Jeremiah Clark, musician of Worcester and Birmingham

The late 18th century composer and performer Jeremiah Clark (1742/3-1809) has received very little attention from music historians. This may be due to his namesake, Jeremiah Clarke, the London composer and contemporary of Purcell, being far more prolific and at the centre of a more illustrious time of English music. But, note the subtle difference in spelling… Jeremiah Clark has emerged as being a thoroughly modern free-lance musician, who adapted to his circumstances as well as kept ‘fingers in pies’ throughout his 60-year career. Clark was born in Worcester in around 1742 or 1743. His father, Charles, was a Lay Clerk at Worcester Cathedral, and Jeremiah is listed as being a chorister at Worcester between 1755-57 (the only years of that period for which the Cathedral’s treasurer’s books list individual choristers by name). Father and son appeared together in a self-promoted ‘Benefit Concert’ in 1758, in nearby Bridgnorth, advertised in Aris's Birmingham Gazette on 1st May: Thomas Arne’s Cymon and Iphigenio was published about 1750 and Boyce’s short pastoral opera the Shepherd’s Lottery was first performed at Covent Garden in 1751. The larger scale of the two, Boyce's opera features five solo characters, and the orchestral accompaniment consisted of strings, oboes, bassoon and horns. It’s hard to imagine a performance (of this latter work in particular) taking place in modern times in these relatively small venues, particularly with a ball taking place after each concert. A reasonable explanation would be that the Clark’s settled for a reduced instrumentation, especially if we consider the frequent statements seen in concert adverts of ‘the band will be very full’ meaning that a full orchestra was not always usual practice. This concert was evidently not just a one-off event, for the following year, 1759, we see adverts for two benefit concerts for Clark and Son, on consecutive days in Bridgnorth and Bewdley. Later that year, they put on a concert at Worcester’s Guildhall which was planned to coincide with the Worcester Assize week. It is clear that, as well as being paid church musicians, the Clark’s were supplementing their income in the secular arena. Jeremiah Clark is not listed as being a Lay Clerk after his chorister training finished (probably around 1757/8) and we can only assume that in the years before his appointment as organist at St. Phillip’s Church in Birmingham, he worked as a music tutor and performer in the area.

Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 1 May 1758

Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 1 May 1758

Berrow's Worcester Journal, 17 May 1759

Berrow's Worcester Journal, 17 May 1759

Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 26 July 1759

Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 26 July 1759

What we do know about this period is that Clark published his first collection of songs.Eight Songs with the Instrumental Parts Set to Musick by Jeremiah Clark of Worcesterwas printed in London by Charles Thomson and appeared without opus number. This is unusual, especially given that his subsequent publications are numbers Opp. 2-4. Our understanding today of the status and ranking of professional musicians is that the composer sits very much at the top of the pile. In the 18th century, however, composing and publishing music was used more as a vehicle for gaining kudos with the aim of attracting wealthy private students than it was a sure way to earn money purely from sales. By not giving the set of songs an opus number, Clark was probably not expecting the need to produce further printed works. The reasons for this might lie in the long list of subscribers included in the publication.

Jeremiah Clark, Eight Songs with the Instrumental Parts Set to Musick by Jeremiah Clark of Worcester, 1763

427 names are present - a considerable number compared with other collections in the late 18th century, even those by more familiar names. A close examination of these names goes some way to explaining Clark's professional circumstances 1760-1764, but also throws up separate questions. Of the people listed, 114 were resident in Worcester. No great surprise here; one would expect a publication to be bought by the locals, acquaintance or otherwise. He was well supported by his former colleagues (cathedral organist Elias Isaac, 4 of the Lay Clerks as well as 2 of his former chorister colleagues are listed). There are some familiar musical names on the list, as well as organists less familiar: John Alcock of Lichfield, William Bond of Wolverhampton, Richard Clack of Hereford, Richard Hobbs of Birmingham, as well as organists of Bristol, Leominster, Rochester, Cirencester, Southwell, Shrewsbury, Coventry and Leicester are listed as subscribers. There are also over 30 clergymen listed, which, considering the secular content of the collection, one can’t help feeling was due to a personal connection with the Clarks, or at least through a sense of duty to an up and coming fellow church musician. A comparison of Clark’s Eight Songs with a similar genre of publication - John Pixell’s Op.1, 1759, for example - reveals a definite bias towards organists in Clark’s set. Surprisingly, there are 15 residents of Dublin on the list, without a known connection between the Clarks and Ireland. Even more unusual is that this collection, seemingly aimed at the domestic market where unmarried young women were the main consumers, was subscribed to just 10 who fall into that category. Even allowing for a number of copies being purchased by fathers and mothers, this is a low number. More research needs to be carried out to unpick some of these oddities. This publication was surely a contributing factor in his securing the position as organist at St. Philip’s Church (now Cathedral), in Birmingham in 1765.

