Charles Avison

Charles Avison
16.02.1709 - 05.1770
Period:Baroque, Classique


Charles Avison (pron.: /ˈeɪvɨsən/; 16 February 1709 (baptized) – 9 or 10 May 1770) was an English composer during the Baroque and Classical periods. He was a church organist at St John The Baptist Church[1] in Newcastle and at St. Nicholas's Church (later Cathedral). He is best remembered for his 12 Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti and his Essay on Musical Expression, the first music criticism published in English.

Little is known of Avison's early life. The son of Richard and Anne Avison, both musicians, he was baptised on 16 February 1709, at St. John's Church in Newcastle. (According to the New Grove dictionary, he was also born in this city.) His only education can have been at one of the two charity schools serving St John's parish. It is likely that he had early contact with Ralph Jenison, a patron of the arts, and later a member of Parliament.

As a young man, he travelled to London to study under Francesco Geminiani. However, his ties to his hometown remained strong, and on 13 October 1735, he accepted the position of church organist at St. John's Church in Newcastle. Shortly after, he also became organist at nearby St. Nicholas's. Despite numerous offers of more prestigious positions later in life, he never again left Newcastle.

On 15 January 1737, Avison married Catherine Reynolds. They had three surviving children: Jane (1744–1773), Edward (1747–1776), and Charles (1751–1795). Edward and Charles both later served as organists at St. Nicholas's, and Charles published a book of hymns.

In July 1738, Avison was appointed music director of the Newcastle Musical Society. He also collaborated with John Garth's subscription concerts in Durham, and was active in local theatres.

The foundation of Avison's contemporary fame was his Essay on Musical Expression, published in 1752. It was the first work of musical criticism published in English.

Avison was one of the subjects in Robert Browning's Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in their Day: "Hear Avison! He tenders evidence/That music in his day as much absorbed/Heart and soul then as Wagner's music now."

Avison died on 9 or 10 May 1770, after being caught out in an unusual blizzard that hit from May 2–4.[2] He is buried at St. Andrew's in Newcastle.[3]

Avison continued the Italian style tradition, which Geminiani had made so popular in London. In his Concerti Grossi, in particular, he carried on Geminiani's technique of modeling orchestral concertos after sonatas by older composers. His Essay on Musical Expression criticized Handel, who was much admired in England at the time.

Since 1994, the Avison Ensemble of Newcastle has been performing Avison’s music on period instruments.

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