1805–1876

July 9, 1805, Wellington, Shropshire, England.

February 21, 1876, London, England.

Kensal Green Cemetery, London, England.

portrait
© National Portrait Gallery

An exceptionally gifted organist, Gaunt­lett was well known in 19th Century Eng­lish music circles. He was also, in turn, lawyer, author, organ designer, and organ recitalist.

His father, Hen­ry Gaunt­lett, was Curate at the Well­ing­ton Parish Church, where Henry the younger was born. Henry had two sisters, Ly­dia and Ar­a­bel­la, both accomplished musicians. When his father moved to Ol­ney, Buck­ing­ham­shire, in 1814, he intended the two girls to share the post of organist, but the young Gaunt­lett persuaded his father to appoint him instead. Within six months, being taught by his mother, he was proficient enough to take up the post.

Later, he took lessons from Wes­ley. Att­wood, a pupil of Mozart, wanted to appoint him as his assistant at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Gaunt­lett the elder discouraged his son from becoming a professional musician, believing they were subject to too many temptations of the flesh! Consequently, Hen­ry the younger became a lawyer and moved to London, where he practiced with his brother.

In 1827 he took up his first post as organist at St. Ol­ave, South­wark. It was here he began his campaign for the reform of organ design, which was to bring him into such conflict with the established organ world. Nevertheless, he persisted to the point where he introduced the Grand Chorus based on continental style organs, extending the pedal compass and patenting electricity to power the instrument. His collaboration with organ designer Will­iam Hill lasted from the late 1830’s–1860.

During this period, Gaunt­lett edited The Musical World and later provided articles for various publications. He was also much in demand as a performer. In 1846, Men­dels­sohn chose him to play the organ part in the first performance of Eli­jah in the Birm­ing­ham Town Hall. It was about this time he was granted a Lam­beth Doc­tor­ate by the then Arch­bi­shop of Can­ter­bury, Dr. How­ley.

Gauntlett was a prolific hymn writer; it is said he wrote 10,000 hymns. As he would have had this would require him to write three hymns a day for thirty years, this figure is doubtful. He did, however, edit various hymn books and was actively concerned with every major collection of hymns made over the course of about 50 years (Bishop, 1971).

Gauntlett has been described as The Father of Church Music, for he was the creator of the school of four-part hymn tunes. Whether he deserves this accolade is debatable. Yet he was admired by Men­dels­sohn no less who wrote of him, His literary attainments, his knowledge of the history of music, his acquaintance with acoustical law, his marvelous memory, his philosophical turn of mind as well as practical experience—these render him one of the most remarkable professors of the age.

A portrait of Gaunt­lett, circa 1840, hangs in the Royal College of Organists, London, and is reproduced in The Making of the Vic­tor­i­an Organ (This­tle­waite: Cam­bridge University Press, 1990).

  1. Audley
  2. Chicopee
  3. Constance
  4. Cry of Faith
  5. Dura
  6. Evermore
  7. Gauntlett
  8. Hawkhurst
  9. Hosanna
  10. Houghton
  11. I Love to Hear the Story
  12. In Vi­am Rec­tam
  13. Lux Mundi
  14. Irby
  15. Jeshurun
  16. Keswick
  17. Newland
  18. Oklahoma City
  19. Riseholme
  20. Sherwood
  21. Southwold
  22. St. Al­bi­nus
  23. St. Al­phege
  24. St. Bar­na­bas
  25. St. Ful­bert
  26. St. George
  27. St. Mark
  28. St. Vin­cent
  29. Stuttgart
  30. Triumph
  31. Tyre
  32. University College