Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blow, John
BLOW, JOHN (1648–1708), musical composer, is said by all his biographers to have been born at North Colfingham, in Nottinghamshire, in 1648, but the registers of that parish contain no entries relating to him or to any of his family, and Anthony Wood, in a manuscript account of his life, preserved in the Bodleian Library (Wood 19 D (4) No. 106), has the following note : 'Dr. Rogers tells me that John Blow was borne in London.' He is said to have received his first instruction in music from John Hingeston and Christopher Gibbons, but as the latter was organist of Winchester Cathedral from 1638 to 1661 he can hardly have been Blow's master at this period. With regard to Hingeston the statement is more likely to be accurate, as that musician was organist to Cromwell, and also held oflice after the Restoration. Blow was one of the first set of the children of the Chapel Royal on its re-establishment in 1660 under Captain Henry Cooke. He must have begun composition at an early age, for Cliflford's 'Divine Services and Anthems usually sung in His Majestie's Chappell' (1663) contains the words of three anthems, 'I will magnifie,' 'Lord, Thou hast been our refuge,' and 'Lord, rebuke me not,' which were set by him when he was still at the Chapel Royal. Another composition of this date which is still extant is the so-called 'Club Anthem,' 'I will always give thanks,' a work with orchestral accompaniments, the first part of which was written by Pelham Humphreys, the last by Blow, and the intermediate bass solo by William Turner. This is generally said (on the authority of Dr. Tudway) to have been composed to celebmte a naval victory over the Dutch in 1666, but as Humphreys left the choir in 1664 it is more probable that Boyce is right in attributing its origin to the friendship which existed among the three choristers. When he was still at the Chapel Royal, Blow composed his celebrated duet to Herrick's words, 'Goe, perjur'd man,' which was written in imitation of Carissimi's 'Dite o cieli,' Charles II having asked him whether he could copy that work. On his voice breaking. Blow still continued to study with assiduity. On 21 Aug. 1667 Pepys made the following entry in his diary, which probably refers to him : 'This morning come two of Captain Cooke's boys, whose voices are broke, and are gone from the chapel, but have extraordinary skill ; and they and my boy, with his broken voice, did sing three parts; their names were Blaew and Loggings ; but notwithstanding their skill, yet to hear them sing with their broken voices, which they could not command to keep in tune, would make a man mad — so bad it was.' Two years later, at the early age of twenty-one, he succeeded Albertus Bryan as organist of Westminster Abbey, and on 16 March 1673-4 he was sworn in as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal in place of Roger Hill, deceased. On 21 July 1674 he became master of the children of the same establishment, in which post he succeeded his old companion, Pelham Humphreys. In the same year (4 Sept.) he was married at St. Paul's, Covent Garden, to Elizabeth, only daughter of Edward Braddock, one of the gentlemen of the Chapel lioyal, and a member of the abbey choir. In October 1676 Blow was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal, and shortly after he is said to have received the Lambeth degree of Mus. Doc. from Archbishop Sancroft. It has been stated by all his biographers, from Anthony à Wood downwards, that Blow's musical degree was obtained in this manner, but the music school at Oxford formerly contained a manuscript act song, composed in 1678 and performed in 1679, which seems to show that the degree was obtained at Oxford. Unfortunately the manuscript has been lost, and as there is no entry of his name on the graduates* list (from which the names of musical graduates were formerly often omitted), the evidence on this point must at present remain unsettled. In 1680 Blow resigned his appointed as organist at Westminster Abbey to his great pupil, Henry Purcell. It was probably a few years later that he wrote his only composition for the stage, the little masque of 'Venus and Adonis,' in three acts and a prologue. This charming work, Which has never been printed, was composed for Mary Davis, the mistress of Charles II, who sang the part of Venus on its production before the king, that of Cupid being taken by her daughter, Lady Mary Tudor. The original manuscript is preserved in the Chapter Library at Westminster, and copies are in the British Museum (Add. MSS. 22100) and the Christ Church collection, Oxford. For New Year's day, 1681, he composed an ode beginning ^ Great Sir, ye joy of all our hearts, one of several similar compositions called forth by his connection with the court. In 1685 Blow was appointed a member of the roval band, and composer in ordinary to James II, at whose coronation in Westmmster Abbey he sang among the basses ; of the choir.