Henry J. Gauntlett

9 July 1805–21 February 1876

Henry J. Gauntlett,  photograph by Clarence Edmund Fry & Son (1870s).  National Portrait Gallery.

Henry J. Gauntlett, photograph by Clarence Edmund Fry & Son (1870s). National Portrait Gallery.

The sudden death, last Monday, of that erudite musician, Henry John Gauntlett, will be deeply regretted. The son of a clergyman, he was educated for the Church, in the College of which his father was Principal. Dr. Gauntlett subsequently practised as a solicitor for a few years in the City, but his passion for music was irresistible. He was first organist at the church at Edgware, where Handel presided when living with the Duke of Chandos at Cannons. Subsequently, Dr. Gauntlett was organist of St. Olave’s Southwark, Christ Church, and of late years, indeed up to his death, at the church attached to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

In 1842, Dr. Howley, the Archbishop of Canterbury, conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor in Music, the first time a Primate had granted a musical degree since the change of religion in the sixteenth century. It was not, however, as an executant that Dr. Gauntlett excelled. Being an ardent admirer of Bach, whose pedal fugues he first made known here, he found the music of that mastermind could not be done justice to on the old G organ, and he advocated the construction of the C organ. Under his superintendence, therefore, the late William Hill erected the grand pedal organ in St. Peter’s Cornhill; and this example has since been followed generally.

He was also the pioneer of reform in the tunes used for church and chapel, and from 1834, when he published the Psalmist, till his decease, he has produced various works, including his Bible Version of the Psalms, in five volumes, his Gregorian Psalter, his Christmas Carols, several tune-books, &c. The majority of his compositions appeared years before the Hymns Ancient & Modern. No composer ever gave a greater impetus to the improvement of musical services; his great aim was to make the congregation sing as well as to elevate the ordinary choirs. Dr. Gauntlett was one of the earliest champions of Beethoven as well as of Bach; and his masterly series of papers on the Characteristics of Beethoven had the greatest influence in popularizing the symphonies of that great master. Mendelssohn said of him that “his literary attainments, his knowledge of the history of music, his acquaintance with acoustical laws, his marvellous memory, his philosophical turn of mind, as well as practical experience, rendered him one of the most remarkable professors of the age.”

How is it, then, that such a musician has died, leaving a widow and six children without provision? The answer is to be found, first, in the fact he commenced his career as a lawyer; and that when he began to write on music, the profession would not recognize the qualifications of an amateur. Secondly, when he left the legal profession, he stood forward in defence of the great composers, from Handel to Mendelssohn, and was opposed to a pretence of theory, based on no science whatever, which threatened the destruction of Art in its highest form. He was the uncompromising opponent of ignorant pretension, and his independence of thought and principle raised up bitter enemies, although there were some of his opponents who did not scruple to borrow his theories and ideas.

And yet, with all his incessant opposition to imposture, there never existed a better husband, a kinder father, a firmer friend, or man more ready to do good to his fellow creatures. He died in harness, in his sixty-ninth year, after a few minutes’ illness. He was preparing a new work on harmony and his reminiscences, which his special connexion with Mendelssohn would have rendered most valuable. The latter selected Dr. Gauntlett as organist when the oratorio Elijah was produced at the Birmingham Festival, and the story of Mendelssohn’s peregrinations with Dr. Gauntlett, to test various organs in this metropolis, would be of itself of great interest. No one understood better the principles on which Mendelssohn based his compositions than Dr. Gauntlett. It is to be hoped his account of the creation and alterations of the score of Elijah may yet see the light.

The obituary notice of the Times, stating that Dr. Gauntlett’s life was “directed to the elevation and advancement of art,” we emphatically echo.

The Athenaeum (26 Feb. 1876)

Featured Tunes:


Publications of Hymns & Tunes:

Edited by Gauntlett:

Dr. Watts’ Own Tune Book (1840s): WorldCat

Hymnal (1844): WorldCat

Cantus Melodici (1845): WorldCat

The Comprehensive Tune Book 

1st series (1846): WorldCat
2nd series (1851): WorldCat

Y Salmydd Cymreig [The Welsh Psalmist] (1846): WorldCat

373 Chants, Ancient and Modern (1848): WorldCat

The Psalter, or The Psalms of David, Pointed (1848): WorldCat

The Bible Psalms … Set Forth to Appropriate Tunes (1848): WorldCat

A Selection from the Quire and Cathedral Psalter (1848): WorldCat

Christmas Carols (1849): WorldCat

Stabat Mater, Set to Eight Melodies (1849): WorldCat

The Hallelujah, 4 vols. (1849-1861): WorldCat

The Church Hymn and Tune Book (1852): WorldCat

The Book of Common Prayer for Quires (1852): WorldCat

The Church Music Book (1853): WorldCat

The Choral Use of the Book of Common Prayer (1854): WorldCat

Sacred Melodies for Children (1855): WorldCat

Sacred Melodies for the Young (1856): WorldCat

The Congregational Psalmist (1858): WorldCat

Hymns for Little Children (1858): WorldCat

Prayer-Book Chants (1860): WorldCat

S. Mark’s Church Hymn Tune and Chant Book (1860): WorldCat

Manual of Psalmody (1861): WorldCat

The Canticles … Pointed (1861): WorldCat

Anthems, Canticles, and Hymns (1864): PDF

Tunes New and Old (1864): WorldCat

Hymns and Tunes for Easter (1864): WorldCat

Christmas Minstrelsy (1865): WorldCat

Church Psalter and Hymnal (1869): WorldCat

Cheetham’s Psalmody, new & enl. ed. (1876): WorldCat

Tunes New and Old, Enlarged (1876): PDF

A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1877): WorldCat

Pohlmann’s National Psalmody (1878): WorldCat

One Hundred Tunes (ca. 1880): PDF

Edited by Others:

The Village Church Tune Book (ed. T.R. Matthews, 1859): WorldCat

Tunes for Holy Worship (1859): WorldCat

Hymns Ancient & Modern

1st ed. (1861): PDF
Annotated by Louis Biggs (1867): PDF
with Appendix (1868): PDF
2nd ed. (1875): PDF

Other Publications:

The Clergyman’s Singing-Class Manual (1847): WorldCat

Notes, Queries, and Exercises in the Science and Practice of Music (1859): PDF

Questions on the Art of Music Making (ca. 1860): WorldCat

Related Resources:

Obituary, The Athenaeum, pt. 1, no. 2522 (26 Feb. 1876), pp. 305–6: HathiTrust

Obituary, Musical Standard, vol. 10 (1876), p. 134.

William H. Husk, “Henry John Gauntlett,” A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. George Grove (London: MacMillan, 1879), pp. 584-585: Archive.org

“Dr. Gauntlett: His Centenary,” The Musical Times, vol. 46, no. 749 (1905), pp. 455–456: PDF

Paul Westermeyer, “Henry J. Gauntlett,” Let the People Sing: Hymn Tunes in Perspective (Chicago: GIA, 2005), p. 237.

Terence Crolley, “Henry John Gauntlett (1805–1876): A complex personality,” Organists’ Review, vol. 92, no. 3 (2006), pp. 28–29.

Nicholas Temperley, “Henry John Gauntlett,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:

Nicholas Temperley, “Henry John Gauntlett,” Grove Music Online:

Terence Crolley & Judith Blezzard, “Henry John Gauntlett,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Henry J. Gauntlett, Hymnary.org: