John Bull (c. 1562-1628), English composer and organist, was born in Somersetshire about 1562. After being organist in Hereford cathedral, he joined the Chapel Royal in 1585, and in the next year became a Mus. Bac. of Oxford. In 1591 he was appointed organist in Queen Elizabeth's chapel in succession to Blitheman, from whom he had received his musical education. In 1592 he received the degree of doctor of music at Cambridge University; and in 1596 he was made music professor at Gresham College, London. As he was unable to lecture in Latin according to the foundation-rules of that college, the executors of Sir Thomas Gresham made a dispensation in his favour by permitting him to lecture in English. He gave his first lecture on the 6th of October 1597. In 1601 Bull went abroad. He visited France and Germany, and was everywhere received with the respect due to his talents. Anthony Wood tells an impossible story of how at St Omer Dr Bull performed the feat of adding, within a few hours, forty parts to a composition already written in forty parts.
Honourable employments were offered to him by various continental princes; but he declined them, and returned to England, where he was given the freedom of the Merchant Taylors' Company in 1606. He played upon a small pair of organs before King James I. on the 16th of July 1607, in the hall of the Company, and he seems to have been appointed one of the king's organists in that year. In the same year he resigned his Gresham professorship and married Elizabeth Walter. In 1613 he again went to the continent on account of his health, obtaining a post as one of the organists in the arch-duke's chapel at Brussels. In 1617 he was appointed organist to the cathedral of Notre Dame at Antwerp, and he died in that city on the 12th or 13th of March 1628. Little of his music has been published, and the opinions of critics differ much as to its merits (see Dr Willibald Nagel's Geschichte der Musik in England, ii. (1897), p. 155, etc.; and Dr Seiffert's Geschichte der Klaviermusik (1899), p. 54, etc.). Contemporary writers speak in the highest terms of Bull's skill as a performer on the organ and the virginals, and there is no doubt that he contributed much to the development of harpsichord music.
Jan Swielinck (1562-1621), the great organist of Amsterdam, did not regard his work on composition as complete without placing in it a canon by John Bull, and the latter wrote a fantasia upon a fugue of Swielinck. For the ascription to Bull of the composition of the British national anthem, see National Anthems. Good modern reprints, e.g. of the Fitzwilliam Virginal-Book, "The King's Hunting Jig," and one or two other pieces, are in the repertories of modern pianists from Rubinstein onwards.