John Bennett (composer)

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John Bennett (c. 1735 – London, September 1784) was an English organist and composer.


Details of Bennett's life are limited, but it is known that he died in September 1784, after serving as organist at St. Dionis Backchuch Fenchurch in London, for over thirty years. He had been a pupil of Johann Christoph Pepusch.

As the typical versatile eighteenth-century English musician, he played the organ and the viola, taught the harpsichord, and performed at Drury Lane Theatre as a singer in the chorus and as a dancer. According to Thomas Mortimer's The Universal Director (1763), he lived at Queen-square Bloomsbury, and succeeded Charles Burney as organist at St. Dionis-Backchurch, Fenchurch Street (demolished in 1878), in 1752.

An interesting aside for organists is the information provided in the church minutes for July 27, 1749: ". . . that the Salary of Organist be Thirty pounds p. Ann and that he be annually chose. . . .That the person who shall be chosen Organist shall attend in Person twice on every Sunday and on other usual Festivals, and to have no Deputy but in case of sickness."[1]

Henry William Beechey suggested that in 1760 Bennett must have been suffering financial difficulty as he applied for a second organist’s post (with permission from St. Dionis) which he was unsuccessful in gaining. It was common in that period for organists to serve more than one church simultaneously.


The Ten Voluntaries for the Organ or Harpsichord are his only works known to this day; they were published by the composer in 1758, and printed a number of times since. In the last fifty years, various selections from them have printed in collections: H. Diack Johnstone published numbers 9 and 10 in 1966 (Novello, London); Beechey published (nos 2, 5, 7, 8, 9 & 10) in 1969, and Diack Johnstone also published 6 of them (nos 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, & 10) in 1988. A new complete edition of the entire set has been published in 2002, in Cambridge (UK) [reference required as there appears no such publication 2016]. A complete edition can be found on the IMSLP site.

Five copies survive in the British Isles:[1] in the British Museum, the Oxford University Faculty Library, the Euing Library at Glasgow University, the Gerald Finzi Collection at St. Andrews University, and the Shaw – Hellier Collection, The Wodehouse near Wombourne (Staffordshire). The British Museum and the collection at Oxford contain the subscription list which lists no less than 227 names including Boyce, Stanley and George Fredrick Handel.

Ornamentation in the Ten Voluntaries[edit]

In his Voluntaries, Bennett uses three of the usual keyboard ornamens: the trill (shake), the beat (modern equivalent the lower mordent) and the appoggiatura.

The trill or shake

While the standard interpretation (beginning bay the upper note) is should always be tried first, alternatives could be used depending upon the context. Which involves taking into account both the speed and pitch of adjacent notes. If the music is fast the number of shakes will be reduced, or even converted to a modern-day acciaccatura.

The Beat (modern equivalent to the lower mordent)
For the beat you play the written note and the lower note or half-note, according to the key you are in.[2]

According to Diack Johnstone "this seems generally to be regarded as the exact inversion of the trill, beginning on the note below the principal note. However, several authorities table the beat as beginning on the principal note, and it is impossible to tell from the music which interpretation is intended.".[3][4]

The Appoggiatura This was interpreted the normal way taking half the value for an un-dotted note and two-thirds the value when the note is dotted. These occur frequently in Bennett in semi-quaver runs, in which case they are written out in full.


  1. ^ a b Beechey G. Ten Eighteenth century voluntaries [Vol 6 or Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque era] A-R Editions, Madison 1969
  2. ^ Ferguson H. Keyboard Interpretation: from the 14th to the 19th Century. Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 152
  3. ^ H.D. Johnstone, 1966 (ed.) Preface to John Stanley: Voluntary in A minor Op.6 No.2 for Organ, Novello, London.
  4. ^ Ferguson H. Keyboard Interpretation: from the 14th to the 19th Century. Oxford University Press, 1987. [now out of print]

Modern editions[edit]

  • H.D. Johnstone, (ed.) Preface to John Bennett: Voluntaries IX and X for Organ, Novello, London. 1966.
  • H.D. Johnstone, (ed.) Preface to John Bennett: Six Voluntaries for Organ, Novello, London. 1988.
  • Mortimer Thomas. The Universal Director; or, the Nobleman and Gentleman’s True Guide to the Masters and Professors of the Liberal and Polite Arts and Sciences. (1763)

External links[edit]