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Walter Frye

born in Lincolnshire, England, composed during the Renaissance period
By the mid-1440s, England had lost all of the French lands gained under Henry V and Henry VI, and the island kingdom itself would soon be embroiled in the Wars of the Roses. The cross-fertilization between English and Continental music that the occupation of France made possible, however, in some cases continued unabated. The English composer Walter Frye, for instance, never made any recorded trips away from the British Isles. His music, on the other hand, traveled far and wide on the European continent, reached and influenced composers in French, German, and even Italian lands. Several of his songs lived on in generations of cyclic Masses composed upon them.

As with many composers from his age, Walter Frye left a scant imprint upon the actual documentary records of Europe. One record, a 1474 will that was processed at Canterbury in June 1475, apparently gives his death date. It also provides clues to other aspects of Frye's life. Historians have read a possible birthplace in Norfolk or Lincolnshire from bequests he left to a series of northern individuals. In addition, he appropriated moneys for "unpaid tithes" to a church near St. Paul's Cathedral, suggesting this area as his final residence. Beyond that, we may know two musical positions he filled (though he worked at both for a long time). A choirmaster named Walter at Ely Cathedral in the 1440s and 1450s may have been our Walter Frye. In 1456 or 1457, the composer certainly joined the Guild of Parish Clerks in London; at this time if not sooner, he certainly met the composer and fellow guildmember John Bedyngham. Finally, Frye is known to have been employed by the noble Anne of Exeter (sister to both Edward IV and Margaret of York) from at least as early as 1464 until at least 1472.

Frye's connection to this important patroness helps explain the wide popularity of his music on the continent: Anne's sister married Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1468. Manuscript sources from Burgundy contain a number of his pieces, and several of his songs in particular truly made it onto the fifteenth century "hit parade:" Tout a par moy, Mon seul plaisir, So ys emprentid, and Ave regina coelorum (which even appears with music in three contemporary paintings). Frye's So ys emprentid may tie him specifically to Binchois and the Duke of Suffolk; Tout a par moy provided Josquin a cantus firmus. ~ Timothy Dickey, Rovi
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