Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Babell, William

BABELL or BABEL, WILLIAM (1690?–1723), musician, was the son of a bassoon-player, and received his first musical instruction from his father. He was for some time the pupil of Dr. Pepusch, under whose care he attained to great proficiency as a player both on the harpsichord and violin, and to some skill in composition. He was appointed one of George I's private musicians, and was also given the post of organist of All Hallows, Bread Street. Such celebrity as he attained was due rather to his arrangements for the harpsichord of popular airs from the operas of Handel and others,than to any original work of his own. He may claim to be regarded as the originator of those 'transcriptions' which have since his day been so fashionable in a certain circle of the world of music. Burney criticises him very severely, accusing him of 'wire-drawing the favourite songs of the opera of Rinaldo, and others of the same period, into showy and brilliant lessons, which by mere rapidity of finger in playing single sounds, without the assistance of taste, expression, harmony, or modulation, enabled the performer to astonish ignorance, and acquire the reputation of a great player at a small expense.' Hawkins, however, considers them to have deserved the celebrity which they attained. Besides these arrangements there exist several collections of solos for the violin, oboe, German flute, &c., and some concertos for 'small flutes' and violins mentioned by Hawkins. A Vivace with florid variations, and a Gavotte and Aria in manuscript, are contained in the British Museum (Add. MS. 31577). He died at Canonbury on 23 Sept. 1723, his early death being probably due to his intemperate habits. He was buried in All Hallows Church.

J. A. F. M.