Gauntlett, Henry John (DNB00)

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GAUNTLETT, HENRY JOHN (1805–1876), composer, was born at Wellington, Shropshire, on 9 July 1805. His father, the Rev. Henry Gauntlett, who is noticed above, became in 1815 vicar of Olney, Buckinghamshire. The elder Gauntlett promised the congregation that if they would subscribe for an organ he would provide an organist from among his own children, intending to make two of his daughters play together. His son, then aged nine, undertook, by the time the organ was put up, to be able to play it. In a few weeks his promise was fulfilled, and he was regularly installed. He held the post for ten years. In order to celebrate the accession of George IV, he got up a performance of the ‘Messiah,’ first copying out all the parts, and training all the singers himself. He was at first educated with a view to taking orders. When he was about sixteen his father took him to London to see Crotch and Attwood, who were impressed by his musical powers. Attwood, then organist of St. Paul's, wished to take Gauntlett as his pupil and eventual successor. Unfortunately his father objected, and after a short sojourn in Ireland as tutor in a private family, he was in 1826 articled for five years to a solicitor in London. Soon after he was appointed organist of a church in or near Gray's Inn, at 60l. a year, and in 1827 became organist of St. Olave's, Southwark. In due time he became a solicitor, and practised successfully for fifteen years. He never lost an opportunity of gaining experience as an organist, and to that end applied to Samuel Wesley for instruction. From him he received many traditions of the older school, among others the original tempi of many of Handel's works. In 1836 he accepted the post of evening organist at Christ Church, Newgate, at a salary of two guineas a year! At this time he began that agitation in favour of enlarging the compass of the pedals of the organ which ended in the universal adoption of the ‘CCC’ organs throughout the country. On Mendelssohn's earlier visits to England no organ had been found on which the more elaborate works of Bach could be played. Gauntlett went to see the organ at Haarlem, and on his return was fortunate in obtaining the co-operation of Hill, the organ-builder. After strenuous opposition from many quarters the organ of Christ Church was transformed in time for Mendelssohn's arrival in the autumn of 1837, the bulk of the necessary funds being raised by private subscriptions. An interesting account of Mendelssohn's playing on the new instrument was written by Gauntlett in the ‘Musical World’ (15 Sept. 1837), a paper in which he took an active interest, and of which he was for some time editor and part proprietor. Many of the best articles in the earlier volumes are by him; one upon the ‘Characteristics of Beethoven’ attained a more than temporary celebrity. Among the other organs built and improved by Hill under Gauntlett's direction were those of St. Peter's, Cornhill; York Minster; the town hall, Birmingham, &c. In 1841 he married Henrietta Gipps, daughter of W. Mount, esq., J.P. and deputy-lieutenant, of Canterbury. In the following year Dr. Howley, archbishop of Canterbury, conferred upon him the degree of Mus. D. It was the first instance of such a degree being conferred since the Reformation, unless it be true that the degree conferred on Blow was given by Sancroft [see Blow, John]. About this time he superintended the erection of a new organ in St. Olave's, the old one having been destroyed by fire. The work was done by Lincoln, but subsequently voiced by Hill. The last of his schemes for the structural improvement of the organ was the application of electricity to the action. He took out a patent for this in 1852. In 1843 (3 Aug.) he gave a performance of works by John Bull at Christ Church, in the presence of the king of Hanover, who gave him permission to style himself his organist. The object of the performance was to ventilate the theories of Richard Clark (1780–1856) [q. v.] as to the origin of our national anthem. In 1846 he was chosen by Mendelssohn to play the organ part in the production of ‘Elijah’ at Birmingham on 26 Aug.; the task was not an easy one, for the organ part had been lost, and Gauntlett was compelled to supply one from the score, which he did to the composer's entire satisfaction. In the same year he resigned his post at St. Olave's. From this time he devoted himself to literary work and to composition, although he held various posts after this date. At Union Chapel, Islington (Rev. Dr. Allon's), he undertook to play the organ in 1853, the arrangement lasting until 1861, when he was appointed to All Saints, Notting Hill, remaining there for two years. His last appointment was to St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield, a post which he held for the last four years of his life. He died at his residence, 15 St. Mary Abbotts Terrace, Kensington, on 21 Feb. 1876, and was buried at Kensal Green on the 25th. His widow and six children survive him. Much of Gauntlett's literary work is hidden away in musical periodicals, in prefaces to unsuccessful hymn-books, and in similar places. The chants and hymn tunes written by him are many hundreds in number. Of the latter it is safe to say that tunes like ‘St. Alphege,’ ‘St. Albinus,’ and ‘St. George’ will be heard as long as public worship exists in England. His compositions in this class show correct taste, a pure style, free alike from archaisms and innovations, and a thorough knowledge of what is wanted for congregational use. Other compositions, such as ‘The Song of the Soul,’ a cycle of songs, and his excellent arrangements for the organ, are in all respects worthy of him. The following are the most important of the compilations, &c., on which he worked: 1. ‘The Psalmist,’ 1839–41. 2. ‘Gregorian Canticles,’ 1844. 3. ‘Cantus Melodici,’ 1845 (this was intended to be the title of a tune book, but it is prefixed only to an elaborate introductory essay on church music, the compilation for which it was designed being afterwards published, with another preface, as ‘The Church Hymn and Tune Book,’ see below). 4. ‘Comprehensive Tune Book,’ 1846. 5. ‘Gregorian Psalter,’ 1846. 6. ‘Harmonies to Gregorian Tones,’ 1847. 7. ‘Comprehensive Choir Book,’ 1848. 8. ‘Quire and Cathedral Psalter,’ 1848. 9. ‘Christmas Carols,’ 1848. 10. ‘The Bible Psalms, … set forth to appropriate Tunes or Chants,’ 1848. 11. ‘373 Chants, Ancient and Modern,’ 1848 12. ‘The Hallelujah’ (with Rev. J. J. Waite), 1848, &c. (A book with this title, a compilation made for Waite's educational classes, had been issued, in a meagre form, as early as 1842, by Waite and J. Burder; Gauntlett's connection with the former began in 1848, and lasted until Waite's death. See preface to the ‘memorial edition’ of the ‘Hallelujah,’ in which Gauntlett's work is fully acknowledged.) 13. ‘The Stabat Mater, set to eight melodies,’ 1849. 14. ‘Order of Morning Prayer,’ 1850. 15. ‘Church Anthem Book,’ 1852–4 (incomplete). 16. ‘Church Hymn and Tune Book’ (with Rev. W. J. Blew), 1851. 17. ‘Hymns for Little Children,’ 1853. 18. ‘Congregational Psalmist’ (with Dr. Allon), 1856. 19. ‘Manual of Psalmody’ (with Rev. B. F. Carlyle), 1860. 20. ‘Christmas Minstrelsy’ (with Rev. J. Williams), 1864. 21. ‘Tunes New and Old’ (with J. Dobson), 1866. 22. ‘Church Psalter and Hymnal’ (with Canon Harland), 1869. 23. ‘The Service of Song,’ 1870. 24. ‘Parish Church Tune Book,’ 1871. 25. ‘National Psalmody,’ 1876. In 1856 he prepared and composed by far the greater part of a compilation entitled ‘The Encyclopædia of the Chant,’ for the Rev. J. J. Waite. This was only lately published (1885), with scanty acknowledgment of Gauntlett's important share in the work.

