English composer. Younger brother of Henry Lawes. Baptized at Salisbury Cathedral on May 1, 1602, he probably sang there also; his father, Thomas Lawes, was lay vicar of the cathedral.
Lawes studied with Coperario from about 1619 at the request and expense of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. Probably in 1634, but certainly by 1636, he was song-writer to the royal acting companies The King's Men and Queen Henrietta's Men.
According to a 19th century source Lawes was taken into the Private Musick of Prince Charles (another pupil of Coperario) as early as 1625, continuing in his service after he became king. Certainly on March 25, 1635, Lawes became a musician-in-ordinary to King Charles I, taking the post formerly occupied by the late lutenist, John Laurence, at the annual salary of forty pounds.
Lawes enjoyed great favor and friendship with Charles, and when the king moved the court to Oxford, William followed and was made a commissary in the king's personal life guards.
He was shot and killed at Chester in 1645 while riding with the king whose troops were attempting to free a garrison there. He was remembered by the king as the 'Father of Musick' and his portrait as a cavalier hangs in the Faculty of Music at Oxford.
His work consists of instrumental, vocal and stage works, as well as church music (for three voices) and he was the most important English composer of stage music prior to Henry Purcell; he also composed chamber music, keyboard works, and suites for viol consorts.
None of his works were published in his lifetime, but his influence on other composers of his day as well as those who followed was considerable. The rise of Purcell ultimately overshadowed Lawes' work, but he still maintains an important position in the history of mid 17th century English music.
William Lawes - Representative samples of his music for listening
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.