for two elaborate verse settings of the Magnificant and Nunc Dimittis, along with twenty verse anthems. These verse anthems vary in scope from small devotional works for single solo voice and four/five part chorus to grand works for many voices. These include an anthem for eight soloists and eight-part chorus, ‘Blow the Trumpet in Sion’, and two anthems for twelve soloists, ‘I was glad’, and ‘I will not come within the tabernacle’. Ayleward also wrote an anthem for the Coronation of Charles II, although the fragmentary records of the Coronation mean that it is not possible to determine whether it was performed at the Coronation itself, or at a separate ceremony in Norwich. In addition, a significant volume of his harpsichord music survives, more than almost any other composer of his generation.

*There is no evidence to suggest that Ayleward was born in 1626, despite this being commonly stated. That date is based on an off-hand remark made by A. H. Mann in one of his private manuscripts which, in a talk given in 1903, he clarified was nothing more than a guess.

View the Wikipedia article on Richard Ayleward.

List of choral works

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