A set of ‘Notes, Queries, and Exercises in the Science and Practice of Music,’ 1859, intended for the use of those who have to choose organists, shows the extraordinary range of Gauntlett's musical culture. Mendelssohn said of him that ‘his literary attainments, his knowledge of the history of music, his acquaintance with acoustical laws, his marvellous memory, his philosophical turn of mind, as well as practical experience, rendered him one of the most remarkable professors of the age’ (quoted in Athenæum, No. 2522). His contributions to musical literature are to be found in the earlier volumes of the ‘Musical World,’ in the ‘Church Musician,’ 1850 and 1851, a periodical started and edited by himself, in the ‘Sun,’ ‘Morning Post,’ the ‘Orchestra,’ ‘Notes and Queries,’ &c. To the last he was a frequent contributor on general as well as on musical subjects. In an obituary notice in the ‘Revue et Gazette Musicale,’ he was stated to have been a contributor to the ‘Athenæum;’ this was denied in that periodical, and with truth, if the word ‘contributor’ is to be understood as a regular writer; it is scarcely a secret, however, that the learned and caustic review of a certain meretricious book on music was written by him for Grüneisen. Gauntlett was always fearless and outspoken in the expression of his artistic convictions; these were pure and his standard lofty. He was free from all trace of mercantile considerations. He was one of the most eager champions of Gregorian music, and his theories as to its performance and accompaniment were in advance of those held by most of his contemporaries. He was a devoted admirer of the works of Bach, and his playing of that master's organ fugues, &c., as well as his extempore playing, is said to have been exceedingly fine.

[Grove's Dict. i. 584, ii. 274; Athenæum, Nos. 2305, 2522, 2523; authorities quoted above; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Sermons by the Rev. Henry Gauntlett, with a Memoir by his daughter, 1835; the Town of Cowper, by Thomas Wright, 1886; information from Mrs. Gauntlett.]

J. A. F. M.