Magazine article Musical Times

Charles Avison Jnr and His Book of Organ Voluntaries

Magazine article Musical Times

Charles Avison Jnr and His Book of Organ Voluntaries

Article excerpt

The recent publication of the seven organ voluntaries by Charles Avison jnr has brought to light an important manuscript book, once used for music production in Newcasde upon Tyne, that has not received a great deal of attention.1 Roz Southey, a notable writer on music production in the north-east of England during the 18th century, appears to be unaware of its existence, even though Norris Stephens mentioned it in his 1968 doctoral thesis on Charles Avison snr.2 1 have known about it since 1998, when I began work on my MMus dissertation on Avison snr. In 1999 I made a special trip to the Library of Congress, Washington DC, to view the book, and I was given permission to photograph the volume; it is from these rather blurred images that the published edition was created.3

Several other manuscript volumes that are known to have been in Avison's possession have survived. The most important of these were purchased by the Avison Ensemble after their auction in 2000 and 2002. These two volumes provide an insight into the working processes of one of the most prolific native composer of concertos of the Baroque period, and include working copies of his published works, as well as Avison's concerto grosso arrangements of Francesco Geminiani's op.i and op.4 sonatas, and original compositions by Domenico, Francesco and Stephani Scarlatti, and Johann Hasse.4 It was in the first of these two volumes that Concertos II and III, from the recent publication of Avison's Three concertos, were found.5 Other manuscript books that are attributed to Avison include his version of the canticles of Giovanni Carlo Clari (1677- 1754), copies of which survive in both Newcasde and Oxford.6 A further manuscript book in Newcasde Public Library has traditionally been attributed to Avison as it contains excerpts from his concertos. However, since the handwriting is completely different to any of that present in the authentic manuscripts, it is possible to say with a degree of certainty that this particular book never belonged to Avison.7

With regard to the book of organ voluntaries, one of the first questions that arises is whether this book belonged to the elder Avison or his youngest son. One would automatically attribute it to the elder and more famous Avison, and that is how it has been catalogued in the Library of Congress. But initial appearances can be deceptive. Due to the two recently acquired manuscript workbooks it is possible to identify the elder Avison's hand through his working copies of his op.i sonatas, which include many revisions and crossings-out. A comparison of the book of organ voluntaries with this manuscript easily confirms that the handwriting is not the same. Other evidence for the book having belonged to Avison jnr can be seen in the style of some of the pieces, both original compositions and copies of other works, some of which are more classical in style than one would expect from Avison snr. As a result, one must conclude that the book of voluntaries belonged to the younger Charles Avison. Using the book of voluntaries as a guide, it has also been possible to confirm that Avison jnr acted as a copyist for his father.8 The handwriting in the book of voluntaries is consistently the same: so it is possible to say with some certainty that he was the only musician to use this book. This makes this book of even more significance as it is not only the sole surviving manuscript book that we know originally belonged to Charles Avison jnr, but is the only manuscript book from the Avison family that consists largely of keyboard music. It also greatly adds to the number of known works produced by the younger Charles Avison that, until my recent research, was limited to a solitary book of hymns of which only the second edition survives.9

Charles avison jnr was born in 1751 and baptised at St John's Church, Newcasde, on 21 August. Little is known about his early life, but we can assume that he would have attended school and received his musical education from his father. …

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