Jackson, William (I)


Usually known as William Jackson of Exeter. A noted organist, composer, and writer, having also considerable artistic ability. Born at Exeter; the son of a grocer. As he showed a taste for music he was placed when twelve under Sylvester, organist of the Exeter Cathedral. By persistent labor he learned to play Handel's organ concertos and some of Corelli's sonatas. A traveling violinist, perceiving the boy's ability, persuaded his father to send him to London. There, in 1748, he began to study under John Travers, a well-known organist. While under his direction Jackson wrote a folio of variations on Guide's hexachords; a church service; and composed a book of lessons for the harpsichord, afterwards followed by a second collection. On completing his studies, he returned tp Exeter, where for many years he was a teacher of great repute, finally becoming organist and choirmaster of the Exeter Cathedral in 1777. In 1785 he took an extended trip on the Continent. Jackson's fame as a musician was due chiefly to his many songs, published in four separate volumes, entitled Twelve Songs, the first appearing in 1755. In this collection he revived the national melody, which was fast disappearing under the prevailing Italian influence. He altered  and set Milton's Lycidas, and published a setting of Warton's ode, Fancy. In 1780 his opera, The Lord of the Manor, was produced at Drury Lane Theatre, and remained popular for fifty years. The Metamorphosis, 1783, a comic opera, for which he probably wrote the words as well as the music, was practically a failure. Among his vocal compositions are six elegies; six quartets; two sets of twelve canzonets for two voices; an anthem to The Dying Christian to his Soul, by Pope; twelve pastorals; numerous epigrams; six madrigals; and hymns in three parts. The trios, In a Vale clos'd with woodland; and Ye woods and Ye mountains, are graceful and harmonious. One of his glees, Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I, harmonized frohi melodies by Arne and Purcell, is especially good. He also wrote fourteen sonatas for the harpsichord; and some concertos for violin and wind-instruments. Although many of his compositions are charmingly refined and graceful, some, especially his church-music, have been criticized as insipid. Jackson had also considerable  success as an artist, several of his pictures being exhibited at the Royal Academy. He was of note as a writer as well, publishing Thirty Letters on Various Subjects, some of them pertaining to music; Observations on the Present State of Music in London, 1791; a biography of Gainsborough; and The Four Ages, together with Essays on Various Subjects. In his essays Jackson showed a wonderful range of mind and a severe spirit of criticism.