Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomson, John (1805-1841)

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THOMSON, JOHN (1805–1841), musical writer, eldest son of Andrew Mitchell Thomson [q. v.], successively minister of Sprouston, Perthshire, and St. George's, Edinburgh, by his wife, Jane Carmichael (d. 1840), was born at Sprouston on 28 Oct. 1805. He made the acquaintance of Mendelssohn on the composer's visit to Edinburgh in 1829, and renewed his acquaintance at Leipzig, where he also met Schumann and Moscheles, and studied under Schnyder von Wartensee. He returned to Edinburgh, and in 1839 he was elected first Reid professor of the theory of music in the university there. He gave the first Reid concert on 12 Feb. 1841, and the book of words contains a critical analysis by Thomson of the pieces produced—probably the first instance of analytical programmes.

Thomson died at Edinburgh on 6 May 1841, having occupied the chair for only eighteen months. Six months before his death he married a daughter of John Lee (1779–1859) [q. v.], principal of Edinburgh University.

He was the composer of three operas: 1. ‘Hermann, or the Broken Spear,’ 1834; 2. ‘The House of Aspen;’ and 3. ‘The Shadow on the Wall;’ the two latter, produced at the Royal English Opera (Lyceum) on 27 Oct. 1834 and 21 April 1835 respectively, each enjoying a long run. He also published ‘The Vocal Melodies of Scotland, with Symphonies and Accompaniments by John Thomson and Finlay Dunn,’ Edinburgh, n.d. 4to; new edit. 1880. He wrote many compositions for the piano and violin, and among a large number of songs the best known are ‘The Arab to his Steed,’ ‘Harold Harfäger,’ and ‘The Pirate's Serenade.’

[Grove's Dict. of Music; Brown's Biographical Dict. of Musicians; Baptie's Musical Biography; Baptie's Musical Scotland; Grant's Story of the University of Edinburgh; Scot's Fasti Eccl. Scot. I. i. 74.]

G. S-h.