Callcott, John Wall (DNB00)
CALLCOTT, JOHN WALL (1766–1821), musical composer, son of Thomas Callcott, a bricklayer and builder, by his second wife, Charlotte Wall, was born at Kensington on 20 Nov. 1766. At the age of seven he was sent as a day-boarder to a school kept by William Young. Five years later family circumstances compelled him to leave. He had made considerable progress in the classics and in the Greek Testament. In later years he studied Hebrew and the philosophy of Locke. Callcott was originally intended for the medical profession, and studied anatomy for a year; but the extreme distaste which he displayed on witnessing an operation, coupled with the interest in music which was aroused by his visits to the organ-loft of Kensington Church, induced his father to educate him as a musician. In 1778 he was introduced to Henry Whitney, the organist of Kensington parish church, from whom he probably acquired some little instruction, since in the following year he was able to practise alone on a spinet which his father had bought him. In 1780 he learned the clarinet, and wrote music for an amateur play performed at Mr. Young's school. In the following year the clarinet was abandoned for the oboe, and young Callcott became acquainted with the elder Sale, secretary of the Catch Club, from whom, and also from Drs. Arnold and Cooke, he derived much desultory learning. About 1782 he occasionally played the oboe in the orchestra of the Academy of Ancient Music, and in the three following years sang in the chorus of the oratorios at Drury Lane Theatre. In 1783, on the recommendation of Attwood, Callcott was appointed deputy organist, under Reinhold, of St. George-the-Martyr, Queen Square, Bloomsbury, a post he held until 1785. In 1784 he competed for the first time for the prize given by the Catch Club, but without success, though in the following year three of the four prize medals of the club were awarded to his glees. On 4 July of the same year he took the degree of Mus. Bac. at Oxford, his exercise being a setting of Warton's ‘Ode to Fancy.’ In the following year two more prizes were awarded him by the Catch Club, and he set an ode by E. B. Greene, which was performed in February at a concert in aid of the Humane Society. In 1787 Callcott sent in no fewer than one hundred compositions to compete for the Catch Club prizes. Out of all these only two were successful, and the society passed a resolution that in future no more than twelve compositions should be sent in by any one competitor. This rule so offended Callcott that for two years he refused to compete, though in 1789 he changed his mind, and was rewarded by carrying off all the prizes of the club, while between 1790 and 1793 he won nine more medals. In 1787 he was associated with Arnold in the formation of the Glee Club, the first meeting of which was held on 22 Dec. at the Newcastle Coffee-house. In the next year he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Musicians, and in 1789 was appointed joint organist (with C. S. Evans) of St. Paul's, Covent Garden. In the same year his well-known glee, ‘When Arthur first,’ was introduced in Dr. Arnold's ‘Battle of Hexham’ at the Haymarket. On Haydn's arrival in London in 1791 Callcott was introduced to him by Salomon, and studied instrumentation with him, writing a symphony and other works under his guidance. In the same year Callcott was married. In 1793 he was appointed organist to the Asylum for Female Orphans, a post he occupied until 1802, when he resigned it in favour of his son-in-law, William Horsley. About this time Callcott conceived the plan of writing an extensive dictionary of music. He had bought the manuscript collections of Dr. Boyce and his pupil, Marmaduke Overend, from the widow of the latter, and with characteristic energy set to work to qualify himself for his task by laborious researches into the theoretical writings of early musicians. Though much occupied in teaching, his evenings were devoted to studying mathematics and philosophy or in epitomising musical treatises, and in 1797 he issued the prospectus of his projected work. In the following year he took part in the formation of the Concentores Society, for the practice of unaccompanied part-singing. On 18 June 1800 Callcott proceeded to the degree of Mus. Doc., on which occasion his exercise was a Latin anthem, ‘Propter Sion non tacebo.’ In 1801 he exerted himself successfully to form a band for the Kensington Volunteer Corps, of which he had been an officer since 1795. In the same year he published anonymously a little work entitled ‘The Way to speak well made easy for Youth.’ On 25 Oct. 1802 he wrote an anthem, ‘I heard a Voice from Heaven,’ which was performed four days later at Arnold's funeral. After Arnold's death he applied unsuccessfully for the post of composer to the king. During the next few years Callcott was principally occupied in writing his ‘Musical Grammar,’ which was published in 1806, and achieved great success. A second edition appeared in 1809, and a third in 1817, since when the work has been constantly reprinted. In 1806 he was appointed to succeed Dr. Crotch as lecturer of music at the Royal Institution, and in the following spring he published a pamphlet entitled ‘A Plain Statement of Earl Stanhope's Temperament.’ But his busy career was drawing to a close. He had already given up any idea of classifying the accumulation of notes and manuscripts he had made for his projected work, and for some time had suffered from continual restlessness. In 1807 his brain gave way, and for five years he was in an asylum. From 1812 to 1816 he recovered his reason; but after that date his malady returned, and he was never restored to health. He died near Bristol on 15 May 1821, and was buried at Kensington on the 23rd of the same month.
Callcott is best known as a glee writer of great power and fecundity. A collection of his glees, catches, and canons was published in 1824 by his son-in-law, W. Horsley, with a memoir of the composer and a portrait engraved by F. C. Lewis from a painting by his brother, Sir Augustus Callcott, R.A. [q. v.] In addition to these works he published six sacred trios, a collection of anthems and hymns sung at the Asylum chapel, four glees composed at Blenheim in 1799, six sonatinas for the harpsichord (op. 3), a hunting song, introduced at Drury Lane in Coffey's farce, ‘The Devil to pay,’ an explanation of the notes, marks, &c. used in music (1792), two curious musical settings of the multiplication and pence tables, and much other music. There is an engraved portrait of him by Meyer. Many of his manuscript compositions and his collections for a musical dictionary are preserved in the British Museum.[Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 297; Memoir by W. Horsley prefixed to Callcott's Glees, 1824; Harmonicon for 1831, p. 53; Quarterly Musical Magazine, iii. 404; Gent. Mag. xci. 478; Records of Royal Soc. of Musicians; Catalogues of British Museum and Music School, Oxford; Evan's Catalogue of Engraved Portraits, p. 53; Add. MSS. 27686, 27693, &c.]