Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fawcett, John (1789-1867)
FAWCETT, JOHN, the elder (1789–1867), composer, was born in the village of Wennington in Lancashire on 8 Dec. 1789. He followed his father's trade of shoemaking until 1825, when his growing reputation throughout the county enabled him to settle at Bolton as organist, professor of music, and composer of sacred and educational works, songs, temperance choruses, &c., until his death at the age of seventy-eight, 26 Oct. 1867. Fawcett, after he had mastered the Lancashire sol-fa system, was self-taught, and began his studies by copying out, and even writing from memory, the scores and parts of the hymn tunes practised in the village choir. He also joined the militia band, playing the clarionet, and was bandmaster when seventeen. The composition of marches and quicksteps was a natural result, but the bent of his mind led him to the writing of hymn tunes, and afterwards his services as choirmaster were eagerly sought, and the young composer was employed in this capacity successively at the St. George's, the Wesleyan, and the Independent chapels at Kendal, the Holland Wesleyan Sunday school at Farnworth (1817) for seven years, and the Bridge Street Wesleyan and the Mawdesley Street Congregational chapels in Bolton, similar posts in Manchester being declined by him. Fawcett taught the pianoforte, organ, harmonium, flute, violin, violoncello, double-bass, singing, and composition, besides establishing musical meetings at his own house, organising concerts of native talent, and occasionally assisting, in conjunction with London and local professionals, at small festivals in the neighbourhood. This sturdy northern musician upheld the Lancashire system of notation with some obstinacy, a quality further illustrated in the close of his interesting address on ‘Choirs and Choir Music,’ prefixed to the ‘Voice of Devotion’ (1862).
It is said that Fawcett's compositions number upwards of two thousand, many of them psalm and hymn tunes well known in a district where music bore an all-important part in the services, and where it was not unusual to find ‘ten or twelve instruments in the orchestra, with a proportionate number of voices, supplemented by the hearty vocal powers of fifty or a hundred girls’ (Bolton Guardian, and for anecdotes of north of England village congregations see the Rev. G. Huntingdon's article in Temple Bar, September 1888, p. 39). Most of Fawcett's choir music is characterised by the ‘good melody’ he thought so essential, and it in fact combined the dignity and homeliness proper to the surroundings; his more ambitious efforts, however, show less individuality. His chief works (with their dates as nearly as can be ascertained) are: 1. ‘The Seraphic Choir,’ full score, 1840. 2. ‘Melodia Divina,’ selected by Hart, 1841; supplement 1854. 3. ‘The Cherub Lute,’ for Sunday schools. 4. ‘The Harp of Zion’ (hymns adapted to the Wesleyan supplement), with a portrait. 5. ‘Music for Thousands,’ 1845. 6. ‘Now is Christ risen,’ anthem (for the Bolton Philharmonic Society), full score. 7. Five short anthems. 8. ‘The Lancashire Vocalist,’ 1854. 9. ‘The Temperance Minstrel,’ 1856. 10. ‘Chanting made easy,’ 1857. 11. ‘The Universal Chorister,’ 1860. 12. ‘The Voice of Devotion,’ four hundred popular and original hymn tunes, selected and revised by Fawcett, 1862–3. 13. ‘The Temperance Harmonist,’ 1864.[Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 510; Bolton Guardian, 2 Nov. 1867; Bolton Chronicle, 2 Nov. 1867; Fawcett's Voice of Devotion, 1862, and his other works in the British Museum Library.]