Caldicott, Alfred James (DNB01)

CALDICOTT, ALFRED JAMES (1842–1897), musician, was the eldest son of William Caldicott, a hop merchant of Worcester and musical amateur, and was born at Worcester on 26 Nov. 1842. At the age of nine he became a choirboy in the cathedral, where several of his brothers and half-brothers subsequently sang also. He rose to be the leading treble, and, while taking part in the Three Choir festivals, formed the ambition to conduct an oratorio of his own in the cathedral. At the age of fourteen his voice broke, and he was articled to Done, the cathedral organist. He remained at Worcester, acting as assistant to Done until 1863, when he entered the Leipzig Congervatorium to complete his studies. Moscheles and Plaidy were his masters for the pianoforte; Reinecke, Hauptmann, and Richter for theory and composition. In 1865 he returned to Worcester, and became organist at St. Stephen's and honorary organist to the corporation. He spent twelve years in routine work, teaching, organ-playing, and conducting a musical society he had established. In 1878 he graduated Mus. Bac. Cantab. In the same year he made his first notable success as a composer, his humorous glee 'Humpty Dumpty' being awarded a special prize at a competition instituted by the Manchester Glee Society. In 1879 his serious glee 'Winter Days' won the prize offered by the Huddersfield Glee and Madrigal Union, He was then commissioned to compose an oratorio for the Worcester festival. He chose the story of the widow of Nain as subject, wrote both libretto and music himself, and on 12 Sept. 1881 realised his boyish dream by conducting his oratorio in the cathedral.

In 1882 Caldicott left Worcester for Torquay, but a few months later settled in London. He then began to compose operettas for Thomas German Reed [q. v.], the first being 'Treasure Trove,' performed in 1883. Reed produced twelve others, including 'A Moss Rose Rent,' 1883; 'Old Knockles,' 1884; 'In Cupid's Court,' 1885; 'A United Pair,' 1886; 'The Bosun's Mate,' 1888; 'The Friar;' 'Wanted an Heir;' 'In Possession;' 'Brittany Folk;' 'Tally Ho!' (1890). When the Albert Palace in Battersea Park was opened with ambitious intentions a full orchestra was engaged, and Caldicott was appointed conductor. He composed a dedication ode for the opening on 6 June 1885, but very soon resigned. He afterwards conducted at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, where two operettas, 'All Abroad' and 'John Smith,' commissioned by Carl Rosa, were performed in 1889–90. He went to the United States in 1890 as conductor to Miss Agnes Huntingdon's light opera company; her retirement from the stage prevented the production of an important work commissioned for her on a larger scale than Caldicott's other operettas. After his return to England he was appointed a professor at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music: in 1892 he resigned these posts on being appointed principal of a private teaching establishment styled the London College of Music. He also became conductor at the Comedy Theatre in 1893. Incessant work overtaxed his strength, and in 1896 cerebral exhaustion gradually developed. His last composition was a part-song, 'The Angel Sowers,' composed for J. S. Curwen's 'Choral Handbook' (1885). He died at Barnwood House, near Gloucester, on 24 Oct. 1897. He married an Irish lady, niece of Sir Richard Mayne [q. v.], and a good soprano vocalist, by whom he had three sons and also a daughter, who was trained as a vocalist, but married and retired.

Other works by Caldicott were: Operettas: 'A Fishy Case' (1885), and 'The Girton Girl and the Milkmaid' (1893); cantatas for ladies' voices: 'A Rhine Legend' (1882) and 'Queen of the May' (1884); and many single songs, both solo and concerted. 'Unless' (London, 1883, fol.), to words by Mrs. Browning, has been specially successful. He was well skilled in musical science, and constructed many clever canons; in his oratorio 'The Widow of Nain' there is a chorale, the treble and bass of which remain the same if sung with the book held upside down. His sacred music, from 'The Widow of Nain' to the smallest part-song, is always dignified and pleasing. He published no instrumental music of importance. The special novelty he brought forward was the humorous admixture of childish words and very complicated music in the glee 'Humpty Dumpty' (1878). It was so successful that he composed another in the same year, 'Jack and Jill,' and many musicians imitated him for a time. He set these nursery rhymes in the most elaborately scientific style, with full use of contrast and the opportunities afforded by individual words — as, for instance, the descent of all the voices through the interval of an eleventh at the words 'Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.' These pieces, as also Caldicott's humorous songs, 'The New Curate' and 'Two Spoons,' are thoroughly amusing to an average English audience; yet any listener not comprehending the text would probably notice nothing beyond spirited and well-constructed music, and not even suspect a humorous intention. This fact helps to illustrate the powers and limitations of the art of music. Should any profound research on the functions of the various arts be undertaken, Caldicott's glees may give considerable assistance.

[Musical Herald, November 1897, with portrait; Musical Times, December 1897; Brown and Stratton's British Musical Biography; Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, iv. 769; private information.]

H. D.