Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Worgan, John

WORGAN, JOHN (1724−1790), organist and composer, of Welsh descent, and the son of a surveyor, was born in London in 1724. He became a pupil of his brother, James Worgan (1715−1753), organist of Vauxhall Gardens, and he subsequently studied under Thomas Roseingrave [see under Roseingrave, Daniel] and Geminiani. John Worgan speedily took a foremost place as a skilful organist. In succession to his brother James he was organist at St. Mary Undershaft with St. Mary Axe, about 1749, at Vauxhall Gardens, 1751 to 1774, and at St. Botolph, Aldgate, in 1753. He subsequently became organist of St. John's Chapel, Bedford Row, in 1760; and, in succession to his brother, he held the post of ‘composer’ to Vauxhall Gardens from 1753 to 1761, and again from 1770 to 1774. He took the degree of bachelor in music at Cambridge in 1748, and the doctorate in 1775. He died at 22 (now 65) Gower Street on 24 Aug. 1790, and was buried in St. Andrew Undershaft on 31 Aug., when Charles Wesley (1757−1834) [q. v.], one of his favourite pupils, presided at the organ.

Four interesting tributes are extant to the remarkable powers of Worgan as an organist, whose performances always attracted great crowds of both professors and amateurs Handel said: ‘Mr. Worgan shall sit by me; he plays my music very well at Vauxhall.’ Richard Cecil [q. v.] wrote: ‘Admiration and feeling are very distinct from each other. Some music and oratory enchant and astonish, out they speak not to the heart. … Dr. Worgan has so touched the organ at St. John s that I have been turning backward and forward over the prayer-book for the first lesson in Isaiah and wondered that I could not find Isaiah there!’ Martin Madan (1726−1790) [q. v.], in a satirical song upon Joah Bates [q. v.], issued anonymously, and set to music by Samuel Wesley (1766−1837) [q. v.], entitled ‘The Organ laid open, &c.,’ placed him as a player upon an equality with Handel:

Let Handel or Worgan go thresh at the organ.

Burney refers to him as ‘a very masterly and learned fuguist on the organ.’

As a composer Worgan was not great. His compositions, now forgotten, include two oratorios: ‘Hannah’ (King's Theatre, Haymarket, 3 April 1 764) and ‘Manasseh’ (Lock Hospital Chapel, 30 April 1766); ‘We will rejoice in Thy salvation,’ a thanksgiving anthem for victories (29 Nov. 1759); many songs for Vauxhall Gardens, of which thirteen books (at least) were published; psalmtunes, glees, organ music, and sonatas and other pieces for the harpsichord. Some of his manuscripts are in British Museum Addit. MSS. 31670, 31693, 34609, and 35038.

Worgan is persistently credited with having composed the Easter hymn. As a matter of fact the tune appeared (anonymously) in ‘Lyra Davidica’ (1708) sixteen years before Worgan was born.

[Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, v. 113 (a very full memoir); Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, iv. 486; biographical preface to Rev. Henry Parr's Church of England Psalmody; Barney's Hist, of Music, iv. 665; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Musical Times, August 1888, p. 490, for a reference to Worgan's grandson, George Worgan.]

F. G. E.