Avison, Charles, English organist, writer on music, and composer; b. Newcastle upon Tyne (baptized), Feb. 16, 1709; d. there, May 9, 1770. His father, a town wait, was active as a musician. It is likely, therefore, that he received initial training at home. He later studied with Geminiani in London. In 1735 he was made organist at St. John’s Church in Newcastle, which post he assumed in 1736. Later that year he became organist at St. Nicholas there, a post he retained until his death. In 1736 he founded a series of subscription concerts in Newcastle, serving as their musical director from 1738 until his death. With John Garth, he also was active with a series of subscription concerts in Durham. Avison sparked a controversy when he publ. An Essay on Musical Expression (London, 1752), in which he contended that Geminiani and Marcello were greater composers than Handel. Williams Hayes was prompted to respond in an anonymous critical review entitled Remarks on Mr Avison’s Essay (Jan. 1753). In return, Avison publ. A Reply to the Author of Remarks on the Essay on Musical Expression on Feb. 22, 1753, and later that year publ. the 2nd edition of his Essay, which incorporated his Reply and included John Jortin’s A Letter to the Author, concerning the Music of the Ancients. A 3rd edition of Avison’s Essay appeared in 1775. Avison acquitted himself admirably as a composer of instrumental and chamber music. His 60 concerti grossi for Strings (1740–69), which reveal the influence of Geminiani, are the most notable works of their kind by an English composer of the 18th century.
(all publ. in London unless otherwise given): ORCH.: Six Concertos in 7 parts for 4 Violins, Viola, Cello, and Harpsichord, op.2 (Newcastle and London, 1740; rev. with 2 new concertos as 8 concertos for Organ or Harpsichord, 1747); Two Concertos: No. 1 in 8 parts for Organ or Harpsichord and Strings (?) and No. 2 for Violins in 7 Parts (No. 1: keyboard part only extant; No. 2: not extant; Newcastle, 1742); Six Concertos in 7 parts with General Rules for playing Instrumental Compositions for 4 Violins, Viola, Cello, and Harpsichord, op.3 (1751; also included in Twenty Six Concertos...in Score for the Use of Performers on the Harpsichord, London, Edinburgh, and Newcastle, 1758); Eight Concertos in 7 parts for 4 Violins, Viola, Cello, and Harpsichord, op.6 (London and Newcastle, 1758; includes rev. of 8 concertos of 1747 with 4 new concertos); Twelve Concertos in 4 parts for 2 Violins, Viola, and Cello, op.9 (1766; also for Organ or Harpsichord, or 2 Violins, Viola, Cello, and Organ or Harpsichord, 1766); Six Concertos in 7 parts for 4 Violins, Viola, Cello, and Harpsichord, op.10 (1769). CHAMBER: VI Sonatas for 2 Violins and Bass, op.l (c. 1737); Six Sonatas for Harpsichord, 2 Violins, and Cello, op.5 (1756); Six Sonatas for Harpsichord, 2 Violins, and Cello, op.7 (London, Edinburgh, and Newcastle, 1760); Six Sonatas for Harpsichord, 2 Violins, and Cello, op.8 (London and Edinburgh, 1764). OTHER: Ruth, oratorio (Feb. 13, 1765; in collaboration with Giardini); editions and arrangements.
J. Brocklehurst, C. A. and his Essay on Musical Expression (diss., Univ. of Sheffield, 1959); N. Stephens, C. A.: An Eighteenth-century English Composer, Musician and Writer (diss., Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1968).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire