Portrait of John Wall Callcott

Oil on canvas board
Image size: 7 ½ x 6 ½ inches (19 x 16 cm)
Gilt frame

Old label on the reverse stating
Dr Callcott by his brother Sir A. W. Callcott

This painting was used for the frontispiece for David Baptie’s 1896 “Sketches of the English glee composers”

More information lower down

John Wall Callcott was a musician, and brother of Sir Augustus Wall Callcott. He was born at Kensington on the 20th of November 1766. At an early age he frequently went to Kensington church, where his father was employed to carry out repairs, and the impression he received on hearing the organ of that church seems to have roused his love for music. The organist at that time was Henry Whitney, from whom Callcott received his first musical instruction. He did not, however, choose music as a profession, as he wished to become a surgeon. But on witnessing a surgical operation he found his nervous system so seriously affected by the sight, that he determined to devote himself to music.

His intimacy with Dr Arnold and other leading musicians of the day procured him access to artistic circles. He was deputy organist at St George the Martyr, Queen Square, Bloomsbury, from 1783 to 1785, in which year his successful competition for three out of the four prize medals offered by the “Catch Club” soon spread his reputation as composer of glees, catches, canons and other pieces of concerted vocal music. The compositions with which he won these medals were – the catch “O beauteous fair,” the canon “Blessed is he,” and the glee “Dull repining sons of care.” In these and other similar compositions he displayed considerable skill and talent, and some of his glees retain their popularity to the present day. In 1787 Callcott helped Dr Arnold and others to form the “Glee Club.”

In 1789 he became one of the two organists at St Paul’s, Covent Garden, and from 1793 to 1802 he was organist to the Asylum for Female Orphans. As an instrumental composer Callcott never succeeded, not even after he had taken lessons from the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn. Of far greater importance than his compositions are his theoretical writings. His Musical Grammar, published in 1806, was long considered the standard English work of musical instruction, and in spite of it being antiquated when compared with modern standards, it remains a scholarly and lucid treatment of the rudiments of the art. Callcott was a much-esteemed teacher of music for many years. In 1800 he took his degree of Mus.D. at Oxford, where fifteen years earlier he had received his degree of bachelor of music, and in 1805 he succeeded Dr Crotch as musical lecturer at the Royal Institution.

Towards the end of his life his artistic career was twice interrupted by the failure of his mental powers. He died at Bristol after much suffering on the 15th of May 1821. A posthumous collection of his most favourite vocal pieces was published in 1824 with a memoir of his life by his son-in-law, William Horsley, himself a composer of note.

Callcott’s son, William Hutchins Callcott (1807-1882), inherited to a large extent the musical gifts of his father. His song, “The last man,” and his anthem, “Give peace in our time, 0 Lord,” were his best-known compositions.

Encyclopedia Britannica