John Blow  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

John Blow (baptised 23 February 1649 – 1 October 1708) was an English composer and organist. His pupils included William Croft and Henry Purcell.

Blow was probably born at Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire. Although there is some speculation that he was born at North Collingham, Nottinghamshire, the parish registers there do not mention anyone named Blow, whereas those at Newark record the baptisms of Blow and of his brother and sister, the marriage of his parents, and the burial of his father. Furthermore, the register of Lambeth degrees notes that in 1677, on taking his doctorate, he himself declared on oath that his birthplace was ‘the faithful borough of Newark’. His date of birth is not known, but he was baptised 23 February 1649 and was likely born only a short while before. He became a chorister of the Chapel Royal, and distinguished himself by his proficiency in music.

He composed several anthems at an unusually early age, including Lord, Thou host been our refuge, Lord, rebuke me not and the so-called "club anthem", I will always give thanks, the last in collaboration with Pelham Humfrey and William Turner, either in honour of a victory over the Dutch in 1665, or more probably simply to commemorate the friendly intercourse of the three choristers.

To this time also belongs the composition of a two-part setting of Robert Herrick's Goe, perjur'd man, written at the request of Charles II to imitate Giacomo Carissimi's Dite, o cieli. In 1669 Blow became organist of Westminster Abbey. In 1673 he was made a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and in the September of this year he married Elizabeth Braddock, who died in childbirth ten years later.

Blow, who by 1678 was a doctor of music, was named in 1685 one of the private musicians of James II. Between 1680 and 1687 he wrote his only stage composition of which any record survives, the Masque for the entertainment of the King, Venus and Adonis. In this Mary Davis played the part of Venus, and her daughter by Charles II, Lady Mary Tudor, appeared as Cupid.

In 1687 he became choirmaster at St Paul's Cathedral; in 1695 he was elected organist of St Margaret's, Westminster, and is said to have resumed his post as organist of Westminster Abbey, from which in 1680 he had retired or been dismissed to make way for Purcell. In 1699 he was appointed to the newly created post of Composer to the Chapel Royal.

Fourteen services and more than a hundred anthems by Blow are known. In addition to his purely ecclesiastical music Blow wrote Great sir, the joy of all our hearts, an ode for New Year's Day 1682, similar compositions for 1683, 1686, 1687, 1688, 1689, 1693 (?), 1694 and 1700; odes, and the like, for the celebration of St Cecilia's Day for 1684, 1691, 1695 and 1700; for the coronation of James II, two anthems, Behold, O God, our Defender and God spake sometimes in visions; some harpsichord pieces for the second part of Henry Playford's Musick's handmaid (1689); Epicedium for Queen Mary (1695) and Ode on the Death of Purcell (1696). In 1700 he published his Amphion Anglicus, a collection of pieces of music for one, two, three and four voices, with a figured bass accompaniment.

A famous page in Charles Burney's History of Music is devoted to illustrations of Blow's "crudities", most of which only show the meritorious if immature efforts in expression characteristic of English music at the time, while some of them (where Burney says "Here we are lost") are really excellent. Blow died on 1 October 1708 at his house in Broad Sanctuary, and was buried in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.

The tercentenary of his death was marked by BBC Radio 3 and Westminster Abbey with the weekly broadcast of choral evensong being made by the choir of Westminster Abbey, live from the Abbey, and consisting of music mostly by him, or by his near contemporaries.

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