- From 1687 to 1693 he was almoner and master of the choristers at St. PauFs Cathedral, in which appointments he succeeded Michael Wise ; but in 1693 he resigned them in favour of his pupil, Jeremiad Clarke. Towards the close of James II reign Blow is said to have written his celebrated anthem, 'I beheld and lo !' in connection with which the following anecdote is related on the authority of his pupil, Samuel Weeley, a vicar choral of St. Paul's. An anthem by an Italian composer having been performed at the Chapel Royal, James II was so pleased with it, that he asked Blow whether he could produce anything so good. The following Sunday Blow's 'I beheld and lo !' was sung, and at the close of the service Father Petre was sent by the king to express his approval of it to the composer. Father Petre, however, added as his own opinion that the anthem was too long, to which Blow replied, 'That is the opinion of one fool — I heed it not.' This retort so incensed the priest, that he persuaded James to remove Blow from his office ; but before this could be accomplished the revolution of 1688 took place, and Blow retained his appointments until his death. About 1697 he was living at an estate he had bought at Hampton, where he wrote (15 Oct. 1697) an anthem,' I was glad when they said unto me,' for the opening of St. Paul's Cathedral. In the same year he wrote an anthem, 'Praise the Lord, O my Soul,' to celebrate the peace of Ryswick. In 1699 a new establishment was founded in the Chapel Royal, and Blow was admitted into it as composer at a salary of 40l. per annum, which sum was afterwards raised to 73l. In the following year he published his 'Amphion Anglicus,' the full title of which is 'Amphion Anglicus. A work of many compositions for One, Two Three, and Four Voices : with several accompaniments of Instrumental Musick ; and a Thorow-Bass to each Song : Figured for an Organ, Harpsichord, or Theorboe-Lute. By Dr. John Blow. London : Printed by William Pearson, for the Author ; and are to be Sold at his House in the Broad-Sanctuary, over against Westminster-Abby, and by Henry Playford, at his Shop in the Temple-Change, Fleet-Street, 1700.*^ In the dedication addressed to the Princess Anne he expresses his intention of publishing his church compositions — 'To those, in truth, I have ever more especially consecrated the Thoughts of my whole Life. All the rest I consider but as the Blossoms, or rather the Leaves ; those I only esteem as the Fruits of all my Labours in this kind. With them I began my first Youthful Raptures in this Art. With them I hope calmly and comfortably to finish my days.' In accordance with the custom of the day, the collection is introduced by a number of laudatory verses. These are by William Pittis, Tom d'Urfey, Henry Hall, Jeremiah Clarke, an anonymous writer who dates from Whitehall, William Crofts, J. Phillips, 'H. P.,' John Barrett, William Luddington, Richard Brown, Ed. Langbridge. S. Akeroyd, William Pearson, and 'Mr. Herbert.' Many of these men were Blow's own pupils, and their effusions breathe a more genuine spirit than is usual in such productions, and show in what high esteem the amiable composer was held. Blow died at Westminster on 1 Oct. 1708, and was buried on the 7th of the same month in the north aisle of the abbey. His will, dated 3 Jan. 1707, when he was sick, in body but of sound and perfect mind and memory,' shows him to have been possessed of considerable property. To his daughter Katharine he left two leasehold houses in Great Sanctuary ; to his daughter Elizabeth a leasehold house in Great Sanctuary, and two leasehold houses in Orchard Street ; and to his daughter Mary three houses in Turk Lane. His copyhold estate at Hampton was directed to be sold for the benefit of his