Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Croft, William

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CROFT, WILLIAM (1677?–1727), musician, the son of William Croft, was born at Nether Eatington or Ettington, Warwickshire, where he was baptised on 30 Dec. 1678, though his birth is always stated to have taken place in 1677. He studied music in the Chapel Royal as a chorister under Dr. Blow. In 1700 William III presented an organ to St. Anne's, Westminster, and Croft (or, as his name was frequently spelt, Crofts) became the first organist, a post he held until 1711, when he resigned it to John Isham. Previous to this appointment, but in the same year, he joined Blow, Piggot, Jeremiah Clarke, and John Barrett in publishing a 'Choice Collection of Ayres for the Harpsichord or Spinett.' On 7 July 1700 Croft and Clarke were sworn gentlemen extraordinary of the Chapel Royal,' and to succeed as organists according to merit, when any such place shall fall voyd.' Accordingly,on 25 May 1704 the two composers were sworn 'joyntly into an organist's place, vacant by the death of Mr. Francis Piggott.' Previous to this Croft had been connected with Drury Lane Theatre, for which he wrote music for 'Courtship à la Mode' (9 July 1700), the 'Funeral' (1702), the 'Twin Rivals' (14 Dec. 1702), and the 'Lying Lover' (2 Dec. 1703).

On the death of Clarke in 1707 Croft succeeded to the whole organist's place at the Chapel Royal. The entry in the 'Cheque-Book' recording his swearing-in is dated 5 Nov., but as it has been recently proved (Athenæum, No. 3101) that Clarke shot himself on 3 Dec., this date is evidently a mistake. In October of the following year Croft succeeded Blow as organist at Westminster Abbey and master of the children and composer at the Chapel Royal. In the latter capacity it was part of his duty to compose anthems for the various state ceremonies and solemn thanksgiving services during the reigns of Anne and George I. In 1704 he had already written the anthem, ‘I will give thanks,’ for the thanksgiving for Blenheim. In December 1705 he wrote ‘Blessed be the Lord,’ for the public thanksgiving at St. Paul's; in 1708, ‘Sing unto the Lord,’ on a similar occasion; in 1714, ‘The souls of the righteous,’ for Queen Anne's funeral, and ‘The Lord is a sun and shield,’ for the coronation of George I; in 1715, ‘O give thanks,’ for the suppression of the rebellion; and in 1718, ‘We will rejoice,’ for a public thanksgiving on 29 May. Other similar works are: ‘Praise God in His sanctuary,’ written for the inauguration of the organ at Finedon, Northamptonshire; ‘I will always give thanks,’ written for one of Anne's thanksgiving services, the words of which were selected by the queen herself; and ‘Give the king thy judgments,’ composed on 13 July 1727. In 1712 Croft edited a collection of words of anthems, which was published anonymously under the title of ‘Divine Harmony.’ On 9 July of the following year he took the degree of Mus. Doc. at Oxford, where he entered at Christ Church; his exercise on this occasion consisted of two odes on the peace of Utrecht, written by Joseph Trapp, and performed on 13 July. These odes were subsequently published in score under the title of ‘Musicus Apparatus Academicus.’ In 1715 he received an increase of 80l. per annum to his salary at the Chapel Royal, and in the following year was appointed to the sinecure office of tuner of the regals. In 1724 Croft published two folio volumes of his sacred music in score; this work contains thirty anthems and a burial service (part of which is by Purcell), with a portrait of Croft and a preface in which it is stated that the volumes are the first engraved in full score on plates. On the formation of the Academy of Vocal Musick in 1725 Croft was one of the original members. He died at Bath on 14 Aug. 1727, aged 50, and was buried in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey on the 23rd. He married, on 7 Feb. 1704–5, Mary, daughter of Robert Georges of Kensington, but seems to have had no children. His wife survived him, and after her death administration of the estates of both was granted to her father on 28 July 1733. In 1713 Croft was living at Charles Street, Westminster, but in the grant of administration he is described as late of St. Margaret's, Westminster, and Kensington. Besides his church music Croft published, chiefly in his younger days, a few single-sheet songs, six sonatas for two flutes, and (according to Hawkins) six sets of theatre airs; but it is by his anthems that he is now chiefly remembered. In these he shows himself a worthy successor of Purcell and Blow not indeed so great a genius as the former, nor so full of individuality as the latter, but still combining many of the merits of both, and carrying on the good traditions of a school of which he was almost the last representative. His portrait was painted by T. Murray, and is now in the Music School collection, Oxford. This picture was engraved by Vertue as the frontispiece to Croft's ‘Musica Sacra,’ and (the head only) by J. Caldwell for Hawkins's ‘History of Music.’ There is also a mezzotint of him by T. Hodgetts, after J. J. Halls, and a small vignette (with Arne, Purcell, Blow, and Boyce), drawn by R. Smirke and published in 1801.

[Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 419; Hawkins's Hist. of Music, v. 94, &c.; Appendix to Bemrose's Choir Chant Book; Chester's Westminster Registers; Genest's Hist. of the Stage; Hayes's Remarks upon Avison's Essay, p. 107; Harmonicon for 1828; Burney's Hist. of Music, iv. 603; Cheque-Book of the Chapel Royal (Camden Soc.); Noble's Cont. of Granger; Stow's Survey of Westminster, ed. 1720, p. 85; Brit. Mus. Catalogues of Printed and MS. Music; Registers of Eatington, communicated by the Rev. G. H. Biggs; Vestry Books of St. Anne's, communicated by the Rev. E. W. Christie.]

W. B. S.