1831-1897

December 31, 1831, Kendal, Westmoreland, England.

August 6, 1897, Kendal, Westmoreland, England.

Parkside Cemetery, Kendal, Westmoreland, England.

The death of Mr. William Smallwood, the writer and arranger of numerous pianoforte pieces of world-wide popularity, took place on the 6th ult. He was not of advanced age, having died in his sixty-sixth year. The writer was a life-long friend, and mourns his loss with many other musical associates. The end was rather sudden. Mr. Smallwood was recently found to be suffering from diabetes, but improved considerably; a paralytic seizure, however, cut him off instantly. Mr. Smallwood was a native of Kendal in Westmoreland, and came of a family distinguished for musical gifts. His father occupied the position of bandmaster, and was also instructor in singing, whilst his uncles on both sides were well-known instrumentalists and vocalists. He early attracted the attention and received much encouragement from the father of the present writer and others. As a little boy at the Wesleyan chapel he used to play that harsh predecessor of the harmonium, the Seraphine, and often acted as deputy at the organ at various services. Even at seven years of age, he played the flute fairly well, and was a proud boy when he was able, along with his father, to play Nicholson’s Beauties for the Flute, which at that time was one of the first and best series of duets for two flutes extant. When the old chapel was removed, he joined in the valedictory service, and recalled early days thus:—

When the organ was brought to the chapel, a chubby-faced lad, attired in a round-about jacket and wearing a cap upon his curly head, came to play it. There are men now living that compare that modest and clever youth with the most successful composer and arranger of to-day. For it is a fact that the most extensively-sold piano instructor, a choice selection of anthems and psalm tunes, and an almost innumerable number of pieces bear the name of William Smallwood, Kendal, the youth that played the first solo upon, and for some years presided with great efficiency at, the organ in the Methodist Chapel.

When fifteen years old, he was appointed organist of St. George’s Church, Kendal, a post that he held for fifty years, resigning it only at Christmas last. His Introduction and March, published by B. Williams, was his first published composition, and it was at once successful. He studied for some time under Dr. Camidge of York, and Mr. H. Phillips, the celebrated baritone, and as a young man always took advantage of his holidays to receive lessons from other eminent musicians in London, or on the Continent. By his eighteenth year, his time was fully occupied as a teacher. He is most widely known as a composer and arranger of pianoforte music for pupils in the earlier stages of their studies, and was the most successful of all his competitors in that particular line; as an instance of this, his pianoforte piece “Fairy Barque” sold in 1873 to Messrs. Brewer for five guineas, was sold for £1,012 at an auction five years later and realised £1,810 10s., when resold by an auction in 1896; by far the highest price ever given for a similar composition. Publishers may find it difficult to fill the place he leaves vacant. Though unambitious, both in melody and harmony his pianoforte compositions are pure in style, and it may be truly said that they point to higher things, and show the way. He himself used to sum up his position in the words of one of his publishers: If you wrote music fully equal to that of Mozart or Beethoven, the public would prefer Mozart and Beethoven, but you prepare the way for the great composers, and the public shows its appreciation by buying what you and I supply. He was one of the first fully to finger his pieces, and his early efforts, not by any means well-paid, were written to suit the needs of his own pupils. Among his best known arrangements were the series known as “Classics at Home,” “Little Buds,” “Little Footprints,” “Pleasing Themes,” “Choice Melodies,” “Steps Forward,” “Youthful Pleasure,” “Home Treasures,” “Flowers of Melody,” “Ball Room Gems,” &c., besides fantasias on Sullivan’s operas, volumes of exercises, and the very popular pianoforte instructor already referred to. But he did not confine his energies to this special line: his hymn tunes are to be found in many of the collections published during the last forty years; he also wrote many successful anthems, at least one of which, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” was frequently performed by the late Sir John Goss. The day before he died, he had a request from a firm of publishers to write an anthem for the coming Christmas. His own tastes were decidedly classical; he would play a fugue of Bach from memory, and in the spacious drawing-room of the handsome house he built in the suburbs of the town, in conjunction with his nephews, Mr. Smallwood Metcalfe of the Royal College, Mr. J. Smallwood Winder of Kendal, and others, frequently entertained his friends by giving charming performances of the highest class music. He was a genial and generous disposition; his fifty years’ service at St. George’s Church were practically given, as his various subscriptions more than equalled his very small salary. He spared no expense in educating his younger relatives for the positions in life they are destined to occupy, or to give pleasure to his friends. He showed great cheerfulness and buoyancy in all the concerns of life. In the presence of young people he was especially happy, and he took a great interest in them. His connection with Windermere College was maintained from his early days. William Terriss, the actor, was one of his pupils. Mr. Smallwood never married, but was content with the life-long attentions of an amiable and devoted sister. Probably so few dwellers in a somewhat remote country town could boast of so wide a circle of acquaintance amongst the musicians and publishers of the last half of the 19th century, by numbers of whom his comparatively early death at sixty-five will be deeply mourned.

Rev. H. V. Banks, preaching at St. George’s Church, referred thus feelingly to his departed fellow-worker:—

As fifty years organist of one church he attained a distinguished and almost unique position among organists. The good and time-honoured services which Mr. Smallwood rendered to St. George’s during those fifty years, and the regard in which he generally held is known to all. For the fifty years of his connection with this church, he has lived a quiet, useful, and consistent life, seeking to glorify God by the use of such talents as he possessed, and to serve his day and generation. His ability has been given ungrudgingly to the church, and his devotion to duty and punctuality is proverbial. If the finger of the clock pointed to the hour of service to commence and he was not in is place, the probabilities were greater that the clock was wrong than that he was late. He spoke but little while on earth. His tongue was not the pen of a ready writer, but with his fingers on the organ keys, as he led the voice of praise, he spoke to the soul of many a worshipper.

The Musical Herald, September 1, 1897, p. 297

  1. Antwerp
  2. Brentwood
  3. Hampstead

where to get Smallwood’s photo