William Crotch


Born: July 5, 1775; Norwich, England   Died: December 29, 1847; Taunton  
A child prodigy possessed of brilliance that rivaled that of Mozart and Mendelssohn, William Crotch divided his energies between performing, composing, teaching, conducting, and painting, and while a few of his compositions are sometimes heard, it is in these other fields, particularly the first, that he remains strongest in posterity.

Young William's father was a master carpenter who had constructed a small organ and as early as the age
Read more of two, William became fascinated with the instrument and was able to play tunes on it. Within a year, he could add bass to a given tune and was said to be able to detect faulty intonation in other musical notes at about the same age. The best source of Crotch's remarkable precocity comes from his own memoirs, which he wrote in later years having assembled testimony and writings of others about him at this age. In these, he claims to have played to a "large company" at Norwich in February 1778, at which time he would have been just over two and a half years old. He also notes that, according to the London Magazine of April 1779, he had, in November 1778, shortly following this third birthday, been "...carried by his mother to Cambridge, where he played on all the college and church organs to the astonishment of the gentlemen of the university." Word of these feats reached King George himself and he performed for their royal majesties at Buckingham House on New Year's Day of 1779. On the organ, he reportedly played God Save the King and nine other pieces.

Remaining in London for an extended visit, Crotch is recorded as having played to the royal princesses at Lady Charlotte Finch's in St. James Palace on June 5, 1779. He briefly returned to Norwich that summer, but visited London again in the fall where it is recorded that he gave daily recitals at Mrs. Hart's, a millinery establishment in Piccadilly, "two doors west of St. James Street." He also gave organ recitals in these days and toured the British Isles as an infant prodigy at just more than four years of age.

By the age of ten, Crotch was already debating the merits of attending either Oxford or Cambridge, eventually selecting the latter, where he continued to give concerts and functioned as an assistant to a professor music, Dr. Randall, and served as organist of Trinity and King's colleges and Great St. Mary's Church. He remained at Cambridge for just more than two years, thence moving to Oxford, where he first began study in religious orders. Also about this time, he composed an oratorio, The Captivity of Judah, which was performed at Trinity Hall on June 4, 1789. Returning to the serious study of music, Crotch was appointed organist of Christ Church in September 1790 -- he was 15 -- and on June 5, 1794, graduated from Oxford with a bachelor's degree in music. Three years later, upon the death of Phillip Hayes, he succeeded to the post of organist of St. John's College and professor of music at Oxford.

On November 21, 1799, Crotch received his doctorate in music, for which event he composed Ode to Fancy, which was subsequently published. From this point on, his career becomes one of solid teaching and lecturing, but with relatively few enduring compositions. The summit of his career as a much-revered educator came with the establishment of the Royal Academy of Music in 1822, at which time he was installed as its principal. He remained in this post for ten years, resigning in June 1832. His final public appearance as a performer was just two years later, on June 28, 1834. Among Crotch's compositions are the 1810 installation Ode for Lord Grenville, the 1812 oratorio Palestine, an 1820 Ode on the Accession of George IV, a funeral anthem for the Duke of York in 1827, and The Lord Is King, an anthem for voices and orchestra written near the end of his life in 1843. There were also several other works, including ten anthems, some chants and a motet, several glees, fugues and concertos for organ, and an assortment of pieces for piano. Aside from his musical compositions, Crotch wrote several significant literary works that were mostly based upon his lectures on music at Oxford and London. Read less

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