The Interior of St. Philip's Church, R. Dent Old and New Birmingham, 1880

Once in Birmingham, Clark would have found himself among a number of prominent musicians. St. Martin’s in the Bull Ring (then the principal church of Birmingham) had Richard Hobbs as its organist; nearby St. Bartholomew’s Church, Edgbaston (now called Edgbaston Old Church), had John Pixell, vicar-composer who had already published his first set of songs; St. Philip’s Church itself had a number of lay clerks (James Kempson, Michael Broome), involved in musical activities in the church and the town. In 1759 Hobbs promoted a Musical Meeting in St. Phillip’s, consisting of Handel coronation anthems and oratorios, and within a few weeks, Coventry organist Capel Bond had promoted a very similar event at St. Michael’s Church, Coventry. What perhaps appears to have been a rivalry, was more likely to be a calculated collaboration, for the following year identical festivals occurred in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry all within the space of 7 days, and occurred just a day after the Three Choirs meeting at Gloucester that year. Given this situation it is understandable that Clark did not put on concerts in Birmingham during the next few decades. He was not a prominent member, if a member at all, of The Musical & Amicable Society (est. 1762), The Oratorio Society (1766) or the Choral Society (1769), and as these music societies played an important role in the Musical Meetings in Birmingham in the 1760s and 70s, we can assume Clark was not heavily involved. However, he took part in the important Birmingham festival of 1778 - the one immediately prior to the opening of the Birmingham General Hospital, for which it, and the following 130 years of triennial festivals, were promoted to raise funds for. The advertisement for the 1778 festival is interesting because unlike other prominent festivals and 'musical meetings' (e.g. Three Choirs Festivals), it does not name a sole conductor; rather, it features composers and performers' names, including most prominently Joseph Harris, organist at St. Martin's, and Jeremiah Clark.

Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 24 August 1778

Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 24 August 1778

Although not active in promoting concerts himself, Clark participated in many concerts around the region throughout the late 1760s until the late 1790s - as a violinist rather than a keyboardist. In some lower-key performances such as subscription concerts in assembly rooms and town halls, he is often listed as leading the band from the violin, (e.g. in the Cecilian Concert in Lichfield in November 1766, in "Mr. Clough's Concert at the New Assembly-Rooms, Derby", 1788), or in subscription concert at the Birmingham Hotel in 1791:

Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 17 October 1791

Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 17 October 1791

From 1791 he starts to be listed among the performers in the Three Choirs Festivals. Interestingly, he is often listed along-side Wilhelm Cramer, a Mannheim-born violinist who became one of the most prominent virtuosi active in Britain at this time. For the 1803 Worcester festival Clark is listed as principal 2nd violin, just under Cramer in the billing. Assuming that Cramer had at least some sort of influence over who played in the band, we can assume Jeremiah Clark was a formidable violinist. On 13th October 1798 at the Theatre in Birmingham, Jeremiah Clark held a benefit concert "in commemoration and celebration of the two glorious victories obtained by Admirals Lord Duncan and Sir Horatio Nelson". Performers listed were Mr. Cramer (leader) Miss Poole ("from London") Saville, Birch, Taylor, Austin and Master Ferneyhough. Both advert and concert programme survive from this event, revealing that Clark wrote a large-scale choral “Consitutional Ode” for the occasion. A month before the concert, there appeared in the Aris's Birmingham Gazette a notice of thanks to Clark from the committee of the public office, for his efforts to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Camperdown, and recommendation to the public to support the concert. This public acknowledgement and the list of prominent performers suggests that despite never directing the Musical Meetings, he was able to engage the best musicians and had finally been accepted by Birmingham as their preeminent musician. But Clark’s activities were more diverse than this survey of his concert life suggests: As a working church musician in Birmingham he had a variety of duties. As well as playing the organ and training the choir, it is likely that he had a hand in teaching the boys at the Blue Coat school (then situation at the northeast corner of St. Philip's Square) as his predecessors did before him. He is also known to have taken at least one apprentice (1777-1782), presumably a trainee organist. Clark’s two predecessors at St. Philip’s, John Eversmann and Barnabas Gunn also provided musical entertainments at the pleasure gardens in Duddeston. Clark himself is listed as one of only 2 performers in adverts for the 1767 and 1768 seasons (the first evidence I have found of his association with the gardens). It’s reasonable to suggest that he continued to perform at the gardens for as long as he remained in Birmingham.

Duddeston Gardens, Birmingham

Duddeston Gardens, Birmingham

Clark went on to publish three collections of songs, the last of which - Ten Songs, with Instrumental Parts in Score , 1791 - contains many songs scored for large orchestra including horns and clarinets. A set of sonatas accompanied by violin and cello (Op. 3, 1779), and a modest collection of psalmnody published in Birmingham in the 1770s complete the list of his published works. He is known also to have composed an organ concerto as well as the Constitutional Ode mentioned above - now sadly lost.

In 1799, Clark took the degree of Bachelor of Music at Oxford, graduating on 20th February of that year. This was presumably another exercise in CV-building, either because he needed more private pupils or, more likely, because he sought another appointment. The opportunity to move back to his home city of Worcester came a few years later when his chorister colleague Thomas Pitt, who had risen through the ranks to become organist and choirmaster, died leaving a vacancy. Jeremiah Clark took up the post in May 1806, in time for Worcester's turn to host the Three Choirs meeting that year. This was his first and only time as conductor of the festival; for the following year he resigned his post, presumably on account of ill-health. He moved to Bromsgrove soon after and died there in 1809.

Berrow's Worcester Journal, 17th September 1806

Berrow's Worcester Journal, 17th September 1806 Clark's name is curiously absent from the lists of subscribers to other composers' music during his lifetime, found only as a subscriber to a set of 6 concertos by Capel Bond, 1766. Unlike other provincial composers/performers, he is not known to have travelled to London (he didn't take part in the 1784 Handel commemoration performances in Westminster Abbey, for example) and there is no evidence that his larger-scale music was performed outside of his own supervision, or that he was commissioned to compose works for other churches or festivals. Yet, we can now see that his lack of notoriety as a composer in his own time, and virtual obscurity in our own, belies the fact that he was a highly successful musician engaged in many aspects of music-making in a wide variety of contexts.

Last year I included one of his songs on a CD of 18th century music by Midlands composers released by my group, the Musical & Amicable Society. The CD, Odes, Songs, Sonatas &c. Divine, Moral, Entertaining is available through Amazon.

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