Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boyce, William
BOYCE, WILLIAM (1710–1779), Mus. Doc., was born at Joiners' Hall, Upper Thames Street, in 1710. His father is variously stated to have been a 'housekeeper,' a joiner and cabinet maker, a man of considerable property, and the beadle of the Joiners' Company. Boyce was educated at St. Paul's School, and was a chorister of St. Paul's Cathedral under Charles King. When his voice broke he was apprenticed to Dr. Maurice Greene, with whom he always remained on close terms of friendship. In 1734 he competed for the post of organist at St. Michael's, Cornhill, the other candidates being Froud, Worgan, Young, and Kelway. The appointment was given to the last-named musician, and Boyce became organist of Oxford Chapel (now St. Peter's), Vere Street, where he succeeded Joseph Centlivre. At this time he studied theory under Dr. Pepusch, and was much in demand as a teacher of the harpsichord, particularly in ladies' schools. In 1736 Kelway left St. Michael's, and succeeded Weldon at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields; whereupon Boyce resigned his post at Oxford Chapel, and took Kelway's place in the city, which he continued to occupy until 5 April 1768. On 21 June of the same year he was sworn in as composer to the Chapel Royal, the post of organist at the same time being conferred upon Jonathan Martin, while Boyce undertook to fulfil the third part of the duty of organist, receiving in return one-third part of the money allotted to Martin as 'travelling expenses.' In 1734 Boyce's setting of 'Peleus and Thetis,' a masque, written by Lord Lansdowne, had been performed by the Philharmonic Society, and in 1736 the Apollo Society produced an oratorio by him, 'David's Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan,' the words of which were by John Lockman. In 1737 he was appointed conductor of the Three Choirs festivals, a post he held for many years. About the same time he became a member of the Royal Society of Musicians, and a little later he composed music to two odes for St. Cecilia's day, written respectively by Lockman and an under-master of Westminster School named Vidal. In 1740 he composed the Pythian Ode, 'Gentle lyre, begin the strain,' and in 1743 produced his best work, the serenata of 'Solomon,' the book of which was compiled from the Song of Solomon by Edward Moore, the author of 'Fables for the Female Sex.' Shortly afterwards he published a set of 'Twelve Sonatas for Two Violins, with a Bass for the Violoncello or Harpsichord,' which long remained very popular as chamber music; and in 1745 he began the publication of his miscellaneous songs and cantatas, which, under the name of 'Lyra Britannica,' ultimately extended to six volumes. The year 1749 saw Boyce at the height of his activity. On 2 Jan. the masque of 'Lethe' was revived at Drury Lane, with Beard as Mercury, for whom Boyce wrote new songs. On 1 July his setting of Mason's ode on the installation of the Duke of Newcastle as chancellor of the university of Cambridge was performed in the senate house, and on the following day an anthem by him, with orchestral accompaniments, was performed at Great St. Mary's as an exercise for the degree of Mus. Doc., which the university had conferred on him. On 2 Dec. 'The Chaplet,' an operetta by Moses Mendez, with music by Boyce, was produced at Drury Lane, the principal parts in which were filled by Beard, Mrs. Clive, and Master Mattocks, on which occasion Mattocks made his first appearance on the stage. In the same year the parishioners of Allhallows the Great and Less, Thames Street, where Boyce was born, requested him to become organist of the parish church ; he held this post until 18 May 1769, when he was dismissed, probably because his numerous occupations prevented him from attending properly to the duties of the post. In 1750 Garrick revived Dryden's 'Secular Masque' (30 Oct.), which had been originally produced with 'The Pilgrim' on 25 March 1700. For this Boyce had already written music, which had been performed at 'Hickford's Room, or the Castle Concert;' this was now heard at Drury Lane, with Beard as Momus. In the following year (19 Nov. 1751) another small work by Mendez and Boyce was brought out at Drury Lane ; this was 'The Shepherd's Lottery,' in which Beard and Mrs. Clive sang the principal parts. About this time he moved from his father's house in the city to Quality Court, Chancery Lane, where he lived with his wife until his removal to Kensington in 1758. In 1755, on the death of Dr. Greene, Boyce was nominated by the Duke of Grafton to be master of the king's band of musicians. He was not sworn in until June 1757, but he fulfilled the duties of the post from the death of Greene. In this capacity he composed a large number of odes for the king's birthday and new year's day. A complete collection of these from the year 1755 to 1779 is preserved in the Music School Collection at Oxford, besides a queen's ode (performed 6 June 1763), and two settings of 'The king shall rejoice,' the earliest of which was performed at the wedding of George III (8 Sept. 1761), and the other at St. Paul's Cathedral (22 April 1766). As conductor of the festivals of the Sons of the Clergy, another post to which he succeeded on Greene's death, Boyce wrote additional