Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kearns, William Henry

KEARNS, WILLIAM HENRY (1794–1846), musical composer, was born at Dublin in 1794 (Grove). He came to London about 1817, and for thirty years was a member of the orchestras of Her Majesty's and Covent Garden theatres. He played the violin at the Ancient Concerts in 1832, and the viola (being during many seasons first viola) in the same band from 1833 to 1846. He was an esteemed teacher of singing, a member of the Philharmonic Society, and the organist of the Verulam Episcopal Chapel, Lambeth. He died at Princes Place, Kennington, on 28 Dec. 1846.

As a composer Kearns showed more promise than performance. He wrote suitable music to ‘Bachelors' Wives, or the British at Brussels,’ an operetta performed on 16 July 1817, and frequently repeated at the English Opera House under Arnold (European Mag.) It was published in London, 1817. The originality of Kearns's ‘Cantata, with accompaniment for Pianoforte,’ London, 1823, attracted some attention, and a critic of that day (Quarterly Musical Magazine) expressed himself astonished to meet with ‘an accompaniment as various as the passion intended to be represented, and [having] as much to do with it as the voice part itself.’ His ‘Three Songs of Early Piety’ were published about 1840. The first series of the ‘Comprehensive Tune Book’ (compiled by Gauntlett and Kearns), 1846, contains only one original hymn by the latter. Other compilations and arrangements are Haeser's ‘Triumph of Faith,’ with the accompaniment for pianoforte revised by Kearns, 1837; Haydn's ‘Seasons’ (with a new arrangement of the words by Taylor), newly revised, with accompaniment for pianoforte by Kearns; ‘Songs of Christmas,’ 1847, being ‘elegant melodies of Handel, Haydn, Mozart, etc., selected and arranged.’ He was successful in his revision of and additions to the orchestral accompaniments to Handel's oratorios for the Westminster Abbey festival of 1834, and for provincial festivals. Kearns is said to have aided in the scores for the stage representations of Weber's, Spohr's, Meyerbeer's, and Marschner's operas.

[Dictionary of Musicians, 1827, ii. 5; Grove's Dictionary of Music, iv. 688; Musical World, xxii. 41; Ancient Concert Programmes; Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, v. 233; European Magazine, lxxii. 67; Athenæm, 1847, pp. 52, 105.]

L. M. M.