William Savage

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named William Savage, see William Savage (disambiguation).

William Savage (1720 – 27 July 1789) was an English composer, organist, and singer of the 18th century. He sang as a boy treble and alto, a countertenor, and as a bass. He is best remembered for his association with the composer George Frideric Handel, in whose oratorios Savage sang.

Life and career[edit]


Savage first came to prominence as a boy treble in 1735, singing in a revival of Handel's Athalia and in Alcina during the composer's Covent Garden season. The role of Oberto in Alcina was composed with his voice particularly in mind. He sang the small roles of La Fortuna in Giustino and Childerico in Faramondo in the next season[citation needed], after which his voice broke.

The composer George Frideric Handel, who composed many different roles in his operas and oratorios for Savage (1733)

In the following years he performed as both a countertenor - a male alto, singing in falsetto - and as a bass. He sang the bass roles of Fenice in Deidamia and the title role in Imeneo in Handel's last opera season of 1740. In 1741 he took the countertenor role of Jonathan in a revival of Handel's Saul, and had earlier in 1739 sung as a countertenor at the first performance of Israel in Egypt. In 1743 he sang the bass role of Manoa at the premiere of Samson.[1] The 18th-century musicologist Charles Burney described Savage's voice as a "powerful and not unpleasant bass".[2] The description of his pupil R.J.S. Stevens is more complimentary: he describes Savage as possessing "a pleasant voice of two octaves", and details that Savage sang with "clear articulation, perfect intonation, great volubility of voice, and chaste and good expression".[2]

From 1743 onwards Savage held the post of "Organist of Finchley", though exactly what this entailed is unclear. He became a Gentleman-in-ordinary of the Chapel Royal in 1744 and in 1748 became vicar-choral and Master of the Choristers at St Paul’s Cathedral, where he influenced many of the following generation of high-class musicians. In 1777 he retired to Kent. He returned to London in 1780 in order to teach music but was not as successful as in previous years.[2] He remained in London until his death there.

Some music in Savage's collection was given to the Royal Academy of Music upon the death of his student, R.J.S. Stevens, in 1837. The collection included Gloria, a composition identified as Handel's work only in 2001.[3]


Savage was also a moderately prolific composer. He composed many anthems and other church music. His anthem "O Lord my God" is his most ambitious work and is written for accompaniment by string orchestra. He also composed music for solo violin and various canons, catches and rounds, composed for the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club, of which Savage was a member. A more idiosyncratic piece was his "On the very first of May", set to nonsense poetry written by his wife.[2]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Charles King
Almoner and Master of the Choristers of St Paul's Cathedral
Succeeded by
Robert Hudson



  • Donald Burrows: "Savage, William", in Grove Music Online ed L. Macy (accessed 5 January 2007) grovemusic.com, subscription access.
  • Hogwood, Christopher. Handel (1988), Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-27498-3.
  • Stevens, R.J.S. and Henry George Farmer: "A Forgotten Composer of Anthems: William Savage (1720-89)" in Music & Letters, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Jul., 1936), pp. 188–99 (available via JSTOR)