“…But the Book Was Fatally Dull…”

Don’t ask how or why, but I stumbled across the following in a British publication called the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900. The entry was written by William Barclay Squire. There is something terribly melancholy about this, not just because the subject of the entry was dead at 29, leaving a widow with two children after only three years of marriage; but because the gap between artistic expectations and fulfillment described here is so common, so normal, so familiar…

(Do I assume correctly that the “Madame Viardot” mentioned below is Pauline Viardot?)

BEXFIELD, WILLIAM RICHARD (1824-1853), musical composer, was born at Norwich on 27 April 1824, entered the cathedral choir at the age of seven, and studied music under the organist, Dr. Buck, to whom he was articled. He learnt the violin, trumpet, trombone, and drum, but he excelled as an organist when still quite young. On the expiration of his articles he obtained the post of organist at the parish church of Boston, Lincolnshire, and on 16 Nov. 1846 took the degree of Mus. Bac. at Oxford, where his name was entered at New College. His degree exercise was a canon in five parts. On the death of Dr. Crotch he became a candidate for the professorial chair of music at Oxford, but without success, probably on account of his youth. In February 1848 he left Boston, having obtained the post of organist at St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, the competition for which brought forward thirty-six candidates. In the following year he proceeded Mus. Doc. at Cambridge, his name being entered at Trinity College. In 1850 Dr. Bexfield married Miss Mellington, of Boston, by whom he had two children. Soon after his marriage he wrote the oratorio by which his name is best remembered, ‘Israel Restored.’ This work was produced by the Norwich Choral Society in October 1851, and was again performed at the Norwich Festival on 22 Sept. 1852, when the solo parts were sung by Madame Viardot, Misses Pyne, Dolby, and Alleyne, and Messrs. Sims Keeves, Gardoni, Lockey, Formes, Belletti, and Weiss. The excellence of much of the music was at once recognised; but the book was fatally dull, and the whole work suffered from being forced by a local clique into injudicious rivalry with H. H. Pierson’s ‘Jerusalem,’ which was produced on the following day. Bexfield’s other published works are a set of  Organ fugues, a set of six songs (words by the composer), and a collection of anthems. He died at 12 Monmouth Road, Bayswater, on 28 Oct. 1853, too young to have fulfilled the expectation aroused by the talents he displayed.

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