England's most important Baroque composer next to Henry
Purcell, John Blow was born in February 1649 and baptized on the 23rd
of that month. He was likely born at Newark-at-Trent in Notthinghamshire where
parish registers record his baptism, the marriage of his parents, and his
father's death. Records also indicate that when Blow took his doctorate in
1677, he acknowledged his birthplace as "the faithful borough of Newark."
Blow showed an early proficiency for music. Besides early
efforts in compositions, he was selected as a boy to be a chorister of the
Chapel Royal, indicating that his talents where sufficient enough to bring him into
the service of the royal family. As a chorister, he was a student with choirmasters
Henry Cooke and Christopher Gibbons. In 1669, at the age of twenty, he became
the organist of Westminster Abbey, a prestigious position that gives testament
to his skills as keyboardist. A short while later he began performing on the virginal
at the royal court. Around this time, he also took on a young Henry Purcell as
In 1674, Blow returned to the Chapel Royal as children's
chorus master, and two years later was appointed as its organist. He also
entered a highly productive period that persisted until the turn of the
century. He began composing a large group of songs, which appeared in print
between 1679 and 1684. His first odes appeared during this, including Begin the Song, first of the St.
Cecilia's Day Odes and considered one of his finest works. Between 1680 and
1687, he composed his only known composition for the stage, the masque Venus and Adonis, which is believed to
have influenced Henry Purcell's well-known opera Dido and Aeneas.
In addition to his prolific rate of composition, Blow
continued to hold a number of positions throughout his career. In 1687, he was
appointed choirmaster at St. Paul's Cathedral. He became organist of St.
Margaret's, Westminster in 1695 and is thought to have also resumed his duties
as organist of Westminster Abbey following the death of his student Henry
Purcell, a loss that had a profound impact on Blow. In 1699, he was appointed
as Composer to the Chapel Royal, a newly created post that essentially
signified him as the foremost composer in England. Despite this new position,
Blow's output waned in his final years and some of his efforts were nothing
more than revivals of older works. On October 1, 1708, John Blow died in
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