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

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KNYVETT, WILLIAM (1779–1856), musical composer, third son of Charles Knyvett (1752–1822) [q. v.], musician, was born on 21 April 1779, most probably in London, and educated by his father, by Samuel Webbe, the glee composer, and by Signor Cimador. In 1788 he sang in the treble chorus at the Concerts of Antient Music, and in 1795 appeared there as the principal alto. In 1797 he was appointed one of the gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, and soon after a lay vicar of Westminster Abbey. He succeeded Dr. Samuel Arnold in 1802 as one of the composers of the Chapel Royal. In singing he took the alto or contra-tenor parts, invariably employing his falsetto, though nature had supplied him with a deep bass. He attached himself to the Harrison and Bartleman school, and became the third of a fashionable vocal triumvirate. For upwards of forty years he sang at the best London concerts and at the provincial festivals. Callcott's glee, ‘With sighs, sweet Rose,’ was composed expressly for him. In 1832, on the death of Thomas Greatorex, he became conductor of the Concerts of Antient Music, an office which he resigned in 1840. He was the conductor of the Birmingham festivals from 1834 to 1843, and of the York festival of 1835. With the exception of Sir George Smart, he was the last of the musical leaders who inherited the Handel traditions as to the method of conducting an oratorio. He produced vocal works that were very popular, many of which will be remembered for their sweet melody and good harmony. Among them were ‘There is a flower,’ ‘My love is like the red, red rose,’ 1803; ‘The Bells of St. Michael's Tower,’ 1810; ‘The Boatie Rows,’ 1810; ‘The Midges' Dance,’ and ‘As it fell upon a day,’ 1812. He also wrote ‘When the fair rose,’ a glee for which he gained a prize at the Harmonic Society in 1800, presented to him by his steady patron, the Prince of Wales. Upwards of thirty-five of his compositions were printed. His unpublished works include the grand anthem, ‘The King shall rejoice,’ produced officially for the coronation of George IV, and ‘This is the day the Lord has made,’ written for the coronation of Queen Victoria.

Knyvett impoverished himself by unsuccessful speculations. He died at Clarges House, Ryde, Isle of Wight, 17 Nov. 1856. His second wife, whom he married in 1826, was Miss Deborah Travis of Shaw, near Oldham. She was celebrated in her day for her knowledge of Handel's music and her superior mode of delivering it. She sang at the Concerts of Antient Music in 1813 and at the principal London concerts from 1815 to 1843. She died on 10 Feb. 1876.

[Gent. Mag. 1857, pt. i. 621–2; Grove's Dictionary of Music, 1880, ii. 67; Champlin's Cyclopedia of Music, 1889, ii. 380.]

G. C. B.