Open main menu

Battishill, Jonathan (DNB00)

BATTISHILL, JONATHAN (1738–1801), composer, was the son of a solicitor, and was born in London in May 1738. At the age of nine he became a chorister of St. Paul's, and was articled pupil to the choirmaster, William Savage, before the age of thirteen. Under this master, who treated him with great severity, he advanced rapidly in scientific knowledge of music and in manual execution. When his term of apprenticeship expired he was already known as one of the best extempore performers on the organ in the country. At this time he composed some songs for Sadler's Wells Theatre, which procured him considerable celebrity. He was next associated with Dr. Boyce at the Chapel Royal as his deputy, and about the same time was engaged to conduct the band at Covent Garden. On 11 Jan. 1758 Battishill was elected a member of the Madrigal Society, and on 2 Aug. 1761 became a member of the Royal Society of Musicians (Records of the Madrigal Soc. and Roy. Soc. of Musicians). Here he became acquainted with Miss Davies, the original Madge in ‘Love in a Village,’ and married her in 1763. Soon after this he was appointed organist of the united parishes of St. Clement Eastcheap and St. Martin Ongar, and also of Christ Church, Newgate Street. By these appointments he was obliged to sever his connection with Boyce. About the same time he gave up his post at Covent Garden, and Mrs. Battishill retired from public life. In 1764 he composed most of the music—all the choruses and some of the airs—for an opera entitled ‘Almena,’ of which the overture and the rest of the airs were written by Michael Arne. The music was exceedingly good; but in consequence of the poverty of the libretto, the work was only performed five times. In spite of this failure Battishill persevered in theatrical composition, and in the same year produced the music to a pantomime called the ‘Rites of Hecate,’ which obtained considerable success. Soon after this he set to music a collection of hymns by Charles Wesley, and wrote a number of songs and a set of sonatas for the harpsichord. In 1771 he received a gold medal from the Catch Club for his cheerful glee, ‘Come bind my brows.’ In 1776 he published, by subscription, two collections of glees, and about the same time he took considerable interest in the musical and elocutionary entertainments projected by Lee the actor and Baildon the musician, which took place in the great room of the Crown and Anchor tavern. Several interesting choruses were composed by Battishill for these occasions. At this time he led a very domestic life, his cultivated tastes and his love of literature providing him with plenty of occupation. After the death of his wife, in 1777, he sought distraction in dissipation, thereby injuring his health and diminishing his fortune. After a long illness he died at Islington on 10 Dec. 1801, and was buried, in accordance with his dying request, in St. Paul's, near the remains of Dr. Boyce. The funeral service was composed by Dr. Busby, and Battishill's own beautiful six-part anthem, ‘Call to Remembrance,’ was sung, and accompanied by Attwood. His works are vigorous and original, having a certain analogy to those of Purcell. His part-writing is exceedingly ingenious and interesting. His playing of the organ and harpsichord was dignified and tasteful, though dexterity and rapidity of execution were disregarded by him. Busby relates that he used frequently to say ‘I am no finger merchant.’ His playing of Handel was particularly excellent.

Besides the collection of his works published during his lifetime, several anthems, chants, and psalm-tunes were published after his death by Page in 1804. In the British Museum there is a copy of ‘Two Anthems, as they are sung in St. Paul's Cathedral.’ These are ‘Call to Remembrance’ (six parts) and ‘How long wilt Thou forget me?’ (five parts). Copies of his collection of songs and glees are in the library of the Royal College of Music.

[Busby's History of Music, vol. ii.; Concert-room Anecdotes; Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians; European Magazine, xl. 479.]

J. A. F. M.