Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, Henry (1801-1876)

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PHILLIPS, HENRY (1801–1876), musician, son of Richard Phillips, an actor, was born at Bristol on 13 Aug. 1801. At the age of eight he appeared as a singing boy at Harrogate Theatre, and soon afterwards was engaged to sing soprano parts, first at the Haymarket, and then at Drury Lane. He became a pupil of Broadhurst, and began his career as a bass at Covent Garden in Bishop's ‘Law of Java.’ At this time his voice was weak, and the poor effect he produced caused him to retire temporarily to Bath. He returned to London in 1823, studied under Sir George Smart, and was engaged by Kemble to sing in Arne's ‘Artaxerxes.’ In this also he made no impression, the newspapers recording the ‘total failure of Mr. Phillips at Covent Garden last night.’ In 1824, however, he sang the music of Caspar, on the production of ‘Der Freischütz,’ with great success, and thenceforth he rapidly rose in public estimation. He soon took a leading place at the provincial musical festivals, and was much engaged for theatre and concert work. In 1825 he became principal bass at the ancient music concerts, and entered the choir of the Bavarian Chapel. In 1834 he sang at the Lyceum in Loder's ‘Nourjahad’ and in Barnett's ‘Mountain Sylph.’ In the latter opera his singing of the ballad ‘Farewell to the Mountain’ constituted the chief success. In 1843 he gave up the theatre, and began a series of ‘table entertainments,’ which he continued at intervals to the end of his career. In 1844 he visited America. Mendelssohn composed a ‘scena’ for him to words from Ossian, ‘On Lena's gloomy heath,’ and he sang it at the Philharmonic Concert on 15 March 1847. His engagements gradually decreased, and he retired at a farewell concert given on 25 Feb. 1863. He was subsequently employed as a teacher, first at Birmingham, and then near London. He died at Dalston on 8 Nov. 1876, and was buried at Woking cemetery.

Phillips was a clever and versatile musician and a good actor. His voice lacked power, but he made admirable use of it. In oratorio and ballad he was specially successful. He composed music to many songs, of which the most popular were ‘The best of all good Company,’ and ‘Shall I, wastynge in despaire.’ His ‘Musical and Personal Recollections of Half a Century,’ 2 vols., London, 1864, with portrait, contains much interesting matter. He also wrote ‘Hints on Declamation,’ London, 1848, and ‘The True Enjoyment of Angling,’ London, 1843.

[Musical and Personal Recollections as above; Musical Times, December 1876; Grove's Dict. of Music.]

J. C. H.