Robert Carver (composer)

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Robert Carver (also Carvor, Arnot;[1] c. 1485 – c. 1570) was a Scottish Renaissance monk and composer of Christian sacred music.

He is regarded as Scotland's greatest sixteenth-century composer. He is best known for his polyphonic choral music, of which there are five surviving masses and two surviving motets. The works that can definitely be attributed to him can be found in the Carver Choirbook[2] held in the National Library of Scotland.

His work, noted for the gradual build-up of ideas towards a resolution in the final passages, is still performed and recorded today. Carver was influenced by composers in continental Europe, and his surviving music differs greatly from that produced by many of his contemporaries in Scotland or England at the time. Highly ornate in style, it resembles most closely the richly decorated music of the Eton Choirbook

He was the subject of the 1991 BBC radio play Carver by John Purser, which won one of the Giles Cooper Awards for that year.


He spent much of his life at Scone Abbey - a recently rediscovered charter book for Scone Abbey with upwards of fifty examples of Carver's signature suggests that he spent the whole of his long life as a monk at Scone Abbey, until the establishment was destroyed by Protestant reformers in 1559. Several works in The Carver Choirbook refer to the composer as Robert Carver alias arnat.[2] A man by the name of Robert Arnott was recorded as a canon of the Chapel Royal of Scotland, in Stirling Castle, in the same period. However, as this Robert Arnott's presence in the Chapel Royal and Carver's use of the alias Arnott do not coincide, and furthermore the Chapel Royal Robert Arnott signs a document for a Mararet Arnott who is clearly a blood relative, it seems likely that Robert Carver and Robert Arnott are two distinct personages.

Known compositions[edit]

The following works are attributed to Robert Carver in the Carver Choirbook:[2]

  • Dum sacrum mysterium. A mass for ten voices.
  • L'homme armé. A mass for four voices.
  • Pater Creator omnium. A mass for four voices.
  • Fera pessima. A mass for five voices.
  • An unnamed mass for six voices.
  • O bone Jesu. A motet for nineteen voices.
  • Gaude flore virginali. A motet for five voices.

An unnamed mass for three voices in the Carver Choirbook as well as a Mass 'Cantate Domino' for six voices in the Dowglas/ Fischar partbooks are generally attributed to Carver. Some authorities also credit Carver with the composition of the Mass 'Felix namque' for six voices also in the Dowglas/ Fischar Partbooks.


  1. ^ Kenneth Elliott. "Robert Carvor". In Macy, Laura. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c National Library of Scotland

External links[edit]