Born: September 11, 1711; London, England
Died: February 7, 1779; London, England
The leading native-born composer of eighteenth century England (save perhaps for Thomas Arne), William Boyce was born in London in 1711. He received his primary musical training as a boy soprano at St. Paul's Cathedral. When his voice changed, Boyce necessarily left the choir and began to study organ with the church's organist and composer, Maurice Greene. In 1734, Boyce accepted his first professional position as organist at the Oxford Chapel,Read more where he remained for two years, also spending time teaching at a variety of nearby schools. From that position, Boyce moved on to serve in the same capacity at St. Michael's, and concurrently assumed a court composer position at the Chapel Royal. He was, a year later, named director of England's Three Choirs Festival, an annual celebration that was the first such endeavor of its kind and continues today in London.
Boyce's profile began to rise in the 1750s. In 1749, Boyce accepted employment as organist at the All Hallows Church, but also began a relationship with the Drury Lane Theater; he composed a wealth of incidental music over the next three years for that establishment. When, in 1755, the flourishing musician's former teacher Maurice Greene died, Boyce assumed the position "Master of the King's Music," an appointment widely considered the apex of his artistic career; in this post he reached the height of his celebrity in London. In this capacity, Boyce composed music (primarily odes) to be performed at specific royal occasions. Boyce also was named conductor at St. Paul's Cathedral's Sons of Clergy Festival.
In 1758, the Royal Chapel, who had already employed Boyce as court composer, hired him as chief organist. Boyce was rapidly losing his hearing, however, and was forced to resign his posts at both St. Michael's and All Hallows Church. His deafness had developed early in his life but did not handicap him until it worsened considerably in his later years. In forced retirement, Boyce committed himself to editing and organizing a collection of English church scores by numerous composers, including William Byrd and Henry Purcell. This compilation, entitled Cathedral Music, had been a project started by his teacher Maurice Greene many years prior to his death. Much of its remains prominent in the Anglican Church repertoire today.
Boyce produced a generous quantity of music during his career, and is most widely recognized for his symphonies, anthems, and overtures. His eight symphonies, all in three movements, combine Baroque style with forward looking elements; like other early "symphonies" in Italy, these were closely linked to the theatrical overture form; indeed, these symphonies were essentially collations of pieces borrowed from Boyce's own catalog of music for theater. Boyce composed music for keyboard, as well as chamber music for varied ensembles; a group of 12 trio sonatas in the Italian manner, published in 1747, proved particularly successful.
The music essayist Charles Burney recognized an essential English quality in Boyce's works, but the composer fell into obscurity in the nineteenth century. It was not until the 1930s that a quantity of his music (specifically his symphonies, overtures, and three concerti grossi) was rediscovered. Prominent in the revival of his works was the English conductor Constant Lambert, who edited scores of his music and programmed it repeatedly. Read less