Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simpson, Christopher

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SIMPSON or SYMPSON, CHRISTOPHER (1605?–1669), violist and writer on musical theory and practice, was son of Christopher Sympson, a Yorkshire yeoman, who was descended from a Nottinghamshire branch of the Sympsons (Harl. MS. 5800). On the outbreak of the civil war he took arms in the king's service, joining the forces commanded by William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle (1592–1676) [q. v.] When at length ‘the iniquity of the times had reduced (Simpson) with many others, in that common calamity, to a condition needing’ support, Sir Robert Bolles, a member of a family devoted to the crown and a distinguished patron of music, afforded him ‘a cheerful maintenance.’ Simpson lived under his patron's roof at Scampton, Lincolnshire, and gave lessons to John Bolles, the heir, and to Sir John St. Barbe. While thus employed he wrote the works which made him famous. He accompanied his pupil, Bolles, an accomplished musician, on a visit to Rome in 1661. In 1663 Simpson witnessed Sir Robert Bolles's will, by which he received a legacy of 5l. He at the same time profited greatly by his publications. Before his death he acquired Hunthouse, a house and farm near Pickering in Yorkshire, and settled it by deed upon his nephew, Christopher, the son of Stephen Simpson. Simpson died at Lincoln (or in London) between 5 May and 29 July 1669. He bequeathed his music-books ‘or whatever is of that concernment’ to Sir John Bolles. Simpson's memory was respected by musicians of various schools. Lock, Salmon, Mace, and Sir Roger L'Estrange all bear witness to his exemplary life, musical skill, and the noble influence which he exerted through his music.

Simpson published: 1. ‘Annotations upon Campion's “Art of Descant,”’ 1655; they were incorporated with Playford's ‘Brief Introduction,’ 2nd ed. 1660, and later editions, until superseded by Purcell's ‘Art of Descant,’ 1684. 2. ‘The Division Violist, or an Introduction to playing upon a Ground,’ dedicated to Sir Robert Bolles, bart., 1659; the division viol or viol da gamba was a favourite instrument in the seventeenth century (Grove), and Simpson's work was soon out of print. A second edition, dedicated to Sir John Bolles, bart., with William Marsh's Latin translation opposite the original text, was published as ‘Chelys, Minuritionum Artificio exornata: sive Minuritiones ad Basin, etiam Extempore Modulandi Ratio: the Division-Viol, or the Art of playing extempore upon a Ground,’ in three parts, 1665: part i. ‘Of the Viol itself;’ part ii. ‘The use of the Concords, or a Compendium of Descant;’ part iii. ‘The Method of ordering a Division to a Ground,’ explaining the arrangement of parts between the organ or harpsichord and the two viols. Extempore playing after the fashion prescribed in this treatise, not attainable by any but the most skilful players (of whom, however, Simpson's pupil Bolles was one), began and ended with this period. A third edition, with a fine portrait of Simpson engraved from Carwarden by W. Faithorne, appeared in 1712. 3. ‘Principles of Practical Musick, delivered in a compendious, easie, and new Method for the Instruction of beginners either in Singing or Playing upon Instruments, to which are added some short easie Ayres,’ 1665. This elementary work was dedicated to Sir John St. Barbe, bart. It was followed by 4. ‘A Compendium of Practicall Musick,’ 1667, dedicated to William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle. This manual of advanced music, admirably clear and concise, is generally regarded as a new edition of the ‘Principles;’ the forty pages of which form the first—‘Rudiments of Song’—of the five parts (176 pages) of the ‘Compendium.’ A portrait of Simpson, drawn and engraved by Faithorne, was prefixed. A second edition was published in 1670 (Fétis), a third in 1678, and other editions followed in 1706, 1713, 1714, 1727, and the eighth in 1732.

In manuscript are (1) ‘A Series of Suites in Three Parts,’ twenty-one numbers altogether (Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 18940, 18944); (2) ‘Monthes and Seasons, namely Fancies, Airs, and Galliards for two Basses and a Treble’ (ib. 31436). The Oxford Music School possesses a portrait of Simpson.

[Hawkins's History of Music, pp. 707–12, with portrait and musical illustration; Burney's History of Music, iii. 358, 421, 473; Grove's Dict. iv. 43, ii. 422, 437, &c.; Mace's Musick's Monument, pp. 151, 217, 235; Salmon's Vindication, pp. 37, 57, 75; Lock's Observations, pp. 32, 33; State Papers, Committee for Compounding with Delinquents, pp. 905, 1088; Simpson's Works; Registers of Wills, P.C.C. Cope 90, Juxon 104; North Riding Record Society, 6 vols. passim; Illingworth's Account of Scampton, passim.]

L. M. M.