- For the missionary who lived from 1839 to 1907, see William George Lawes
Life and career
Lawes was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire and was baptised on 1 May 1602. He was the son of Thomas Lawes, a vicar choral at Salisbury Cathedral, and brother to Henry Lawes, a very successful composer in his own right.
His patron, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, apprenticed him to the composer John Coprario, which probably brought Lawes into contact with Charles, Prince of Wales at an early age. Both William and his elder brother Henry received court appointments after Charles succeeded to the British throne as Charles I. William was appointed as "musician in ordinary for lutes and voices" in 1635 but had been writing music for the court prior to this.
Lawes spent all his adult life in Charles's employ. He composed secular music and songs for court masques (and doubtless played in them), as well as sacred anthems and motets for Charles's private worship. He is most remembered today for his sublime viol consort suites for between three and six players and his lyra viol music. His use of counterpoint and fugue and his tendency to juxtapose bizarre, spine-tingling themes next to pastoral ones in these works made them disfavoured in the centuries after his death; they have only become widely available in recent years.
When Charles's dispute with Parliament led to the outbreak of the Civil War, Lawes joined the Royalist army and was given a post in the King's Life Guards, which was intended to keep him out of danger. Despite this, he was "casually shot" by a Parliamentarian in the rout of the Royalists at Rowton Heath, near Chester, on 24 September 1645. Although the King was in mourning for his kinsman Bernard Stuart (killed in the same defeat), he instituted a special mourning for Lawes, apparently honouring him with the title of "Father of Musick." The author of his epitaph, Thomas Jordan, closed it with a lachrymose pun on the fact that Lawes had died at the hands of those who denied the divine right of kings:
- Will. Lawes was slain by such whose wills were laws.
- D. Pinto, For ye violls: The consort and dance music of William Lawes Fretwork 1995; ISBN 1-898131-04-X
- Sleeve notes of the items listed in the discography.
- Extract of Murray Lefkowitz's 1960 biography of Lawes
- Pinto, David. "Lawes, William, §1: Life", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 3 March 2007), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
- Cunningham, J., The Consort Music of William Lawes, 1602-1645, Boydell & Brewer, 2010
- Lefkowitz, M., William Lawes, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960
- For ye violls: Consort setts in 5 & 6 parts
- Fretwork & Paul Nicholson; Virgin Classics 91187-2; 1991
- Sonatas for violin, bass viol and organ
- London Baroque; Harmonia Mundi HMA 1901493; 1994
- Fantasia Suites for two violins, bass viol and organ
- The Purcell Quartet; Chandos CHAN0552, 1994
- Royall Consort Suites
- The Purcell Quartet with Nigel North & Paul O'Dette; Chandos CHAN0584/5, 1995
- Consort Music for Viols, Lutes and Theorbos
- Royall Consort Suites vol 1
- The Greate Consort; Gaudeamus CD GAU146, 1995
- Concord is conquer'd: Consort setts for 5 & 6 viols. 4 Herrick songs. Pieces for lyra viol
- Fretwork, Catherine Bott, Richard Boothby & Paul Nicholson; Virgin Classics 5451472; 1995
- Royall Consort Suites vol 2
- The Greate Consort; CD GAU147, 1997
- The Royal Consort & lute songs
- René Jacobs, Sigiswald Kuijken, Lucy van Dael, Wieland Kuijken, Toyohiko Satoh, Edward Witsenbug, Gustav Leonhardt; Sony Classical 1997
- Fantazia suites for violin, bass viol and organ
- Music's Re-creation; Centaur CRC 2385; 1998
- Suites pour une et trois lyra-violes
- Jonathan Dunford, Sylvia Abramowicz & Sylvia Moquet; Adès 465 607-2; 1998
- Consorts in four and five parts
- Consorts in six parts
- Phantasm, Susanne Braumann & Varpu Haavisto; Channel Classics CCS 17498; 2002
- Consort Sets in Five & Six Parts, Jordi Savall - Hespèrion XXI - Alia Vox 9823 A+B 
- Consort sets in five & six parts,
- Hespèrion XXI, Alia Vox AV9823A, AV9823B; 2002
- Knock'd on the head: William Lawes, music for viols
- Concordia, Metronome MET CD 1045; 2002
- William Lawes: In loving memory. Musica Oscura 070972-2
- Harp Consorts
- Maxine Eilander et Les Voix Humaines; ATMA Classique ACD22372; 2008
- The Royall Consorts
- Les Voix Humaines; ATMA Classique ACD22373; 2012
- Free scores by William Lawes in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Free scores by William Lawes at the International Music Score Library Project