Albertus Bryne (c.1621-1668)

The Life of Albertus Bryne


Born around 1621, Albertus Bryne (pronounced ‘brine’ as in salty water) lived through the turbulent years of the English Civil War, the Commonwealth and the first few years of Charles II’s reign as restored monarch. He was trained as a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London by John Tomkins whom he succeeded as organist in about 1638.


His professional life suffered several unfortunate setbacks. He lost his post at St. Paul’s Cathedral twice, first when services ceased due to the outbreak of the rebellion in 1642 and then again after the Great Fire of London in 1666. In fact he was gainfully employed at St. Paul’s for only eight or nine years despite nominally holding the post from the age of 17 until he was about 45. After the Great Fire, he became organist of Westminster Abbey in succession to Christopher Gibbons but only for the last two years of his life. These circumstances go some way to explain his relative obscurity today.


During the years of civil war and the ensuing administrative upheaval Bryne was by no means idle although the political climate prohibited any musical employment in church. The majority of his surviving keyboard music is designed for domestic rather than church use and probably originates from this time. Like many of his colleagues he may have sought refuge by travelling west perhaps visiting Royalist strongholds such as Oxford, Hereford and Ludlow or the West Country. He was certainly in London during the Protectorate as John Playford’s Musicall Banquet (1651) lists him amongst the ‘excellent and able Masters’ who taught organ and virginals there.


By the Restoration his reputation was well established. John Batchiler’s biography of the talented and greatly admired viol player Susanna Perwich, entitled The Virgin’s Pattern (1661), relates that Bryne taught at the Perwich family school in Hackney, gave harpsichord lessons to Susanna’s sister and describes him ‘Mr. Albertus Brian, that famously velvet fingered Organist.’ Matthew Locke considered Bryne a good composer to be compared favourably with Bull and Orlando Gibbons while Anthony Wood described him as ‘an excellent musician’. In May 1661 Bryne petitioned Charles II to be made an organist in the Chapel Royal but there is no record of his appointment so we must assume his request was unsuccessful.


Bryne died on 2 December 1668 in Westminster although the whereabouts of his grave is not known. The contents of his house in Battersea were valued at £200 and bequeathed to his three children Albertus, Elizabeth and Mary. Amongst his domestic effects were ‘a paire of organs’ and some other unidentified objects, possibly plucked keyboards, valued at £30 in total. His son Albertus continued to draw his father’s salary at St. Paul’s and an organist of the same name, though not necessarily the same person, is listed as the organist at Dulwich College and All Hallows Barking by the Tower during the 1670s.


Had he lived only a few more years and played an active role in Restoration London posterity might well have treated Bryne and his keyboard music with a little more respect. As it is, his music is largely forgotten. This is a great pity since its attractive and well crafted qualities were greatly appreciated in its own day and to judge by the surviving copies, well into the 18th century. Like the keyboard music of his near contemporaries such as Locke, John Moss and John Roberts, Bryne’s suites occupy a unique position between the ‘Golden Age’ of the English Virginalists and the highly individual voices of English Baroque at the end of the century. It is hoped that this recording and the forthcoming edition of the music will help to redress three centuries of neglect.


Taken from Deux-Elles DXL1024.

Richard Gibbs' Almain and Corant