Charles Avison

Charles Avison

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Charles Avison was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 composer during the Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 and Classical
Classical period (music)
The dates of the Classical Period in Western music are generally accepted as being between about 1750 and 1830. However, the term classical music is used colloquially to describe a variety of Western musical styles from the ninth century to the present, and especially from the sixteenth or...

 periods. He was a church organist at St John The Baptist Church in Newcastle and at St. Nicholas's Church
Newcastle Cathedral
St Nicholas's Cathedral is a Church of England cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Its full title is The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas Newcastle upon Tyne...

 (later Cathedral). He is best remembered for his 12 Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti
Domenico Scarlatti
Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was an Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is classified as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style...

and his Essay on Musical Expression, the first music criticism published in English.


Little is known of Avison's early life. The son of Richard and Anne Avison, both musicians, he was baptised on 16 February 1709, at St. John's Church in Newcastle. (According to the New Grove dictionary, he was also born in this city.) His only education can have been at one of the two charity schools serving St John's parish. It is likely that he had early contact with Ralph Jenison, a patron of the arts, and later a member of Parliament
Parliament of Great Britain
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland...


As a young man, he travelled to London to study under Francesco Geminiani
Francesco Geminiani
thumb|230px|Francesco Geminiani.Francesco Saverio Geminiani was an Italian violinist, composer, and music theorist.-Biography:...

. However, his ties to his hometown remained strong, and on 13 October 1735, he accepted the position of church organist at St. John's Church in Newcastle. Shortly after, he also became organist at nearby St. Nicholas's. Despite numerous offers of more prestigious positions later in life, he never again left Newcastle.

On 15 January 1737, Avison married Catherine Reynolds. They had three surviving children: Jane (1744-1773), Edward (1747-1776), and Charles (1751-1795). Edward and Charles both later served as organists at St. Nicholas's, and Charles published a book of hymns.

In July 1738, Avison was appointed music director of the Newcastle Musical Society. He also collaborated with John Garth
John Garth
John Garth was a British politician.-Offices:John Garth became the Recorder for Devizes in 1732. This role is roughly equivalent to the Town Clerk today. This position was held by a lawyer. He was elected Member of Parliament for Devizes in 1740 and was re-elected and served until his death in 1764...

's subscription concerts in Durham
Durham is a city in north east England. It is within the County Durham local government district, and is the county town of the larger ceremonial county...

, and was active in local theatres.

The foundation of Avison's contemporary fame was his Essay on Musical Expression, published in 1752. It was the first work on musical criticism published in English.

Avison was one of the subjects in Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.-Early years:...

's Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in their Day:
"Hear Avison! He tenders evidence/That music in his day as much absorbed/Heart and soul then as Wagner's music now."

Avison died on 10 May 1770, after being caught out in an unusual blizzard
A blizzard is a severe snowstorm characterized by strong winds. By definition, the difference between blizzard and a snowstorm is the strength of the wind. To be a blizzard, a snow storm must have winds in excess of with blowing or drifting snow which reduces visibility to 400 meters or ¼ mile or...

 that hit from May 2-4. He is buried at St. Andrew's in Newcastle.


Avison continued the Italian style tradition, which Geminiani
Francesco Geminiani
thumb|230px|Francesco Geminiani.Francesco Saverio Geminiani was an Italian violinist, composer, and music theorist.-Biography:...

 had made so popular in London. In his Concerti Grossi, in particular, he carried on Geminiani's technique of modeling orchestral concertos after sonatas by older composers. His Essay on Musical Expression criticized Handel
HANDEL was the code-name for the UK's National Attack Warning System in the Cold War. It consisted of a small console consisting of two microphones, lights and gauges. The reason behind this was to provide a back-up if anything failed....

, who was much admired in England at the time.

Since 1994, the Avison Ensemble
Avison Ensemble
The Avison Ensemble is one of England's foremost exponents of classical music on period instruments. It is named after Charles Avison , the Newcastle-born composer, conductor and organist, ‘the most important English concerto composer of the 18th Century’...

of Newcastle has been performing Avison’s music on period instruments.


External links