accompaniments to Purcell's great Te Deum and Jubilate, besides composing specially for these occasions two of his finest anthems. In 1758 John Travers, the organist of the Chapel Royal, died, and on 23 June Boyce was admitted to this post. In the same year he wrote music for Home's tragedy of 'Agis,' which was produced at Drury Lane 21 Feb. Boyce also wrote at different times music for Shakespeare's 'Tempest,' 'Cymbeline,' and 'Winter's Tale,' and a dirge for 'Romeo and Juliet.' His last work for the theatre was the music to Garrick's pantomime, 'Harlequin's Invasion,' which was produced at Drury Lane 31 Dec. 1759. Boyce's most important contribution to this work was the fine song 'Hearts of Oak,' a composition which almost rivals 'Rule Britannia' in vigour and popularity. This song was originally sung by Champness ; it was published in 'Thalia, a Collection of six favourite Songs (never before Publish'd) which have been occasionally Introduced in several Dramatic Performances at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane ; the words by David Garrick, Esq., and the musick compos'd by Dr. Boyce, Dr. Arne, Mr. Smith, Mr. M. Arne, Mr. Battishill, and Mr. Barthelemon.' During the whole of his life Boyce suffered much from deafness ; even before his articles had expired this infirmity had made itself very apparent, and by the year 1758 it had increased to such an extent that he resolved to give up teaching and to retire to Kensington, and devote himself to editing the collection of church music which bears his name. The idea of publishing a work of this description occurred simultaneously to Dr. Alcock and Dr. Greene about the year 1735. The latter issued a prospectus on the subject, whereupon Dr. Alcock gave up the plan, and presented Greene with his collections ; but he did not live to begin the work in earnest, which thus devolved, by Greene's wishes, upon Boyce. The 'Cathedral Music,' the first volume of which was published in 1760, has been often reprinted, and, although at the time of its publication it brought but little beyond honour to its editor, it still remains a most valuable and important work, and a monument of Boyce's erudition and good judgment. Besides the preparation of this great work, in his latter years Boyce revised most of his earlier compositions, and published a selection of the overtures to his new-year and birthday odes, under the title of 'Eight Symphonys.' Most of his anthems were not published until after his death, when two volumes were brought out by his widow and by Dr. Philip Hayes, besides a burial service and a collection of voluntaries for the organ or harpsichord. He died of gout at Kensington 7 Feb. 1779, and was buried under the dome of St. Paul's on the 16th of the same month. His will, dated 24 June 1775, proved by his wife and daughter 20 Feb. 1779, directs that he should not be buried until seven days and seven nights after his death. By his wife Hannah he had two children : (1) Elizabeth, who was born 29 April 1749; and (2) William, born 25 March 1764. The latter, after his father's death, entered at an Oxford college, but was sent down without taking a degree. He attained some distinction as a double-bass player, and died about 1823. Two oil paintings of Boyce are known to exist. One, a full length, is in the Music School Collection at Oxford; another, a small three-quarter length of him, seated, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is now (1886) in the possession of Mr. John Rendall. There is an engraved portrait of him, 'drawn from the life, and engraved by F. K. Sherwin,' prefixed to the second edition of the 'Cathedral Music' (1788). The same portrait was prefixed to the 'Collection of Anthems,' published by Mrs. Boyce in 1790. A vignette of him, by Drayton, after R. Smirke (together with Blow, Arne, Purcell, and Croft), was published in the 'Historic Gallery,' September 1801.
Personally, Boyce was a most amiable and estimable man. Burney, twenty-four years after his death, wrote of him as follows: 'There was no professor whom I was ever acquainted with that I loved, honoured, and respected more,' and he seems to have been a universal favourite with all with whom he came in contact. Musically, he occupies a distinct position amongst his contemporaries. Like all the English composers of his day, it was his ill fortune to be overshadowed by the giant form of Handel, and yet, in spite of this, he managed to preserve an individuality of his own. He may best be described as the Arne. of English church music; for the same characteristics of grace and refinement are to be found in his music as in that of his contemporary, and, like Arne, he had a reserve of power which was all the more effective for not being too often brought into play.
[Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 267; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Burney in Rees's Encyclopaedia, v.; the Georgian Era, iv. 243; Life of Boyce prefixed to Cathedral Music, vol. i. (Warren's edition, 1849); Busby's Concert Room Anecdotes, iii. 166; Gent. Mag. xlix. 103; Genest's History of the Stage, iv.; Probate Registers (42 Warburton); manuscripts in the possession of Mr. T. W. Taphouse; manuscripts in the Music School Collection, Oxford; Appendix to Bemrose's Choir Chant Book: Cheque Book of the Chapel Royal.]