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He supervised the building of a new organ for the Cathedral in 1613-14 by Thomas Dallam, who had previously been sent to the Sultan of Turkey by Queen Elizabeth with the notion of a naval alliance against Spain. Her gift was a splendid organ surmounted by a striking clock. The Sultan rose behind him, a curious observer with scimitar all too ready, Dallam felt, to strike his head off as he played. Worcester music flourished under Tomkins till the arrival in 1642 of Lord Essex's Roundhead troops and substantial damage to the organ. Worse was to follow in July 1646. The Dallam organ was dismantled on the 20th, and three days later a local diarist reported a final act of worship in the Cathedral: 'This day many gentlemen went to six o'clock prayers to the College, to take their last farewell of the Church of England service, the organ having been taken down.'

Tomkins's fame spread readily to London. In celebration of Queen Elizabeth, he contributed a madrigal, 'The fauns and satires tripping', to The Triumphes of Oriana (1601). He mourned the funeral of Prince Henry in 1612 with the anthem Know ye not. Already a Gentleman in Ordinary at the Chapel Royal, he became an organist there in 1621. A bureaucratic blunder by the Bishop of Bath and Wells had him appointed 'Composer in ordinary of the king's musick', when the post had already been given to another. Tomkins therefore withdrew, but he lived long enough not only to survive the fall of Worcester to the parliamentarians, but to remain active as a composer in the Cathedral close (he had been granted a property there after thirty years' service) till after the execution of Charles I, when he wrote for the keyboard a Sad Pavan: for these distracted times and dated it 14 February 1649, some two weeks after the king's death.

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Copyright © 27 July 2003 Robert Anderson, London UK


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