Michael Robinson • Link
BANISTER, JOHN (1630-1679),
musical composer and violinist, was the son of one of the ' waits' of the parish of St. Giles- in-the-Fields, and that profession he at first followed. His father was his first instructor, and he arrived at such proficiency on the violin that Charles II became interested in him and sent him for further education to France, appointing him on his return to the post of leader of his own band, vacated by the death of Baltzar [q. v.] in 1663. A warrant of that year (Add. MS. 5750) informs us that he was appointed to the band at a salary of 40/. per annum, payable quarterly. About 1666-7 he is said to have been dismissed by the king for an impertinent remark concerning the appointment of French musicians to the royal band. This seems to be referred to in Pepys's Diary, date 20 Feb. 1666-7, although Banister's name occurs in a list of the King's Chapel in 1668 (Egerton MS. 2159). On 30 Dec. 1672 he inaugurated a series of concerts at his own house, which are remarkable as being the first lucrative concerts given in London. One peculiarity of the arrangements was that the audience, on payment of one shilling, were entitled to demand what music they pleased to be performed. These entertainments continued to be given by him, as we learn from advertisements in the 'London Gazette' of the period, until within a short time of his death, which took place on 3 Oct. 1679. He was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.
His most important composition is the music to the tragedy of ' Circe' by Dr. C. Davenant, which was performed at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1675/6; Manuscript copies of the first act are preserved in the library of the Royal College of Music, and in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. In the same year he wrote music to ' The Tempest' in conjunction with Pelham Humphrey. Several songs by Banister, some of them belonging to some classic tragedy of which the name is unknown, and written jointly with Dr. Blow, are in a manuscript in the Christ Church Library, Oxford. In the collections of printed music which date from about this time his name is of frequent occurrence. Besides his vocal compositions, which are not of very great interest or importance, he wrote a great many short pieces for one, two, and three violins, and also for the lute. He was especially skilled in writing upon a ground bass. A work of this kind is preserved in the British Museum (Add. MS. 18940) for two violins on a ground, and several similar compositions are among the manuscripts in the Music School at Oxford. There also many of his other compositions are preserved, one of which (MS. 35) is curious, as it appears to be an exercise in bowing. The name is given variously as Bannister, Banester, and Banster, but most commonly, and no doubt correctly, as Banister.
His son, John Banister the younger, was a pupil of his father's, and became, like him, a violinist in the royal band, where he remained under Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Anne. When the first Italian operas were given in this country at Drury Lane, he played the first violin. He died in 1735.
[Burney's History of Music; Hawkins's History of Music; Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians; MSS. in Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Music School and Christ Church, Oxford, and in the British Museum.] J. A. F. M.
DNB, ed. Leslie Stephen, George Smith, Sidney Lee, etc.