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Charles Avison

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Charles Avison (1709–1770) was an English organist and composer during the Baroque and Classical periods. He is best remembered for his Twelve Concerti Grossi, op. 6, after Scarlatti and his Essay on Musical Expression, the first music criticism published in English.

Little is known of Avison’s early life. The son of Richard and Anne Avison, both musicians, he was born in Newcastle, baptised on 16th February 1708/9 at St John’s Church. It is likely that he had early contact with Ralph Jenison, a patron of the arts, and later a member of Parliament. As a young man, he travelled to London to study under Geminiani. However, his ties to his home town remained strong, and on 13th October 1735, he was accepted the position of church organist at St John’s Church in Newcastle. Shortly afterwards he also became organist at nearby St Nicholas’s. Despite numerous offers of more prestigious positions later in life, he never again left Newcastle.

On 15th January 1737 Avison married Catherine Reynolds. They had three surviving children: Jane (1744-1773), Edward (1747-1776), and Charles (1751-1795). Edward and Charles both later served as organists at St Nicholas’s, and Charles published a book of hymns.

In July 1738 Avison was appointed music director of the Newcastle Musical Society. He also collaborated with John Garth’s subscription concerts in Durham, and was active in local theatres. The foundation of his contemporary fame was his Essay on Musical Expression, published in 1752. It was the first work on musical criticism published in English.

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