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

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GIBBONS, CHRISTOPHER (1615–1676), musical composer, elder of the two surviving sons of Orlando Gibbons [q. v.], was born in 1615, and baptised in St. Margaret's, Westminster, 22 Aug. of that year. He was probably called after his father's patron, Sir Christopher Hatton. He received his musical education in the choir of Exeter Cathedral under his uncle, Edward Gibbons [q. v.] (the double mistake of stating him to have learnt music under Ellis Gibbons [q. v.] and at Bristol originated in a clerical error of Wood). In 1638 he succeeded Thomas Holmes as organist of Winchester Cathedral, a post which he held, in name at all events, until 23 June 1661. He joined a royalist garrison, along with other cathedral officials, in the civil war. In July 1654 Evelyn heard ‘Mr. Gibbon,’ probably Christopher, play the organ in Magdalen Chapel, Oxford. At the Restoration he was appointed one of the organists of the Chapel Royal, to which he had belonged in Charles I's time (Wood, Fasti, ii. 277). He was also made organist of Westminster Abbey, and private organist to Charles II. On 23 Sept. 1646 he married, at St. Bartholomew's the Less, Mary, daughter of Dr. Robert Kercher, a late prebendary of Winchester, and in February 1661 he petitioned the king that he might obtain his tenant right by virtue of this marriage to a tenement in Whitchurch manor belonging to the cathedral (Cal. State Papers, Dom., Charles II, vol. xxxi. No. 65). His wife died in April 1662, and was buried on the 15th of the month in the north cloister of Westminster Abbey. In that year the famous German organist Froberger, who had been robbed on his way to England, and was almost destitute, appealed to him for the post of organ-blower. On the occasion of the king's marriage, Gibbons was playing before the court, when Froberger overblew the bellows, and drew down upon him the rage of his employer. Shortly afterwards Froberger, having filled the bellows, struck a crashing discord on the keys, and resolved it in so masterly a manner that he was recognised by a lady who had been his pupil. By the king's command a harpsichord was brought in, and he played to the admiration of all present, and even drew an apology from Gibbons for his rudeness (Mattheson, Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte, p. 88). In July 1663 the king requested the university of Oxford to confer upon Gibbons the degree of Mus. D. (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Charles II, vol. lxxvi. No. 12), and accordingly the honour was conferred on him, per literas regias, on the 7th of the month. His ‘Act Song,’ performed in the church of St. Mary on the 11th (Wood, Fasti, ii. 158), is preserved in the library of the Music School, Oxford. He received 5l. on the occasion from the dean and chapter of Westminster (Grove). In 1653 he composed, in conjunction with Matthew Lock, who like himself had been a choir-boy at Exeter under Edward Gibbons, the music to Shirley's masque, ‘Cupid and Death,’ which was performed before the Portuguese ambassador on 26 March (the manuscript is in the British Museum, Add. MS. 17799). Gibbons died 20 Oct., and was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey 24 Oct. 1676. His nuncupative will, dated three days before his death, was proved 6 Nov. following by his second wife, Elizabeth, whose own will, dated 19 March 1677–8, was proved 22 Jan. 1682–3. She is assumed to be the person whose burial in the cloisters on 27 Dec. 1682 is entered as that of Elizabeth Bull (see Chester, Registers of Westminster Abbey, pp. 190, 206, where the name of Gibbons's second wife, whether her maiden name or that of a former husband, is stated to have been Ball).

Gibbons excelled less as a composer than as an organ-player, and it was no doubt in the latter capacity that he acted as Blow's instructor. The only printed works by him are contained in ‘Cantica Sacra’ (the second set, published by Playford, 1674; see Dering, Richard). His contributions to the book are ‘Celebrate Dominum,’ ‘Sing unto the Lord,’ ‘Teach me, O Lord,’ and ‘How long wilt thou forget me,’ all for two voices. The second and fourth of these, as well as ‘O give thanks’ and ‘The Lord said unto my lord,’ are in manuscript in the British Museum (Add. MSS. 17799, 17820, 17840); the volume of anthems in Blow's writing in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge contains, besides the three English anthems in ‘Cantica Sacra,’ ‘Let Thy merciful ears’ and ‘Teach me, O Lord,’ both by Gibbons; and Hawkins mentions ‘God be merciful,’ ‘Help me, O Lord,’ and ‘Lord, I am not high-minded,’ among ‘those of most note.’ A three-part song, ‘Ah, my soul, why so dismay'd,’ is in Add. MS. 22100. A portrait of Gibbons is in the Music School, Oxford.

[Authorities quoted above; Grove's Dict. i. 565, 595, ii. 157, iv. 647; Hawkins's Hist. ed. 1853, p. 713; Winchester Chapter Books, communicated by Mr. W. Barclay Squire; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. x. 182, 4th ser. v. 288; Companion to the Playhouse, 1764, vol. i.; Evelyn's Diary, 12 July 1654.]

J. A. F. M.