The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Joseph Barnby
1838-1896

Photograph of Joseph BarnbyBorn: August 12, 1838 York, England.

Joseph Barnby, son of organist Thomas Barnby, was a composer, conductor and (like his father) an organist. He entered the choir of York Minster at age seven, began to teach other boys at ten, and was an organist and choirmaster at twelve. At fifteen, he was appointed music master. In 1854 he went to London and entered the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied under Cipriani Potter and Charles Lucas.

In 1856, Barnby competed for the first Mendelssohn Scholarship. When the examinations were over, of the nineteen applicants, he was tied for first place with Arthur Sullivan. After a second test, Sullivan won.

Barnby was organist at Mitcham, St. Michael’s, Queenhithe, and St. James’ the Less, Westminster, before he was appointed to St. Andrew's, Wells Street, where he remained from 1863 to 1871, establishing the musical reputation of the services. From 1871 to 1886 he was organist of St. Anne’s, Soho, where he instituted the annual performances of Bach’s Passion Music according to St. John, with orchestral accompaniment.

In 1867, Messrs. Novello, to whom he had been musical adviser since 1861, established Barnby’s Choir, of which Barnby was the director, and which gave "oratorio concerts" from 1869 to 1872. It was then amalgamated with the choir formed and conducted by M. Gounod at the Albert Hall, under the title of the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society (now the Royal Choral Society). Barnby was director of the Society. The same publishing firm also gave daily concerts in the Albert Hall, 1874-75, which Barnby orchestrated

Barnby conducted the St. Matthew Passion in Westminster Abbey in 1871. He was appointed precentor of Eton in 1875 (and as such, he was in charge of the music department), a post he kept until 1892, when he succeeded Thomas Weist-Hill as principal of the Guildhall School of Music.

In 1878, Barnby married Lady Edith Mary Silverthorne. Also that year, he helped found the London Musical Society, becoming its first director and conductor. Under his baton, the Society produced Dvorak’s "Stabat Mater" for the first time in England.

In 1884, Barnby conducted the first performance in England of Wagner’s "Parsifal" as a concert in the Albert Hall. From 1886-88 he conducted rehearsals and concerts of the Royal Academy of Music, of which he was a fellow.

Barnby was knighted in 1892, and in the same year conducted the Cardiff Festival. He conducted the festival again in 1895.

Barnby’s compositions include an oratorio ("Rebekah," 1870), a cantata ("The Lord Is King," Leeds Festival, 1893), an enormous number of services and anthems, part­songs and vocal solo, trios, etc. He also wrote a series of "Eton Songs," 246 hymn tunes (published in one volume in 1897), and edited five hymn books, the most important of which was The Hymnary (1872).

Barnby died on January 28, 1896, at London, England. He was buried at Norwood Cemetery, London, England. Hymnist and pastor Charles Spurgeon is buried nearby

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