A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Attwood, Thomas

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ATTWOOD, Thomas, the son of a trumpeter, viola-player, and coal-merchant, was born in 1767 [App. p.525 "in London, Nov. 23, 1765"]. At nine years of age he became a chorister in the Chapel Royal, where he had for his masters successively Dr. Nares and Dr. Ayrton, and where he remained about five years. In his sixteenth year, performing in a concert at Buckingham House, he attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales (afterwards George IV), who sent him to Italy to study. In 1783 he went to Naples, where he remained for two years under the tuition of Filippo Cinque and Gaetano Latilla. From Naples he went to Vienna, and studied under Mozart—who expressed a highly favourable opinion of his talent (Kelly's Reminiscences, i. 225 [App. p.525 "i. 228; see Mozart, ii. 396 a"])—until February [App. p.525 "March"], 1787, when he returned to England [App. p.525 "he accompanied the Storaces"]. He became organist of St. George the Martyr, Queen Square, and a member of the Prince of Wales's chamber band. He was appointed musical instructor to the Duchess of York in 1791, and to the Princess of Wales in 1795. In the latter year [App. p.525 "1796"], on the decease of John Jones, organist of St. Paul's Cathedral, Attwood became his successor; and in June, 1796, on the death of Dr. Dupuis, he was appointed Composer to the Chapel Royal. In 1821 he was nominated organist of George IV's private chapel at Brighton. Attwood was one of the original members of the Philharmonic Society on its establishment in 1813, and for some years occasionally conducted its concerts. In 1836, on the decease of John Stafford Smith, he succeeded him as organist of the Chapel Royal. Attwood died at his residence in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, on March 28, 1838 [App. p.525 "Mar. 24"]. He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, under the organ. In the early part of his life Attwood was much engaged in dramatic composition, in which he was very successful.

The pieces set by him were—The Prisoner, 1792; The Mariners, 1793; Caernarvon Castle, 1793; The Adopted Child, 1795; The Poor Sailor, 1795; The Smugglers, 1796; The Mouth of the Nile, 1798; The Devil of a Lover, 1798; A Day at Rome, 1798; The Castle of Sorrento, 1799; The Red Cross Knights, 1799; The Old Clothesman, 1799; The Magic Oak, 1799; True Friends, 1800; The Dominion of Fancy, 1800; The Escapes, or, The Water Carrier (partly selected from Cherubini's 'Les Deux Journées,' and partly original), 1801; Il Bondocani, 1801; St. David's Day, 1801; and, The Curfew, 1807. He also contributed two songs to 'Guy Mannering,' 1816.

Later in life Attwood devoted his attention more to cathedral music. A volume of his church compositions, containing four services, eight anthems, and nine chants, was published about fifteen years after his death, under the editorship of his godson, Dr. Thomas Attwood Walmisley. Besides these compositions Attwood produced two anthems with orchestral accompaniments; one, 'I was glad ' (a remarkably fine composition), for the coronation of George IV, and the other, 'Lord, grant the King a long life,' for that of William IV; and he had commenced a third, intended for the coronation of Queen Victoria, when his career was closed by death. He also, following the example of Matthew Lock, composed a 'Kyrie eleison,' with different music for each repetition of the words. Attwood produced many sonatas and lessons for the pianoforte, and numerous songs and glees. Of his songs, 'The Soldier's Dream' long maintained its popularity; and of his glees, 'In peace Love tunes the shepherd's reed,' and 'To all that breathe the air of Heaven,' are still well known to all admirers of that species of music. Attwood's compositions are distinguished by purity and taste as well as by force and expression.

It is interesting to notice that Attwood, a favourite pupil of Mozart, was one of the first among English musicians to recognise the genius of the young Mendelssohn. A friendship sprang up between the two composers which was only broken by the death of the elder. Thus the talented Englishman appears as a connecting link between the two gifted Germans. Several of Mendelssohn's published letters were written from Attwood's villa at Norwood, his three Preludes and Fugues for the organ are dedicated to him, and the autograph of a Kyrie eleison in A minor is inscribed 'For Mr. Attwood; Berlin, 24 March, 1833.'

[ W. H. H. ]