Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gardiner, William (1770-1853)

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GARDINER, WILLIAM (1770–1853), musical composer, the son of a Leicester manufacturer, was born 15 March 1770. The elder Gardiner was an amateur of music, and composed at least one hymn tune, preserved in the first volume of ‘Sacred Melodies,’ yet he did little to encourage William's precocious talents, and judged that the smallest possible amount of general knowledge would suffice to fit him for the hosiery trade. The youth's inquiring mind found scope, however, in the meetings of the Adelphi Philosophical Society, formed in Leicester by Phillips (afterwards Sir Richard Phillips). For this society Gardiner wrote some striking papers—‘Whether all the Celestial Bodies naturally attract each other?’ ‘What are those Bodies called Comets?’ ‘On Matter and its Properties,’ &c. In 1790, the second year of the society's existence, this gathering of philosophical infants (fourteen out of the seventeen members were under age) was pronounced by the authorities dangerous in its tendency, and dissolved. Henceforward musical matters chiefly claimed Gardiner's attention during his leisure hours. Direction was given to his artistic taste by the arrival in Leicester of the Abbé Dobler with the last works of Haydn and Beethoven in his portmanteau. The consequent early performance (1794) there of Beethoven's E flat trio was referred to with gratitude by enthusiasts whom Gardiner met at the inauguration of the Bonn monument in 1848. Gardiner was shrewd enough to recognise without revering the genius of the great masters. He was responsible for such barbarous compilations as ‘Sacred Melodies from Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and other composers, adapted to the best English poets and appropriated for the use of the British Church’ (1812–15), and ‘Judah, an Oratorio written, composed, and adapted to the Works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, by W. Gardiner’ (1821). Garbled fragments out of masses, symphonies, quartets, and even operas, were here patched up with original matter by the compiler. Minuets and some less stately dances are disguised as heartrending slow movements; the first subject of the andante in Beethoven's seventh symphony does duty as a march of the Philistines, and confusion is increased by arbitrary changes of rhythm in well-known airs. Indulgence was sought for the experiment on the ground of the extreme dryness of the church music of the day. The popularity of the volumes, especially in the midland counties, for many years, may be supposed to have justified their production. Gardiner's independent compositions, such as the anthem ‘One thing have I desired’ (1843), the part-song ‘At Evening when my work is done,’ and a few songs are of greater merit. In the meantime he had edited, with notes, the ‘Life of Haydn,’ translated from the French of Bombet by the Rev. C. Berry, and the ‘Life of Mozart,’ from the German of Schlichtergroll, by R. Brewin (1817). The ‘Music of Nature, an attempt to prove that what is passionate and pleasing in the art of singing, speaking, and performing upon musical instruments is derived from the sounds of the animated world, with illustrations’ (1832), is a pleasant book of opinions, anecdotes, and historical scraps, but hardly successful in proving by illustration the conscious or unconscious reference by great composers to natural cries. As a precursor of modern attempts to combine the scientific with the artistic spirit, it has its place in musical history. After Gardiner's retirement from commercial life, he wrote and published (1838) ‘Music and Friends, or Pleasant Recollections of a Dilettante,’ furnishing a lively and good-natured account of his career, of life in his native town, and of its more or less eminent men. Gardiner's travels and correspondence, extending over a long period, had also brought him into contact with many celebrities, including Moore, Godwin, Peter Pindar, Bowring, Cobbett, Neukomm, Paganini, Weber, Schroeder-Devrient, Malibran, Landseer, Mrs. Jordan, Kean, Elliston, Helen Maria Williams, Soult, &c. A last work, ‘Sights in Italy, with some Account of the Present State of Music and the Sister Arts in that country’ (1847), was the outcome of a tour made at the age of seventy-seven, yet written with a wonderful freshness of interest in pictures, persons, and performances. Gardiner was a foreign member of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia and attended one of its meetings in Rome; he was also corresponding member of the Institut historique de France. His popularity among all classes was due to his exuberant high spirits, kindness, and brilliant conversational powers. At the age of eighty-three he was still in vigorous bodily health, with bright, unclouded intellect. He died after a week's illness at Leicester, 16 Nov. 1853, and was buried in the new cemetery. His portrait by Miss M. A. Hull was published by Messrs. Allen of Leicester.

[Gardiner's works as above; Gent. Mag. new ser. xli. 92; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 169, 6th ser. iv. 374; Musical World, xxxi. 765, 784; Russell's Memoirs of Moore, vols. i. ii. and vii.; Brown's Dict. of Musicians.]

L. M. M.