Avison, Charles

, an ingenious English musician, was born probably at Newcastle, where he exercised his profession during the whole of his life. In 1736, July 12, he was appointed organist of St. John’s church in that town, which he resigned for the church of St. Nicholas in October following. In 1748, when the organ of St. John’s required repair, which would amount to 160l. Mr. Avison offered to give 100l. if the parish would raise the other 60l. upon condition that they appointed him organist, with a salary of 20l. and allow him to supply the place by a sufficient deputy. This appears to have been agreed upon, and the place was supplied by his son Charles. In 1752 he published “An essay on Musical Expression,London, 12mo. In this essay, written with neatness and even elegance of style, he treats of the power and force of music, and the analogies between it and painting of musical composition, as consisting of harmony, air, and expression and of musical expression so far as it relates to the performer. To the second edition, which appeared in 1753^ was added, an ingenious and learned letter to the author, concerning the music of the ancients, now known to be written by Dr. Jortin. Mr. Avison’s treatise was very favourably received, but some were dissatisfied with his sentiments on the excellencies and defects of certain eminent musicians, and particularly his preference of Marcello and Geminiani, or at least, the latter, to Handel. In the same year, therefore, was published, “Remarks on Mr. Avison’s essay, &c. wherein the characters of several great masters, both ancient and modern, are rescued from the misrepresentations of the above author and their real merit ascertained and vindicated. In a letter, from a gentleman to his friend in the country.” In this tract, which was written by Dr. Hayes, professor of music at Oxford, Mr. Avison is treated with very little ceremony, and accused of being ignorant, or neglectful of our ancient English musicians, and of having spoke too coldly of the merits of | Handel. It is also insinuated that he was obliged to abler pens for the style and matter of his essay. This last was probably true, as both Dr. Brown and Mr. Mason are supposed to have assisted him, but in what proportions cannot now be ascertained. Mr. Avison wrote a reply to Dr. Hayes, nearly in the same uncourtly style, which was republished in the third edition of his essay in 1775. Avison had been a disciple of Geminiani, who, as well as Giardini, had a great esteem for him, and visited him at Newcastle, where the latter played for his benefit. Whenever Geminiani affected to hold Handel’s compositions cheap, it was usual with him to say, “Charley Avison shall make a better piece of music in a month’s time.” Avison died at Newcastle, May 10, 1770, and was succeeded in the church of St. Nicholas, by his son Edward, who himself died in 1776, and in the church of St. John, by his son Charles, who resigned in 1777. Avison assisted in the. publication of Marcello’s music to the psalms adapted to English words. Of his own composition there are extant five collections of concertos for violins, forty-four in number; and two sets of sonatas for the harpsichord, and two violins, a species of composition little known in England till his time. The music of Avison is light and elegant, but wants originality, a consequence of his too close attachment to the style of Geminiani. 1


Biog. Brit, vol. II. p. 655, art. Brown.—Brand’s Hist, of Newcastle, vol. I. p, 109, 268, 269.—Sir John Hawkins’s Hist, of Music, vol.V.