James Hook

(1746 - 1827)

James Hook

English organist and composer. He had a club foot at birth and always walked with a limp. A child prodigy at the keyboard, he played harpsichord from age of four and performed concertos from the age of six; he composed his first ballad opera (now lost) at eight, and spent his youth concertizing and teaching music in Norwich. Hook studied with Thomas Garland, the cathedral organist in Norwich, and possibly also with Charles Burney. He went to London around 1763; by February 1764 he was working as an organist at the tea garden, White Conduit House, Pentonville, one of the many tea gardens that abounded in 18th Century London. He began to make a name for himself as an organist, teacher, and composer of light, attractive music, particularly songs. In 1765 his catch, " I wish you all good night," was awarded the Catch Club's gold medal; and on September 9, 1765 some of his songs, published later as Opus 1, were performed in the New Theatre, Richmond, at a benefit concert for John Fawcett, with Hook performing his newly composed Harpsichord Concerto. During the following July, Thomas Arne's opera The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (the overture of which was composed by Hook) was performed at the same theatre. On May 29, 1766 Hook married Elizabeth Jane Madden at Saint Pancras Old Church. His wife was both talented and artistic. She was a painter, provided the libretto for Hook's opera The Double Disguise (1784), the verses for some Vauxhall songs, and produced the designs and floral decorations for the pillars in the orchestra at Vauxhall's Jubilee celebrations in 1786.

Hook's songs began to be regularly performed at the main London pleasure gardens, and the first of his many song collections for the gardens at Marylebone and Vauxhall was published in 1767. In 1768 he was appointed organist and composer to Marylebone Gardens. In addition to his performances on the organ and occasionally on the harpsichord, he was now invited to perform concertos between the main works in the theatres. On August 28, 1772, at Hook's Annual Festival at Marylebone Gardens, he performed a concerto on the pianoforte, the first occasion this instrument had been played at Marylebone, though earlier, on 12 April 1771, at a benefit concert for the soprano Frederica Weichsell at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, Hook had used the pianoforte to accompany one of his new songs. 1769 saw the beginning of Hook's many short musical entertainments for the pleasure gardens, and on July 24, 1771 his first comic opera Dido was performed as an afterpiece at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, followed a year later, on July 27, 1772, by Cupid's Revenge. On May 11, 1772, the Society of Artists gave their first exhibition in their new Exhibition Rooms, near the Exeter Exchange in the Strand. Hook set to music an ode specially written for the occasion.

In May 1767, he had applied unsuccessfully for the post of organist for the united parishes of Saint Matthew, Friday Street and Saint Peter, Westcheap, but by the following September, he had been appointed organist of Saint John's, Horselydown, Bermondsey. He was also in demand to open new organs, both in London and in nearby counties. Contemporary Norwich newspapers show him to have been still performing in concerts around Norwich, frequently playing many of his own compositions. He continued his keyboard teaching and it is said that his income from this source alone amounted to over £600 per annum. Hook remained at Marylebone Gardens until the end of the 1773 season, and in 1774 he was engaged in a similar capacity at Vauxhall Gardens, a position he retained until 1820. Throughout this time he composed operas, the majority of which were produced at Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theatres. His son James (1772-1828) provided the librettos for Jack of Newbury in 1795 and Diamond Cut Diamond in 1797.

On March 20, 1776, Hook's only oratorio, The Ascension, was performed at Covent Garden. His second son, Theodore Edward (1788-1841), wrote the words for many of Hook's songs, and between 1805 and 1809 he provided the librettos for eight of Hook's operas. Hook later became the ghost writer for Michael Kelly's Reminiscences in 1826. On October 18, 1805, Hook's wife died, and a year later on November 4, 1806, he married his second wife, Harriet Horncastle James. It is not known why Hook left his position at Vauxhall after almost a half century of service there. His departure was sudden and surprising: "so little was his abrupt retirement expected or understood, that the proprietor of the [gardens] kept his station in the band open for him, during one entire season." James Hook died in Boulogne, France in 1827, and his music library was sold at auction at Puttick & Simpson's, London, on January 30, 1874.

Hook was an early proponent of the pianoforte, playing a concerto on it in 1772.

Hook ultimately contributed more than thirty stage works to Covent Garden, Drury Lane, the Haymarket, and Vauxhall Gardens.his works include The Lady of the Manor (1778), The Fair Peruvian (1786), The Soldier's Return (1805), Tekeli (1806), and The Fortress (1807); he wrote More than 2000 songs. James Hook was conversant with the musical styles of his day and successfully exploited the style galant. His first overture of 1766, written in the Mannheim style, is indicative of the orchestral music that was to follow. Six years of Vauxhall programs are known, and these identify some instrumental music that is now lost; the works cannot be accurately dated since they may have been in the Vauxhall repertory for some years, but much of his printed music can be accurately dated from the Entry Book of Copies at Stationer's Hall, London. The concerto was an important form for Hook since it was part of his duties to perform an organ concerto each evening at the Vauxhall concert. Despite the number that were performed, relatively few were published. Chamber music, sonatas for keyboard instruments, with or without accompaniment, are included in Hook's vast output. Two-movement works give way to three-movement structures with the usual fast-slow-fast order of movements; first movements in embryonic sonata form emerge as fully-fledged sonata form movements before the end of the 18th Century.

Hook also authored a treatise, Guida di musica (1785-94)

A Partial James Hook Discography | VIIJ: Music In The British Isles After 1730