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Charles Avison : The most important English-born composer of Handel’s day, known for his tuneful music and very busy diary.
Charles Avison

Though little-known today, Charles Avison (1709-1770) led a busy life composing, teaching and giving daily concerts in North East England, justly gaining a reputation as the 18th-century’s finest English-born composer.

WHILE in the employment of Ralph Jenison, MP for Northumberland, Charles Avison found time to develop an interest in music, encouraged at home by his father Richard; and on March 20, 1734, he was rewarded with a concert in Hickford’s Room, London, and time to study in the capital with Francesco Geminiani.

He returned home a year later to become choirmaster of St John the Baptist’s Church in Newcastle, and then St Nicholas’s Church.*

Although offered many prestigious posts from York to Edinburgh and Dublin, Avison remained in Newcastle, giving Sunday and midweek concerts there and in Durham, teaching private pupils each Monday and Friday, and serving as Director of the Newcastle Musical Society.

Avison admired Scarlatti, Corelli, Marcello, and his German-born but now English contemporary, Handel, yet he always preferred the music of his mentor, Geminiani.

His own music, chiefly concertos and some chamber music, was highly-regarded, and praised for its tunefulness.

* Later, it was raised to the status of Newcastle Cathedral.

Concerto after Scarlatti No. 5

Several of Avison’s concertos were arrangements of keyboard music by his favourite composers, including both Corelli and Scarlatti. This one is based on a harpsichord sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, and played here by the Ensemble L’Aura Soave.

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The unusual crown-shaped spire of the Parish Church of St Nicholas in Newcastle, now Newcastle Cathedral, still dominates the skyline. Here it is seen from the keep of the 11th-century castle from which the city takes its name.

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