Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Goss, John

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GOSS, Sir JOHN (1800–1880), musical composer, born at Fareham, Hampshire, on 27 Dec. 1800, was son of Joseph Goss, organist of Fareham. His uncle, John Jeremiah Goss (1770–1817), was an alto singer of distinction, who was a vicar choral of St. Paul's, lay vicar of Westminster Abbey, and a gentleman of the Chapel Royal. Young Goss was elected to the Chapel Royal in 1811, under John Stafford Smith, and remained a chorister for five years. In 1816 he left the Chapel Royal school in the Broad Sanctuary, and went to live with his uncle, becoming a pupil of Thomas Attwood [q. v.] The first composition by him made public, a ‘Negro's Song’ (probably for some play) for three voices and small orchestra, apparently dates from 1819. His only other work for the stage was incidental music to Banim's ‘Sergeant's Wife,’ performed at the English Opera House 20 July 1827. The overture is still preserved in manuscript. Entries in his diary show that as early as 1823 he was composing concerted vocal music. Four glees, an anthem, ‘Forsake me not,’ and two canons are mentioned under that date. One of these canons, 6 in 3, ‘I will always give thanks,’ was published. On 13 Feb. 1824, at a meeting of the Concentores Sodales, a canon, 4 in 2, ‘Cantate Domino,’ and seven new glees by him were sung; the celebrated ‘There is beauty on the mountain’ was among the latter, and the canon was published in the same year (reviewed in the ‘Harmonicon’ December 1824). On 9 Jan. 1825 he was appointed organist to the new church of St. Luke, Chelsea, with a salary of 100l. An overture in F minor, composed in this year, was rehearsed by the Philharmonic orchestra, but not performed until 23 April 1827. Another overture, in E flat, was performed at the Academic concert of 28 May 1827, and a short motet for six voices, ‘Requiem æternam,’ written in memory of the Duke of York, was published in the ‘Harmonicon’ for that year. Of the two orchestral works, that in F minor is said to be the better, that in E flat the more erudite; the composer seems to have known that his talents lay in another direction than that of writing for the orchestra, for an invitation, dated 1833, from the directors of the Philharmonic, asking him to write a new work, was not accepted. Another ‘Requiem,’ in memory of Shield, as well as a ‘Hallelujah’ in canon, is mentioned in the diary for 1829; in 1833 he gained the Gresham prize for his anthem ‘Have mercy upon me’ (dedicated to Attwood), and published his finest glee, ‘Ossian's Hymn to the Sun.’ The first edition of his famous ‘Introduction to Harmony’ was also published in the same year (he had been professor of harmony at the Royal Academy of Music since 1827). Whether from pressure of educational work or from some other cause, he produced no composition of importance for the next nineteen years; he edited the ‘Sacred Minstrel’ (contributing three original songs) and added accompaniments to Moore's ‘Songs from Scripture’ (1837). He was appointed organist to St. Paul's on the death of Attwood in 1838. Three years afterwards he brought out ‘Cathedral Services, Ancient and Modern,’ with Turle, and ‘Chants, Ancient and Modern.’ In the latter first appeared his adaptation from the allegretto of Beethoven's seventh symphony, one of the most popular of double chants, in spite of all that can be said against the proceeding from an artistic standpoint. No original work was produced by Goss except the anthem ‘Blessed is the man’ (1842), until the profound impression created by his pathetic ‘If we believe that Jesus died,’ written, at Dean Milman's request, for the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852, incited him anew to composition. In 1854 ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul,’ was written for the bicentenary Festival of the Sons of the Clergy; and in 1856, on the death of Knyvett, Goss was appointed composer to the Chapel Royal. In the next thirteen years he composed some twenty-four anthems, besides services, &c. Some of these, as for instance ‘The Wilderness,’ ‘O taste and see,’ and ‘O Saviour of the World,’ hold a permanent place in English church music.

In 1872 signs of failing health were perceptible. At the public thanksgiving for the recovery of the Prince of Wales, 27 Feb., he officiated at the organ, and his own ‘Te Deum’ and an anthem, ‘The Lord is my strength,’ both composed for the occasion, were performed. Soon afterwards he resigned his appointment and received the honour of knighthood. On 17 April a banquet was given in his honour at the Albion Tavern, Aldersgate Street, and was attended by most of the distinguished musicians of the day. In 1876 he was given the degree of Mus.D. at Cambridge. He died at his residence, Lambeth Road, Brixton Rise, 10 May, and was buried 15 May 1880 in Kensal Green cemetery. In 1886 a tablet was erected to his memory in the crypt of St. Paul's by his pupils and friends; beneath a bas-relief by Mr. Hamo Thornycroft, R.A., is the opening of his ‘If we believe,’ the anthem sung at Goss's funeral service in the cathedral. Goss married, in 1821, Lucy Emma, daughter of William Nerd; she died at Streatham on 15 Feb. 1895, aged 95.

The best of Goss's works are distinguished by much grace and sweetness, underlying which is a solid foundation of theoretic and contrapuntal science. It is difficult to resist the assumption that at least some part of this happy combination was inherited, through Attwood, from Mozart. Goss was the last of the illustrious line of English composers who confined themselves almost entirely to ecclesiastical music.

The style of his organ-playing dated from a time when the art of pedal playing had not been brought to perfection; as a teacher he was remarkably successful, and as a man was distinguished for amiability and gentleness, as well as for deep religious feeling.

[Grove's Dict. i. 384, 610; Musical Times, 22 and 29 May 1880; Times, 12 May 1880; Musical Opinion, &c., June 1886; information from Mrs. J. J. Sampson.]

J. A. F. M.