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William Child
Portrait by James Caldwall
Portrait by James Caldwall
Background information
Died23 March 1697(1697-03-23) (aged 90–91)
GenresChurch music

William Child (1606 – 23 March 1697) was an English composer and organist.

Early life

Born in Bristol, Child was a chorister in the cathedral under the direction of Elway Bevin. In 1630 he began his lifetime association with St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, becoming first a lay-clerk and, from 1632, Master of the Choristers there until the dissolution of the chapel in 1643. After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, Child was re-appointed to St. George's, became Master of the King's Wind Music and a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.


His output of church music is understandably considerable, including a set of psalms (1639), many anthems and 17 service settings. He was often influenced by the Italian 'tastes' of his time, but also wrote anthems in more conventional English forms.

Little secular music of Child survives, namely, a number of catches and instrumental pieces.


  • Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Centennial Edition. Nicolas Slonimsky, Editor Emeritus. Schirmer, 2001.

External links

13 Annotations

First Reading

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Pepys's acquaintance

Child and Pepys have two big things in common -- an interest in music and, apparently, the favor of Jemima Mountagu. So Pepys sometimes meets him at the Mountagu lodgings, but also socializes with him independently.

Child is an organist who also plays the lute and viol.

Born about 1606, he is roughly 54 years old on 30 August 1660 when Pepys first mentions him as a companion (with Shepley) in the evening at an unnamed tavern. (See last sentence of that entry.)

Child, a widower, takes Mrs. Pepys to Whitehall Chapel on Sunday, 23 September 1660, when Pepys and James Pearse go to church elsewhere to catch a sermon Pepys wants to hear. On 28 October, Child is eating with Jemima Mountagu and two of her sons when Pepys drops by for dinner.

-- Sources: L&M companion and index volumes, Vol. 1 (1660)

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Child's career

An organist and "a composer of anthems, catches and ayres whose works were studied by [composer John] Blow and Henry Purcell."

Born: circa 1606

(His approximate age in parentheses below)

1630 (24) lay clerk, St. George's Chapel, Windsor

1632 (26) organist

1660 (54) appointed to King's Private Musick; becomes organist of the Chapel Royal

1663 (57) receives doctorate in music from Oxford

1697 (91) dies

-- L&M Companion volume

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Chapel Royal, St. James Palace

"There are two historic chapels in St. James Palace -- the Chapel Royal and the Queen's Chapel. . . . In origin and still in principle, the Chapel Royal is not a building but an establishment; a body of priests and singers to serve the spiritual needs of the Sovereign. It was Henry VIII who constructed the present Chapel within St. James's Palace. . . . The Chapel Royal has always been considered to be the cradle of English church music. . ."
-- source: "The Monarchy Today" website…

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Child taught music to Mountagu,
Pepys's patron (according to L&M), which may be the main reason Pepys would find him in the Mountagu household, even though he can also be found in the company of Mountagu's wife, Jemima.

Of course, having musicians around was one great way to have good music around the house before recordings. Would he have practiced there?

-- L&M Volume 1, footnote 1 , p 285, for 7 November 1660.

David Quidnunc  •  Link

More career information

This from a note (3) for 15 November 1660 in L&M Volume 1: Child was "later organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and one of the organists at Whitehall Chapel." Why this information wasn't included in the L&M Companion volume is beyond me.

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Job Description: Organist of the Chapel Royal

From a record book -- the "Cheque Book" of the Chapel Royal for 19 December 1663 (p. 83):

"Of the three Organistes two shall ever attend, one at the organ, the other in his surplice in the quire [choir], to beare a parte in the Psalmodie and service. At solemne times they shall all three attend. The auncientest ["ancientest"? most senior?] organist shall serve and play the service on the eve and daye of the solemne feastes, viz: Christmas, Easter, St. George, and Whitsontide. The second organist shall serve the second day, and the third the third day. Other dayes they shall waite according to their monthes."

So these three were members of the choir who would also take turns playing the organ.

The quotation is from J.A. Westrup's biography, "Purcell" (1947; revised 1960), a biography of the composer Henry Purcell (1659-95). (Chapter 4: "Abbey, Court and Stage," Page 56, Collier Books paperback edition, 1962)

Paul Smith  •  Link

Child's musical style, as can be gathered from his age at the time of Pepys, is rather antiquated, even "simple", compared to that of Locke or Blow. It is often reminiscent of Thomas Morley. There is a recentish recording of his music on the ASV Gaudeamus label.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Child forms a link between the old style of church music, of which Gibbons was the greatest master, and the school of the Restoration, of which Purcell is the great representative. But musically he remained true to the school in which he was educated, and his compositions are remarkable for simplicity and melody. It is said that at one time the choir of St. George's ridiculed them on this account, whereupon Child wrote his celebrated service in D to prove to them that the simplicity of his music arose from design and not from incapability.
---Dictionary of National Biography. 1887

Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in D
Description: Child's "Sharp Service" was reputedly the piece de resistance in St George's Chapel, Windsor in the first decade after the Restoration. It was probably the service performed exclusively for the entertainment of Pepys and his wife upon their expedition to meet Child, 26th February, 1666. It is said that Child wrote this service to puzzle his choirmen, they having ridiculed some of his music because it was so easy.… (Also wherein is a "preview" of the piece)


Bill  •  Link

CHILD, WILLIAM (1606?-1697), musician; chorister at Bristol; clerk and assistant organist of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, 1630; Mus. Вас. Oxford, 1631; sole organist of St George's Chapel, 1634 ; said to have been also organist of the Chapel Royal, Whitehall; ejected by the puritans, 1643; restored, 1660; chanter of the Chapel Royal, Whitehall; composer to the king; Mus. Doc. Oxford, 1663; published twenty anthems, 1639; much of his music still in manuscript.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link…
Friday 26 June 1663
Up betimes, and Mr. Moore coming to see me, he and I discoursed of going to Oxford this Commencement, Mr. Nathaniel Crew being Proctor and Mr. Childe commencing Doctor of Musique this year, which I have a great mind to do, and, if I can, will order my matters so that I may do it.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.