daughters, and he also left to Elizabeth Luddington, his 'true and faithful servant,' sums of 100l., and 10l. for mourning, befiidea 'my rings which I weare — all my wearing cloaths, morning Gowns, and Linnen ; ' to his sister Cage 50l., and 10l. for mourning ; and to his niece, Elizabeth Blow, 60l., 'to be disposed of as my said daughters shall think fit for at her use, and 6l. for mourning. Blow's wife died in childbed on 29 Oct. 1683, aged 30. By her he had five children: (1) Henry (buried in Westminster Abbey 1 Sept. 1676) ; (2) John, died 2 June 1693, aged 15 (said to have been a child of great talent); (3) Elizabeth, married 30 April 1719 to Captain William Edgeworth, and died 2 Sept. 1719 ; (4) Katharine, died unmarried 19 May 1730; (5) Mary, died unmarried 19 Nov. 1738. Blows portrait was painted by Sir Peter Lely, and is now in the possession of the Rev. Sir F. Gore Ouseley. There is a fine engravrng of him drawn from the life by R White prefixed to the 'Amphion Anglicus;' other engravings are a small oval published by J. Hinton, and another (with Boyce, Ame, Purcell, and Croft) drawn by R. Smirke, published in September 1801. Although he of was a voluminous composer, very little of his music has been published separately. An elegy on Queen Mary, 'The Queen's Epicedium,' was printed, with two odes by Purcell, in 1695, and ode on St. Cecilia's day in 1684, an ode on the death of Purcell in 1696 (words by Dryden), a collection of lessons for the harpsichord in 1698, other similar collections (with several by Purcell) in 1700 and 1705, and 'The Psalms set full for the Organ or Harpsichord' (no date). Three services and ten anthems are printed by Boyce, and many of his smaller compositions are to be found in the contemporary publications of Playford and others. Blow wrote many birthday, New Year, and St. Cecilia odes, upwards of one hundred anthems, and fourteen services, most of which are still extant in the collections of the British Museum, Christ Church, Oxford, Music School, Royal College of Music, and Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. His compositions have for long been most undeservedly neglected. During his lifetime he was overshadowed by Purcell, and in later years the attack which Burney made upon nis music deterred musicians from investigating its merits for themselves. Those who have done so are unanimous in thinking that Burney's strictures reflect more discredit upon his critical acumen than upon Blow's music, which was in many respects far in advance of the age in which he wrote, and displays an extraordinary degree of power and Individuality. By his contemporaries he was chiefly admired for his organ-playing, in which he 'was reckon'd the greatest Master in the World, for playing most gravely and seriously in his voluntaries; and also for his mastery of Canon.' The celebrated 'Gloria' from his 'Jubilate in C major,' which is engraved upon his tombstone at Westminster, is said to have been sung at St. Peter's At Home, where it was introduced by Cardinal Howard, to whom it was given by the sub-dean of the Chapel Royal, Dr. Ralph Battell, and Purcell in his additions to the twelfth edition of Playford's 'Introduction to the Skill of Music' (1694) quotes this composition with the remark that Blow's 'character is sufficiently known by his Works, of which this very Instance is enough to recommend him as one of the Greatest Masters in the World.'
[Wood's MSS. (Bodleian Library), 19 D (4). No. 106 ; Chapter Records of Winchester Cathedral ; Registers of North Collingham ; State Papers (Dom. Ser.). 1660-1, vol. viii.; Barrett's English Church Composers (1882), p. 92 ; Grove's Dictionary of Music, i. 249, 756 b; Boyce's Cathedral Music ; Noble's Continuation Granger, i. 301 ; Busby's Musical Anecdotes, 202 ; Cheque-book of the Chapel Royal ; Chester's Registers of Westminster Abbey. pp. 208, 265, &c.; Catalogue of the Music School Collection, Oxford; W.H. Cumming's Life of Purcell, p. 43 &c.; Hawkins's History of Music (ed. 1853), ii. 740; Rees's Encyclopædia, vol. iv.; Appendix to Bemrose's Choirr Chant Book, p. vi.; Probate Registry, 228 (Barrett); Playford's Introduction (12th ed. 1694), p. 141; Bedford's Great Abuse of Musick (1711). pp. 219, 248 ; Burney's History of Music; Catalogues of the British Museum aad Royal College of Music; information from the Rev. J.R. Mee and Mr. W.R. Sims.]