[Tobias Hume]


version: 12 january 2000

Life and work of Captaine Tobias Hume

Tobias Hume was an english violist and composer who was born around 1569 and he died the 16th of April 1645 in London. He was an army officer, a captain, and an excellent performer on the viola da gamba.

In 1605 he published The first part of Ayres of which a.o. pictures of the title page and the table of contents are acquirable via these pages. The first part of Ayres are also known as Musicall Humors while this is printed at the top of every page of the 1605 publication. In the dedication to Lord William, Earle of Pembrooke, published in this volume, he writes that his life was devoted to soldiery, his leisure, however, to music and that he wished to offer his services in both fields to Lord William.

[music] In 1607 he then published Captaine Hume's Poeticall Musicke of which we until now only added some texts of songs to this home page. In the letter to Queen Anne in this 1607 print, Tobias Hume hinted that he was living in unfortunate circumstances when he dedicates his music to her and asks her not to esteeme my Songs unmusicall, because my Fortune is out of tune ... but to patronize ... the modest ends of the Author of these uncommon Musiques.

At the end of the year of 1624 he entered the London Charterhouse as a poor brother. This institution, formely a Charthusian monestery served as a practice ground for young soldiers and as a honorary refuge for old ones.

At the same time Hume sent an (unsuccessfull) petition to Charles I, asking that he be allowed for leave to proceed to Mickle Bury Land [Mecklenburg?] together with what were presumably a group of mercenary soldiers apparently under the Swedish king.

Afterwards Hume printed this petition, named True Petition of Colonel Hume. From this document we learn that he had served as Captain in many countries, for he writes that he is an old experienced Soldier and has done great services in other foreign Countries. He also appeared to have been at one time a mercenary in the service of the King of Sweden. In this last petition he offers to perform naval and military wonders against the Irish rebels.

It is said that one could conclude from its contents that he was labouring under mental delusion. Unfortunately we haven't yet found the text of this petition, but if we do so, we will add it to this home page so we can conclude it for ourselves.

In 1642 he petitioned the Lords of Parliament as he could no longer bear his poverty. This petition was read before the Parliament (probably by Hume himself) for the title-page says as it was presented to the Lords assembled in the high Court of Parliament. Furthermore, Hume writes that he is unable to endure this misery any longer, for I want money, meat and drink and clothes... In this petition Hume presents himself as a colonel, although in the entry for his death in the Charterhouse Register he is still called Captain Hume.

On Wednesday, April 16 1645, Tobias Hume died in London.


Tobias Hume wanted to offer something special, to set himself off from others: He wanted to publish his own work and not arrangements of foreign pieces. This is indicated in the preface of the first part of Ayres where he writes: my studies are far from servile imitations, I robbe no other inventions... These are my own Phansies...

Hume's main innovations lay in the fact that he transferred known lute and bandora repetory to the viola da gamba and that he was the first to publish music for solo viola da gamba (lyra viol) as well as for several violas da gamba. The texts appearing in some of the songs reflect his personal joys, interest and problems : soldiery (The Soldiers Song), music, love (Tobacco, Fain would I change that note) as well as deep sorrow and dispair (Alas poor men, What greater griefe).

In the second volume Hume publishes a hunting song for a bass viol in alternation with a solo voice, which according to Hume was sung before two Kings, to the admiring of all brave Huntsmen. Here Hume refers to the visit of the King of Denmark to the court of James I in 1606. It could have been that Hume was the performer of this piece, indicating his skill on the viol and his access to the court at this time.

Two more pieces are dedicated to this visit in this same work: The King of Denmarkes delight and King of Denmarkes health.

The two documents The first part of Ayres and Captaine Hume's Poeticall Musicke are reprinted in 1980 by Amadeus Verlag in Winterthur (Switzerland) where one can order these manuscript They appeared together as volume 2 of the series Prattica Musicale.

Captain Humes Poeticall Musicke
This work contains three vocal compositions, The Hunting Song, What greater griefe (this is merely a rearrangement of the same song from The first Part of Ayres ) and The Queenes New-yeeres gift.

The remaining are instrumental ensemble works, where three compositions appeared earlier in The First Part of Ayres, "The Earle of Pembroke his Galliard", "The Spirit of Gambo", and the piece "A mery conceit" which in the first volume was referred to as "Tickell Tickell".


William V. Sullivan wrote a thesis for the University of Hawaii about Tobias Hume. Sullivan describes the life and work of Hume, and gives a complete description of the British Museum's copy of Hume's first publication First Part of Ayres . The several chapters are published sequentially in the following numbers of the Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, Sullivan, W. V. 'Tobias Hume First Part of Ayres (1605)'
JVdGSA 5(1968) pp. 5-15
JVdGSA 6(1969) pp. 13-33
JVdGSA 7(1970) pp. 92-111
JVdGSA 8(1971) pp. 64-93
JVdGSA 9(1972) pp. 16-37

Hume has written his music almost entirely in tablature. Furthermore he has added many unusual directions how to play his music, such as 'Play this pashenat (sic) ahter every strain', 'Drum this with the backe of your Bow'.

In the British Museum copy of the First Part of Ayres there is a postscript, apperently in Hume's own handwriting: ""I do in all humylitie beseech your Maiesty that you would bee pleased to heare this Musick by mee, havinge excellent Instruments to performe itt."

(source: Groves Dictionary of Music)

Texts of some songs of Tobias Hume:


For those who want to hear what this page is all about. Both these were taken from the CD `The Spirit of Gambo'. Sung by Emma Kirkby and played by Paolo Pandolfo and `Labyrinto':

By the way, these two samples of course are meant as mere citations.


As far as we know only tree CD's exist with music of the great composer Tobias Hume (1569-1645) before 1996. The contents of these CD's are given here. The last one appeared only last year and deserves therefore a special annotation: The spirit of Gambo. And there exist also some CD's with only 1 or 2 numbers on Hume (such as A Musicall Dreame).



Tobias Hume pages were made by Herman Kruis <hvkruis@lorentz.leidenuniv.nl > and Michiel Meeuwissen

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