John Blow

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John Blow

John Blow (born Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, baptised 23 February 1649; died Westminster, London, 1 October 1708) was an English composer and organist. He had a great deal of influence on English music. His best pupil was Henry Purcell who was the greatest English composer of his time.

Blow was born at Newark-on-Trent. As a boy he sang in the choir the Chapel Royal (the king’s church choir). He was still very young when he started composing anthems. One of these anthems, known as the “Club Anthem” was written by Blow together with three other choirboys: Pelham Humfrey, Michael Wise and William Turner, all of whom were to become well-known composers when they grew up. The diarist Samuel Pepys heard him sing once, but Blow’s voice was breaking by then, and Pepys wrote in his diary that he made an “unpleasant sound”.

In 1668 he became organist of Westminster Abbey. In 1674 he was made a gentleman of the Chapel Royal. When Pelham Humfrey died, Blow took over two of his jobs. He was in charge of a small choir at the king’s court (he was called “composer-in-ordinary”). He also became Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal. He stayed in that job for the rest of his life. Many of the boy choristers he taught later became great composers. They include William Croft, Jeremiah Clark and Daniel Purcell. Henry Purcell’s voice had already broken by this time, and he became an apprentice to Blow.

In September 1673 he married Elizabeth Braddock, but ten years later she died when giving birth to a child.

In 1676 Blow became one of three organists at Westminster Abbey. In 1677 he was given the title of “Doctor of Music”. In 1680 he seems to have resigned from his job as organist at Westminster Abbey so that his young pupil Henry Purcell could take his place. By 1685 he was one of the private musicians of James II. He composed a long anthem God spake sometime in visions for King James’s coronation.

In 1687 he became choirmaster at St Paul's Cathedral. The choir was just being reformed after the rebuilding of the cathedral following the Great Fire of London. Michael Wise had been appointed as choirmaster, but then he died, so Blow was given the job. In 1695 he became organist of St Margaret's, Westminster, and he also took his old job at Westminster Abbey again when Henry Purcell died.

In 1699 he became Composer to the Chapel Royal. This was the first time anyone had been given this title. However, he does not seem to have composed much after 1700.

Blow died on 1 October 1708 and was buried in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey, close to Henry Purcell.


His music[change | edit source]

Blow composed a large amount of music. He wrote the same sort of music as Henry Purcell, except that Purcell also wrote trio sonatas as well as a lot of music for the theatre. Blow wrote a large amount of church music. We know fourteen services and more than a hundred anthems by Blow. He also wrote other vocal music such as odes, and music for harpsichord and just one piece of music for the stage: Venus and Adonis.