Beckwith, John Christmas (DNB00)

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BECKWITH, JOHN CHRISTMAS (1750–1809), organist, born at Norwich 25 Dec, 1750, was for many years pupil and assistant successively of Dr. Wm. Hayes and Dr. Philip Hayes at Magdalen College, Oxford. On 16 Jan. 1794 he was appointed organist of St. Peter Mancroft's, Norwich. He took both the Mus. Bac. and Mus. Doc. degrees at Oxford in 1803, and in 1808 succeeded Thomas Garland as organist of the Norwich Cathedral. Beckwith retained both his organist's appointments until his death, which occurred in consequence of a paralytic stroke on 3 June 1809. He was buried in St. Peter Mancroft's. Beckwith's compositions are not numerous, consisting principally of anthems, organ voluntaries, a concerto, sonata, &c. His most important work was a collection of chants adapted to the Psalms, and published in 1808, which contains an excellent preface on the subject of chanting. As an organist he took very high rank in his day. Professor Taylor said of him: 'I have never heard Dr. Beckwith's equal upon the organ either in this county or in Germany. … Neither is this my opinion only, but that of every competent judge who has heard him;' and another critic described his playing as 'brilliancy itself.' He had a remarkable power of extemporising, and would frequently play four extempore organ fugues at one Sunday's services. There is some doubt as to whether Dr. Beckwith was christened John Christmas, or whether his second name was only a nickname. In the works published by him in his lifetime he is always described as John Beckwith, but in the register of his burial the name is stated as 'John Christmas Beckwith, married man, an organist of this parish;' and it is by this name that he is generally known.

[Appendix to Bemrose's Choir Chant Book; Musical Criticism (J. D. Eaton, 1872); Registers of St. Peter Mancroft; British Museum Catalogue.]

W. B. S.