A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Callcott, John

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CALLCOTT, John Wall, Mus. Doc., was born November 20, 1766, at Kensington, where his father carried on the business of a bricklayer and builder. Whilst a school-boy he had frequent opportunities of examining the organ at Kensington church, and having funned an acquaintance with the organist became a constant visitor to the organ-loft on Sundays. There he acquired his knowledge of the rudiments of music. His intention was to follow the profession of surgery, but the sight of a severe operation so seriously affected his nerves that he abandoned it and turned his attention to music. In this pursuit his studies were prosecuted without the aid of a master. [App. p.575 adds "In 1780 he wrote music for a play performed at Mr. Young's school.] By frequent attendance at the Chapel-Royal and Westminster Abbey he became acquainted, in 1782, with Drs. Arnold and Cooke, and the elder Sale, from whom he derived much musical knowledge, although he did not receive any regular instruction. In 1783 he became deputy organist, under Reinhold, of St. George the Martyr, Queen Square, Bloomsbury, which post he held until 1785. In the latter year [App. p.575 "About 1782"] Dr. Cooke introduced him to the orchestra of the Academy of Ancient Music, and the associations he there formed gave him his first bias towards glee writing. [App. p.575 adds "he occasionally played the oboe in the orchestra of the Academy of Ancient Music."] In 1784 he had submitted a glee, 'O sovereign of the willing soul,' as a candidate for a prize at the Catch Club, which was not successful; but in 1785 he carried off three of the four prize medals given by the club by his catch 'O beauteous fair'; his canon 'Blessed is he'; and his glee 'Dull repining sons of care.' On July 4 in the same year he took the degree of Bachelor of Music at Oxford, setting as his exercise Dr. Joseph Warton's 'Ode to Fancy.' In 1786 he composed an ode for the Humane Society, and gained two prizes from the Catch Club for his catch 'On a summer's morning,' and his canon 'Bow down Thine ear.' The next year, determined (as he said) to show that if deficient in genius he was not wanting in industry, he sent in nearly 100 compositions as competitors for the prizes. Of this large number, however, two only succeeded in obtaining the coveted distinction, viz. the canon 'Thou shalt show me,' and the glee 'Whann Battayle smethynge'; whilst the members of the club, to prevent the recurrence of so troublesome and inconvenient an event, resolved that in future the number of pieces to be received from any one candidate should be limited to twelve, i.e. three of each kind—catch, canon, and serious and cheerful glees. In 1787 Callcott took an active part with Dr. Arnold and others in the formation of the Glee Club. In 1788, offended at the new regulation of the Catch Club limiting the number of compositions to be received from each candidate for prizes, he declined writing for it, but in the next year, changing his determination, he sent in the full number of pieces permitted, and succeeded in carrying off all the prizes, a circumstance unparalleled in the history of the club. The four compositions which achieved this feat were the catch 'Have you Sir John Hawkins' History?' the canon 'O that Thou would'st'; and the glees 'O thou, where'er, thie bones att rest,' and 'Go, idle boy.' In the same year he was chosen joint organist, with Charles S. Evans, of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, and four years later organist to the Asylum for Female Orphans, which he held till 1802. Although he now ranked as one of the ablest and most popular composers of the day he had but little skill in orchestral writing. He therefore availed himself of the opportunity afforded by the visit of Haydn to England in 1790 to take lessons in instrumental composition from that illustrious master. Whilst studying under Haydn, Callcott composed his fine song 'These as they change' for Bartleman. From 1790 to 1793 (after which the Catch Club ceased to offer prizes) he was awarded nine medals for his compositions; two in 1790 for the canon 'Call to remembrance,' and the glee 'O voi che sospirate'; three in 1791 for the catch 'Tom Metaphysician,' the canon 'I am well pleased,' and the glee 'Triumphant Love'; three in 1792 for the canon 'O Israel,' and the glees 'See, with ivy chaplet bound,' and 'Father of heroes,' and one in 1793 for the canon 'Christ being raised.' It was about this time that he began to study the works of the best theorists, and to feel the desire of appearing as a writer on the theory of music. Having acquired the MSS. of Dr. Boyce and his pupil, Marmaduke Overend, organist of Isleworth, he projected a musical dictionary, and made large collections for the work, of which in 1797 he issued a prospectus. On June 19, 1800, he proceeded Doctor of Music at Oxford, his exercise being a Latin anthem, 'Propter Sion non tacebo.' In 1801 [App. p.575 "1795"], upon the formation of a volunteer corps at Kensington, Callcott accepted a commission in it. Aided by a subscription he formed a band for the corps, for which he not only purchased the instruments and composed and arranged the music, but even instructed the performers. The compilation of his dictionary proceeding but slowly, and thinking the public had a right to expect some theoretical work from him, he employed himself in 1804 and 1805 in writing his Musical Grammar, which was published in 1806. In the latter year he wrote for Bartleman a scena upon the death of Lord Nelson, and was appointed to succeed Dr. Crotch as lecturer on music [App. p.575. amends to "appointed in 1807 to lecture on German music" c.f. Crotch in vol. 1 and Appendix] at the Royal Institution. His anxiety to distinguish himself in this new position, combined with the heavy labours of which he had so unsparingly imposed upon himself, and the daily drudgery of teaching, seriously impaired his health, and his mind suddenly gave way. For five years his life was a blank. During that period (in 1809) his professional friends gave a concert on his behalf, and so strong was the desire to show sympathy for him that it was found that the opera-house in the Haymarket was the only building large enough to contain the numbers who thronged to be present. After an interval of rather more than five years Dr. Callcott so far recovered as to lead his friends to hope that his health was completely restored, but their hopes were in vain. Two or three years passed and he was again afflicted with the most terrible calamity which can befal frail humanity. He lingered until May 15 [App. p.575 "23"], 1821, when death terminated his sufferings. [App. p.575 adds "his death took place at Bristol, though he was buried at Kensington. (Dict. of Nat. Biog.)"]

Dr. Callcott's principal works were his very numerous glees and other pieces of vocal harmony, mostly published singly, but he left in manuscript many anthems, services, odes, etc. His fine scena 'Angel of life' was written for Bartleman. His son-in-law, the late William Horsley, Mus. Bac., edited in 1824 a collection of his best glees, catches, and canons, in two folio volumes, with a memoir of the composer, and an analysis of his compositions. The work also contains a portrait of Callcott from a painting by his brother Augustus, afterwards Sir Augustus Callcott, R. A. Besides the above-named works Callcott was associated with Dr. Arnold in the selection, adaptation, and composition of the tunes for 'The Psalms of David for the use of Parish Churches' (1791). Dr. Callcott left a numerous family. His daughter, Sophia, became eminent as a teacher of the pianoforte, and his younger son, William Hutchins Callcott [App. p.575 adds "1807–Aug. 4, 1882"], has attained distinction as a composer and arranger. One of his songs, 'The last man,' met with remarkable success, and his anthem 'Give peace in our time, Lord,' has been very generally admired.

[ W. H. H. ]