The Consort of Musicke is an English ensemble devoted to Renaissance-era and Baroque music, particularly from England and Italy. The group has consisted of a varying number of singers and instrumentalists over the years, but often personnel in concert and on recordings has been two sopranos, one alto, two tenors, and one bass, with accompaniment on lute or viols. The Consort has generally been ranked among the most important ensembles in the revival of early English music. The group has made numerous recordings for a variety of labels, including EMI, L'Oiseau Lyre, MD&G, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Nonesuch, Hyperion, and its own (but now defunct) Musica Oscura.
The Consort of Musicke was founded in 1969 by lutenists Anthony Rooley and James Tyler. In 1972 Rooley took the reins solely as the group's artistic director and has served in that capacity ever since. Beside Rooley only two other musicians from the group have been members since its inception — Rooley's wife, renowned soprano Emma Kirkby, and bass David Thomas. Other members have included soprano Evelyn Tubb, alto Mary Nichols, tenors Andrew King, and Joseph Cornwell and bass Simon Grant. The group has also included various string players such as violinists Catherine Mackintosh and Polly Waterfield, and bass viol players Trevor Jones and Jane Ryan.
The ensemble debuted in London in 1969 and quickly achieved acclaim with both critics and public alike. By the early '70s, its first recordings were appearing on the L'Oiseau Lyre label and included O Vilanella, a collection of popular sixteenth century Italian songs, and Coprario: Songs of Mourning. Eventually the ensemble — or smaller contingents from it, like Rooley and Kirkby — began appearing on numerous acclaimed recordings in repertory that included songs of Dowland, madrigals of Monteverdi, and other often unexplored material.
Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the group's reputation grew with many critically acclaimed tours, including to Italy, Austria, Holland, Germany, and Israel. Typical concert programs focused on a variety of Renaissance-era and Baroque works.
In 1993 Rooley, in partnership with Arjen Terpstra, founded the label Musica Oscura, and over the next decade or so issued over 20 recordings. In the new century the Consort of Musicke has remained busy in both the concert hall and recording studio. Among the ensemble's most important recordings was the March 2007 reissue on Decca of John Dowland: The Collected Works, a 12-CD set.