A shadowy figure before the late 1590s, Antony Holborne was one of the most acclaimed and prolific dance composers of his period. Of his 150 works, about three-quarters of them are dances, many of them surviving in up to four different arrangements. Like many pop artists of the present day, Holborne enjoyed only fleeting acclaim. In the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, David Brown crisply illustrates the concept of damning with faint praise: "Although he cannot count among the major English composers of his time, he was a good artisan with a facility for producing well-written, attractive music of a sort that made him widely popular in his lifetime, but which was not of sufficient musical substance to maintain his reputation for long after his death." Yet Holborne pieces regularly appear on recorded anthologies of instrumental English Renaissance music, and to members of amateur Renaissance consorts his name is quite a familiar one. So the composer is safe from the dustbin of music history.
Despite occasional, mysterious references to a certain Holborne between 1588 and 1596, Antony Holborne did not enjoy a chance at archival immortality until 1597, when no fewer than 58 of his pieces appeared in a publication called The Cittharn Schoole. (Antony's brother William also saw his first and last publication in the same volume: six three-voice vocal compositions latterly dismissed as "feeble.")
Holborne contributed introductory poems to publications by Robert Morley and Giles Farnaby during the next couple of years, but no more music appeared until 1599, when 65 pieces of consort music were issued under the title Pavans, Galliards, Almains...in Five Parts. This made a tremendous splash, and the next year John Dowland dedicated one of his songs "to the most famous, Anthony Holborne." In a posthumous publication, Holborne was described as having been a "Gentleman usher" to Queen Elizabeth, but what this entailed is unclear.
Lute arrangements of three of Holborne's dances were published in Germany in 1600, but employment as a courier seems to have distracted him from much further composition and apparently even hastened his death, which occurred sometime between November 29 and December 1, 1602, at an unknown location.