Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whitfeld, John Clarke-

WHITFELD, JOHN CLARKE- (1770–1836), organist and composer, son of John Clarke (d. 17 Sept. 1802) of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, was born on 13 Dec. 1770 at Gloucester, and adopted by letters patent in 1814 the family name of his mother, Amphillis (d. 10 Nov. 1813), daughter of Henry Whitfeld of The Bury, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire.

After a musical training at Oxford under Dr. Philip Hayes, Clarke-Whitfeld obtained in 1789 the post of organist in the parish church of Ludlow, and married in the following year. In 1793 he took the Mus. Bac. degree at Oxford. In 1794 he succeeded Richard Langton as organist and master of the choristers at Armagh Cathedral for three years; on 17 March 1798 he was appointed choirmaster of St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church, Dublin, after obtaining in 1795 the honorary degree of Mus. Doc. at Dublin University. His earliest glees and sonatas were written and partly published in Ireland; but the unsettled condition of the country at length induced him to resign his posts, and, returning to England, he settled at Cambridge, becoming organist and choirmaster to Trinity and St. John's colleges. To the masters and fellows were dedicated his three volumes, ‘Services and Anthems’ (London, 1800–5). This collection was afterwards reprinted with a supplementary fourth volume, about 1840, by Novello, who also re-edited in various forms others of Clarke-Whitfeld's sacred works.

In 1799 Clarke-Whitfeld was granted the degree Mus. Doc. Cambridge ad eundem from Dublin; and in 1810 he was incorporated Mus. Doc. at Oxford. In 1821, on the death of Dr. Hague, Whitfeld was appointed professor of music to the university of Cambridge, a post which he held until his death. To make leisure for composition he retired to the village of Chesterton, where he set to music many of Sir Walter Scott's verses. In the course of some amicable correspondence with the musician, Scott pleaded his ‘wretched ear,’ but seemed gratified by the great flow of music inspired by his ballads and poems. He was now and then at pains to forward his manuscript to Whitfeld, so that words and music should see the light simultaneously (Annual Biography). Whitfeld worked only less industriously on the poems of Byron, Moore, and Joanna Baillie, setting their words to music in some hundred songs and part-songs. About 1814 he published two volumes of ‘Twelve Vocal Pieces,’ for which original material was contributed by these and other poets.

From 1820 to 1833 Whitfeld was organist and choirmaster of Hereford Cathedral, being frequently retained at the Three Choirs Festivals to conduct or to preside at the piano. At the Hereford festival of 1822 he produced his oratorio, ‘The Crucifixion,’ and at that of 1825 its continuation, ‘The Resurrection’ (published London, 1835). Whitfeld died at Holmer, near Hereford, on 22 Feb. 1836. A mural tablet records his burial in the bishop's cloisters, Hereford Cathedral. Whitfeld's work was excellently adapted to the end he had in view, and to the wants of the period. His scores were musicianly and agreeable, and, like his songs, attained popularity. He did pioneer work in editing the scores of Purcell, Arne, and Handel, and his collections of ‘Favourite Anthems’ (1805) and ‘Single and Double Chants’ (1810) were compiled with judgment.

[Grove's Dictionary, i. 365, iv. 592; preface to vol. ii. Clarke's Anthems; Annals of the Three Choirs, pp. 106 et seq.; Annual Biography, 1837, p. 139; Havergal's Hereford, p. 102; Clutterbuck's Hertfordshire, 1815, i. 190; Abdy Williams's Degrees in Music; Whitfeld's works; private information.]

L. M. M.