William Lawes did, in fact, die for his King. Lawes was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire in 1602. He was the son of Thomas Lawes, a vicar choral at Salisbury Cathedral, and brother to Henry Lawes, a very successful composer of vocal music while William wrote chiefly instrumental works. William's patron, the 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. Lawes spent all his adult life in Charles's employ. He composed secular music and songs for court masques as well as sacred anthems and motets for Charles's private worship. He is most remembered today for his viol consort suites for between three and six players and his lyra viol music. His use of counterpoint and his tendency to juxtapose bizarre themes next to pastoral ones in these works cast them into disfavor soon after his death. 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 shot by a Parliamentarian in the rout of the Royalists at Rowton Heath 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, honoring him with the title of 'Father of Musick'. Charles survived his loyal composer by a mere four years.
The "Royal Consorts" are scored for four voices plus continuo, with violins rather than treble gambas taking the discant over two bass gambas. Lawes specified the use of two theorbo lutes for continuo. English consort music of the era was extravagantly fond of plangent cross-relations, bitter-sweet suspensions, and ear-tingling dissonances, some of which you'll hear immediately in the Royall Consort No. 9 in F. The chords are so unexpected in late Renaissance music that an uninitiated listener may wonder of the members of Sonnerie have forgotten to tune their strings. Trust them! Lawes had an effect of pathos in mind and expressed it in an unmistakable manner. The seven movements of Suite N. 9 develop an arc from sorrow to sprightliness, following the same arc upwards in tessitura and tempi. I'm tempted to think that consort leader Monica Huggett programmed this suite, with its startling first movement Pavin deliberately to alert listeners to the "originality" of Lawes's harmonic vocabulary. The various movements of the suites are nearly all shaped by dance steps and rhythms: corants, allmains, sarabands, morris dances, and stately pavins, interspersed with more contrapuntal "aires" and "fantazys".
Sonnerie released two separate CDs, as Volume 1 and Volume 2, of the Royall Consorts. Both volumes have been released in one box as well. Shop smartly; look for the best price.