Born: Ju­ly 9, 1805, Wel­ling­ton, Shrop­shire, Eng­land.

Died: Feb­ru­ary 21, 1876, Lon­don, Eng­land.

Buried: Kens­al Green Ce­me­te­ry, Lon­don, Eng­land.

National Portrait Gallery

Creative Commons License


An ex­cep­tion­al­ly gift­ed or­gan­ist, Gaunt­lett was well known in 19th Cen­tu­ry Eng­lish mu­sic cir­cles. He was al­so, in turn, a law­yer, au­thor, or­gan de­sign­er, and or­gan re­ci­tal­ist.

His fa­ther, Hen­ry Gaunt­lett, was cur­ate at the Well­ing­ton Par­ish Church, where Hen­ry the young­er was born. Hen­ry had two sis­ters, Ly­dia and Ara­bel­la, both ac­comp­lished mu­si­cians. When his fa­ther moved to Ol­ney, Buck­ing­ham­shire, in 1814, he in­tend­ed the two girls to share the post of or­gan­ist, but the young Gaunt­lett per­suad­ed his fa­ther to ap­point him in­stead. With­in six months, be­ing taught by his mo­ther, he was pro­fi­cient enough to take up the post.

Later, he took les­sons from Wes­ley. Att­wood, a pu­pil of Mozart, want­ed to ap­point him as his as­sist­ant at St. Paul’s Ca­thed­ral in Lon­don. Gaunt­lett the el­der dis­cour­aged his son from be­com­ing a pro­fes­sion­al mu­si­cian, be­liev­ing they were sub­ject to too ma­ny temp­ta­tions of the flesh! Con­se­quent­ly, Hen­ry the young­er became a law­yer and moved to Lon­don, where he prac­ticed with his bro­ther.

In 1827 he took up his first post as or­gan­ist at St. Ol­ave, South­wark. It was here he began his cam­paign for the re­form of or­gan de­sign, which was to bring him in­to such con­flict with the es­tab­lished or­gan world. Nev­er­the­less, he per­sist­ed to the point where he in­tro­duced the Grand Cho­rus based on con­ti­nent­al style or­gans, ex­tend­ing the pe­dal com­pass and pa­tent­ing elec­tri­ci­ty to pow­er the ins­tru­ment. His col­la­bo­ra­tion with or­gan de­sign­er Will­iam Hill last­ed from the late 1830’s to 1860.

During this pe­ri­od, Gaunt­lett ed­it­ed The Mu­sic­al World and lat­er pro­vid­ed ar­ti­cles for va­ri­ous pub­li­ca­tions. He was al­so much in de­mand as a per­for­mer. In 1846, Men­dels­sohn chose him to play the or­gan part in the first per­for­mance of Eli­jah in the Birm­ing­ham Town Hall. It was about this time he was grant­ed a Lam­beth Doc­tor­ate by the Arch­bi­shop of Can­ter­bury, Dr. How­ley.

Gauntlett was a pro­li­fic hymn writ­er; it is said he wrote 10,000 hymns. As this would re­quire him write three hymns a day for thir­ty years, the fi­gure is doubt­ful. He did, how­ev­er, ed­it va­ri­ous hymn books and was ac­tive­ly con­cerned with ev­ery ma­jor col­lect­ion of hymns made ov­er the course of about 50 years (Bi­shop, 1971).

Gauntlett has been des­cribed as the Fa­ther of Church Mu­sic, for he was the cre­at­or of the school of four-part hymn tunes. Whe­ther he de­serves this ac­co­lade is de­bat­able. Yet he was ad­mired by Men­dels­sohn, no less, who wrote of him, His li­ter­ary at­tain­ments, his know­ledge of the his­to­ry of mu­sic, his ac­quaint­ance with acous­tic­al law, his mar­vel­ous me­mo­ry, his phi­lo­so­phic­al turn of mind as well as prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence—these ren­der him one of the most re­mark­able pro­fess­ors of the age.

A por­trait of Gaunt­lett, cir­ca 1840, hangs in the Roy­al Col­lege of Or­gan­ists, Lon­don, and is re­pro­duced in The Mak­ing of the Vic­to­ri­an Organ (This­tle­waite: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1990).