Child musical prodigy

Posted on 25th July 2023 by simonbeattie

William Crotch (1775–1847) ‘was an exceptional child prodigy and became one of the most distinguished English musicians of his day …  At the age of about 18 months he began to pick out tunes on a small house organ which his father had built, and soon after his second birthday he had taught himself to play God Save the King with the bass.  He played to a large company at Norwich in February 1778, and that summer his mother began taking him on a series of tours in which his phenomenal gifts were exploited.  They went first to Cambridge and other main towns in East Anglia, then to Oxford and London, where on 10 December 1778 Daines Barrington heard him play tunes “almost throughout with chords”.  On 1 January 1779 he played to the king and queen at Buckingham Palace.  He could transpose into any key, and name all four notes in a chord by ear.  Burney described his abilities in a report to the Royal Society on 18 February 1779.  A second visit to London followed in October 1779, when an advertisement announced that “Mrs. Crotch is arrived in town with her son, the Musical Child, who will perform on the organ every day as usual, from one o’clock to three, at Mrs. Hart’s, milliner, Piccadilly”’ (New Grove).

Crotch went on to Cambridge as a student, where he played the organ at King’s, Trinity, and Great St Mary’s, before he moved to Oxford as professor of music, aged 21.  As a composer, today he is best known for the Epiphany anthem ‘Lo! star-led chiefs’, taken from his oratorio, Palestine (1812).

Published in May 1779, the print here is an early work by the ‘prominent line engraver’ James Fittler (1756–1835).  ‘One of his first plates was a fine line engraving of the musical prodigy William Crotch, published on 12 May 1779, before the boy’s fourth birthday, which was sold by his mother’ (Alexander, Biographical Dictionary of British and Irish Engravers, pp. 346–7).

For more details on the print, see my latest e-list.

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