Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cooke, Benjamin

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COOKE, BENJAMIN (1734–1793), Mus. Doc., born in 1734, was the son of Benjamin Cooke, who kept a music-shop in New Street, Covent Garden. His mother's maiden name was Eliza Wayet, and she was a member of a Nottinghamshire family. The elder Cooke died before his son was nine years old, but the boy had been already placed under Dr. Pepusch, with whom he made such progress that at the age of twelve he was appointed deputy to Robinson, the organist of Westminster Abbey. In 1749 he succeeded Howard as librarian of the Academy of Ancient Music, and three years later took Pepusch's place as conductor. In September 1757 he was appointed master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey, and on 27 Jan. 1758 he became a lay vicar of the same church. On 2 Nov. 1760 Cooke was elected a member of the Royal Society of Musicians, and on 1 July 1762 he succeeded Robinson as organist of the abbey. He became a member of the Catch Club on 6 April 1767, and of the Madrigal Society on 9 Aug. 1769, and in 1775 he took the degree of Mus. Doc. at Cambridge, where his name was entered at Trinity College. His exercise for this occasion was an anthem, ‘Behold how good and joyful,’ which had been originally written in 1772 for the installation of the Duke of York as a knight of the Bath. In 1782 Cooke received the honorary degree of Mus. Doc. at Oxford, and in the same year was elected organist of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, after a severe contest, in which Burney was his chief opponent. Cooke was an assistant director at the Handel Festival in 1784, and received one of the medals which George III caused to be struck to commemorate that event. In 1789 changes in the constitution of the Academy of Ancient Music caused him to resign the conductorship, a step which he felt so strongly that for some time he refused to belong to a small musical club known as the ‘Graduates Meeting,’ as he objected to meet his successor, Dr. Arnold. Cooke for many years had suffered from gout. He spent the summers of 1790–3 at Ramsgate, Brighton, Oxford, and Windsor, but was attacked at the latter place by his old malady, and shortly after his return died at his house in Dorset Court, Westminster, 14 Sept. 1793. He was buried on 21 Sept. in the west cloister of the abbey, where a monument was erected to him bearing an inscription written by T. J. Mathias, and a canon of his own composition. In person Cooke was ‘middle-sized, latterly rather corpulent, though when young extremely thin; he had a fine face, a soft concealed eye, and he was most strongly affected by music; showed great change of feelings, proceeding from a kind of creeping in the skin and hair, as he described it.’ A contemporary describes him as ‘one of the worthiest and best-tempered men,’ and he must have been an admirable teacher, numbering among his pupils such musicians as Parsons, Crosdill, Greatorex, the two Knyvetts, Hindle, Bartleman, Walmisley, Beale, and Spofforth. His principal compositions were written for the Academy of Ancient Music; his services, anthems, and numerous odes are now forgotten, but his glees, catches, and canons are still sung, and the library of the Royal College of Music possesses a large collection of his manuscript music.

Cooke was married (22 May 1758) to Miss Mary Jackson, who died 19 March 1784. According to her son, ‘she was a most amiable and affectionate woman, and possessed good property; was sister to Charles Jackson, esq., comptroller at the Foreign Office, General Post Office.’ By her he had ten children, five of whom died in infancy. Benjamin, his eldest son, a boy of great promise, was born 13 Aug. 1761, and died 25 Jan. 1772. Some manuscript compositions by him are preserved at the Royal College of Music. The other children who survived were Mary (b. 28 July 1762, died unmarried 28 Feb. 1819); Amelia (b. 7 Oct. 1768, died unmarried 16 May 1845); Robert [q. v.], and Henry. The latter was for many years in the General Post Office. He edited two books of organ pieces, and a set of nine glees and two duets by his father; he also wrote a little music which is extant in manuscript, and published a short biography of Dr. Cooke, and ‘Some Remarks on the Greek Theory of Tuning Instruments.’ He died at 2 Little Smith Street, Westminster, 30 Sept. 1840, aged 74.

[Some Account of Dr. Cooke, Lond. 1837; Grove's Dict. of Music, i.; Harmonicon for 1823 and 1831; Records of the Royal Soc. of Musicians and Madrigal Society; Pohl's Haydn in London, ii. 149; L. M. Hawkins's Anecdotes, i. 225–35; Burney's Account of the Handel Festival in 1784; European Mag. xxiv. 239; Add. MSS. 27669, 27691, 27693; Cat. of the Library of the Royal Coll. of Music; Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers.]

W. B. S.