Wednesday 11 September 2013

William Boyce, Master of the King's Musick

William Boyce (London, England, baptised 11th September 1711 – London, England, 7th February 1779)

William Boyce

It strikes me that we have met a lot of literary types of late, not to mention a few flighty women and even a doomed hero or two. Since my own Henrietta Street abode is rarely without music playing, I take my inspiration today from one of my favourite composers, a gentleman who has shared with us with more than a fine melody or two. It is a pleasure to welcome William Boyce to the salon, a man whose whole life was music.

Long before he became the Master of the King's Musick, William Boyce was born to Elizabeth and John, a master cabinet maker. The youngest of four children, Boyce won a position of chorister at St Paul's Cathedral, where he would remain until his voice broke. With his choral career behind him, he took up the study of music with organist and composer, Maurice Greene, who would remain a strong influence throughout his life. A keen student, Boyce progressed in leaps and bounds and at the age of 24 assumed the position of organist at Oxford Chapel on Cavendish Square, where he first discovered the joys of playing, composing and editing church music. 

Maurice Greene; John Hoadly, by Francis Hayman, 1747
Maurice Greene; John Hoadly, by Francis Hayman, 1747

This was the first in a number of increasingly respected offices that Boyce filled, all the time working on his own compositions alongside his duties as an organist. He wrote music for the theatre, for church and symphony hall, though his hearing had already begun to fail. Whilst his professional life went from strength to strength, his personal life was happy too as Boyce married Hannah in 1748. The couple eventually had two children, their son going on to musical fame of his own as a celebrated double bassist.

When Greene died in 1755, Boyce took over his role as Master of the King's Musick and three years later he was appointed organist at the Chapel Royal. For ten years Boyce was utterly dedicated to these prestigious offices yet in 1768, his hearing loss had grown so acute that he had no choice but to retire. With time to spare, he turned his attention to completing Greene's Cathedral Music, which had been left unfinished at the time of the older man's death. Following this he worked in earnest on his own compositions and by the time of his death had produced eight symphonies and a number of other pieces.

William Boyce by Thomas Hudson, 1749
William Boyce by Thomas Hudson, 1749

At Boyce's funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral, he was laid to rest to the sound of his own compositions, performed by the united voices of the choristers of St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. It was a fitting final send off for a man whose career had begun in that same cathedral as a boy, voice raised in song.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Mari Christian said...

Boyce was a fine composer and celebrated musician. Thank you for filling in the domestic parts of his biography.

Catherine Curzon said...

A pleasure!

Alencarnovomundo said...

Arte e inspiração em carne e osso.