Our privacy policy was last updated on Friday 25 May 2018View it hereDismiss
Bachtrack logo
Flag of United Kingdom

Composer: Avison, Charles (1709-1770)

Fact file
Year of birth1709
Year of death1770
NationalityUnited Kingdom
February 2019
Evening performance
Matinee performance
Upcoming eventsSee more...


© Kasskara
Locatelli, Avison, Bach, Marcello
Concerto Köln; Giuliano Carmignola

ZürichMaurice Steger

© Molina Visuals
Handel, Avison, Dubourg, Sammartini, Purcell, Geminiani
Zurich Chamber Orchestra; Maurice Steger

StuttgartSubscription Concert 4 | Opus 3

Avison, Manfredini, Vivaldi, Handel, Castrucci, Hasse, Locatelli, Geminiani
Freiburger Barockorchester; Gottfried von der Goltz

FreiburgSubscription Concert 4 | Opus 3

Avison, Manfredini, Vivaldi, Handel, Castrucci, Hasse, Locatelli, Geminiani
Freiburger Barockorchester; Gottfried von der Goltz
Latest reviewsSee more...

Early Christmas with Enrico Onofri and Sinfonietta Riga

Problems of balance in the first half of Sinfonietta Riga's "European Christmas" concert are followed by excellent Kraus and Haydn in the second.
Read more

North Eastern Baroque with the Avison Ensemble

Pavlo Beznosiuk © Joanne Green
The Avison Ensemble illuminate the musical life of North East England in the 18th century.
Read more

Valer Sabadus et le Concerto Köln

Le public était debout pour saluer la performance absolument parfaite d'extraits d'opéras de Haendel et de concertos italiens par le Concerto Köln et Valer Sabadus.
Read more

Charles Avison was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1709. A composer, conductor, organist and writer of music, he is considered to be the most important English concerto composer of the 18th century.

Newcastle's modern, somewhat underdressed, famed nightlife is the equivalent of the posh assemblies that followed Charles Avison's fortnightly subscription concerts of music held in the Groat Market Assembly Rooms in the mid 18th century. They were the un-missable peaks of Newcastle's social calendar, with dancing, card playing, showing off the new dress, wig or waistcoat - and the all important gossip. They ensured a full house for the concert preliminary, with local boy Avison shrewdly letting in ladies half price and discouraging hoops in their skirts to allow more room!

A Newcastle Waits' son, born close to where The Gate now dominates Newgate Street, Avison was off to London in his teens to learn his trade as a fiddle player from the Italian master Geminiani. There he eyed the fashionable craze for music concerts at a hundred or so venues, spearheaded by the Saxon import Handel's music. London's booming economy was sucking in Europe's best musicians, rather as today's Premiership TV money lures the world's top footballers.

Avison must have thought "I'll take that back to the Tyne - the coaly Tyne", for Newcastle was a burgeoning Klondike. Its virtual monopoly of the only movable energy source in Europe, as the World's first Industrial Revolution gathered pace, was creating the equivalent of today's oil sheiks. All that wealth, all those entrepreneurs, factory owners and engineers: all ambitious, intelligent and culture hungry. Avison perhaps dreamt of his concerts in his Newcastle: concerts a sedan chair ride away, not a five-day coach ordeal to London.

So, back in Newcastle and needing an income, he launched his concerts that ran from 1735 to outlive him by 60 years. He supplemented his stipends as organist at St John's and St Nicholas' churches by teaching the gentry and their children, who then formed the backbone of his Groat Market orchestra, with the tricky solo parts played by himself and the occasional professional. Soon a country wide acute shortage of new music forced him to become himself an almost compulsive composer to keep alive his own concerts.

Avison on his own, made Newcastle England's greatest provincial music centre of the time - 250 years before The Sage! His were the earliest provincial subscription concerts in England. His music was snapped up by societies throughout the land: oozing with melody, playable by amateurs and coming with long prefaces telling you how to play it. Avison, an 18th century Andrew Lloyd Webber, got up the noses of the London professionals, but everyone else couldn't get enough!

"The most important English concerto composer of the 18th century", so says the prestigious New Grove Dictionary of Music. Avison wrote tuneful, accessible, easy listening music, with solo violin passages of indelible beauty that float like thistledown on the breeze. Exhilarating, breath-taking sections like rollercoasters, and always that unique Avison Northumbrian/ Italianate hybrid sound. Recently, the first complete recording of his opus 6 - his finest - from the Newcastle based Avison Ensemble sold out in one week!
And he could write too. His 'An Essay on Musical Expression' of 1752 is the first treatise of musical criticism in English. It created a storm of disapproval and consummated his alienation from London with such comments as Vivaldi, ".only fit amusement for children" and Handel, ".to suit public taste sometimes descends to the lowest". The Avison Archive, being established at Newcastle's Central Library, now boasts two of his workbooks - treasure troves of unpublished music from Avison and his contemporaries.

Avison died, just turned 61, after being caught out in a May blizzard, hopefully, wearing more than today's customary Geordie-male T-shirt! Now almost unknown, even in Newcastle, this unfairly neglected national composer is remembered by his gravestone and a privately endowed commemorative plaque, both at St Andrew's church, a street in Arthur's Hill and an increasingly known legacy of exuberant music.

Music - as Geordie as the Keel Row and The Blaydon Races, from a Geordie who remained loyal to his roots.

Article by David Hughes, kindly provided by Frances Benton of the Avison Ensemble. For more information about Avison and The Avison Ensemble, visit www.avisonensemble.com.