Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Elvey, George Job

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ELVEY, Sir GEORGE JOB (1816–1893), organist and composer, born at Canterbury on 29 March 1816, was son of John Elvey. For several generations his family had been connected with the musical life of the cathedral city. At an early age he was admitted as a chorister of Canterbury Cathedral, under Highmore Skeats, his brother, Stephen Elvey, being then master of the boys. In 1830, Stephen Elvey having been appointed organist of New College, Oxford, George went to reside with him, and completed his musical education under his brother's guidance. Before he was seventeen he had become a very expert organist, and took temporary duty at Christ Church, Magdalen, and New College. In 1834 he gained the Gresham gold medal for his anthem, 'Bow down Thine ear, Lord.' In 1835 he succeeded Skeats as organist of St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Among his earliest pupils were Prince George (Duke of Cambridge) and Prince Edward of Saxe Weimar, for whose confirmation he composed his well-known anthem, 'Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?' He matriculated from New College on 17 May 1838, and graduated Mus. Bac. on 2 June following, his exercise being an oratorio, 'The Resurrection and Ascension,' afterwards performed by the Sacred Harmonic Society at Exeter Hall (12 Nov. 1838), and subsequently at Boston, United States of America, and at Glasgow. On 2 July 1840, by a special dispensation of the chancellor of the university, Elvey graduated Mus. Doc. two years earlier than was allowed by the statutes. His exercise on this occasion was the anthem, 'The ways of Zion do mourn.' Two anthems, with orchestral accompaniments, 'The Lord is King,' and 'Sing, Heavens,' were written respectively for the Gloucester festival of 1853 and the Worcester festival of 1857.

Of his best-known works produced chiefly between 1856 and 1860 many were composed for special services at St. George's Chapel. By the death of the Prince Consort in 1861 Elvey lost one of his most sympathetic patrons. The funeral anthems, 'The Souls of the Righteous' and 'Blessed are the Dead,' were both written for anniversary services in memory of the prince. For the marriage of the Prince of Wales (1863) he composed a special anthem, with organ and orchestral accompaniment, 'Sing unto God,' and for the marriage of Princess Louise (1871) a festal march which attained considerable popularity. He was knighted on 24 March 1871. The last important public event in which he took part was the marriage of the Duke of Albany at St. George's Chapel on 6 May 1882. In June of that year he resigned his post as organist. After some years spent in retirement he died at the Towers, Windlesham, on 9 Sept. 1893.

Elvey married first, on 19 June 1838, Harriette, daughter of his tutor, Highmore Skeats, and by her, on 30 Dec. 1851, had issue one son. George Highmore Elvey (d. 1875); he married secondly, on 22 Aug. 1854, Georgiana, daughter of John Bowyer Nichols [q. v.]; she died on 22 Dec. 1863; and he married thirdly, on 20 April 1865, Eleanora Grace, daughter of Richard Jarvis; she died on 23 Jan. 1879. He married fourthly, on 20 June 1882, Mary, daughter of Sir Joseph Savory, bart., of Buckhurst Park, lord mayor of London in 1890-1; she survives him. By his second wife Elvey had issue three sons and one daughter.

Elvey was a prolific writer of church music. Besides the anthems already mentioned, his chants, his 'Cantate Domino,' a 'Deus misereatur' in D, and the tune to the harvest hymn, 'Come, ye thankful people, come,' are among his most popular compositions. He also wrote fifteen part songs, an introduction and gavotte for piano and violin, and four pianoforte pieces.

He was a staunch admirer of old English church music, and the school of the restoration was fully represented in his services at St. George's Chapel. He was also famous for his rendering of Handel's music. While at Oxford he is said to have learnt the traditional tempi of Handel's choruses from Dr. Crotch, who had received them from Randall of Cambridge, a player in Handel's orchestra. In the words of Mr. E. H. Thorne, a former pupil: 'Elvey's style of organ playing was pre-eminently a grand church style. He was particularly fine in the anthems of Purcell, Greene, Croft, and Boyce, and knew how to bring out all the devotional and dramatic qualities of these composers.'

[Life and Reminiscences of Sir George J. Elvey, by Lady Elvey, 1894; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Burke's Peerage; information from E. H. Thorne, esq.; Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 487.]

R. N.