Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Hipkins, Alfred James

1527088Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, Volume 2 — Hipkins, Alfred James1912Frederick Corder

HIPKINS, ALFRED JAMES (1826–1903), musical antiquary, born at 22 Medway Street, Westminster, on 17 June 1826, was only son of James Hipkins (1800-1882), a cabinet and pianoforte maker, who also wrote verse, by his wife Jane Mary Grant (1802-1865). He had an only sister, Ellen (1838-1911). As a boy he desired to become a painter, but in 1840 he was placed by his father in Messrs. Broadwood's piano-forte factory, where he remained all his life. A music-seller in the Strand, named Fenton, gave him a few pianoforte lessons in 1841, and Marcellus Higgs taught him the organ in 1844; in spite of such limited tuition he became a charming performer on the piano, having the unique reputation of rendering the music of Chopin according to the composer's intention. His chief energies were devoted to a study of the science of music and of the history and quality of keyboard instruments. On the latter subject he became an unrivalled authority. He reintroduced equal temperament in tuning into this country in 1846, and wrote profusely on musical history, contributing largely to 'Grove's Dictionary,' as well as to the ninth edition of the 'Encyclopædia Britannica.' In 1881 he made a journey through Germany to examine historic pianofortes in the royal palaces. His chief publication was 'Musical Instruments, Historic, Rare, and Unique' (1881), a standard work illustrated in colour by William Gibbs. Between 1885 and 1896 he lectured on his special theme at the principal musical institutions as well as at the Royal Institution, and superintended the arrangement of many exhibitions of musical instruments. He was elected F.S.A. on 14 Jan. 1886, and was a member of the council and honorary curator of the Royal College of Music. A familiar and genial figure in musical circles, he died at Kensington on 3 June 1903, and was buried at Kensington cemetery, Hanwell. A memorial brass, designed by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (see Musical Times, Oct. 1908), was placed in St. Margaret's church, Westminster, where he was christened and where his kinsfolk lie. He left an interesting collection of tuning-forks to the Royal Institution and a fine collection of musical instruments to the Royal College of Music.

Hipkins married on 2 Oct. 1850 Jane Souter Black, of Scotch family, at Orange Street chapel, Leicester Square. Of their two children a son, who was deaf and dumb, was a distinguished wood engraver (b. 1851), while the daughter, Edith (b. 1864), a portrait painter, has frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy.

[Musical Times, Sept. 1898 and July 1903; private information.]

F. C.