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Charles Avison

A portrait painting of Charles AvisonCharles Avison (1709-1770) was born in Newcastle and became England’s most important eighteenth-century concerto composer.

Apart from a few years in London, studying under the virtuoso violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani, Avison spent most of his life in Newcastle and carved out a very successful career in his home town.

One of the things that made Avison stand out from other musicians of the time was his skill as a businessman. In London Avison had been involved in concerts where anyone who could afford to pay the admission charge could attend. In 1735, when he returned to Newcastle, he discovered that concerts were still a novelty in the provinces and he was quick to make money from organising this increasingly popular new form of entertainment and showing off his playing skills.

Concerts were not Avison’s only means of support. He was organist at St John’s Church (and later St Nicholas’ at twice the salary), he taught pupils (some of whom played in his concerts) and composed music for patrons, including George Bowes of Gibside. His book An Essay on Musical Expression, published in 1752, was the first book in English to discuss philosophical questions such as what music was for and what it should sound like.

The Newcastle Collection has two copies of An Essay on Musical Expression contained within this site. Extracts of these publications can viewed in the Thomlinson Collection and within the Other Books of Interest sections.

Detail from the second canticle, in Avison’s neat hand, ready for the printerThrough his enterprise and determination, Avison made Newcastle upon Tyne England’s greatest provincial music centre of the time.

Avison’s music is enjoying a revival after long years of neglect since his death in 1770 and his published compositions have all been recorded by The Avison Ensemble.

The Avison Archive was set up by the Avison Society in conjunction with Newcastle Libraries. It focuses on two workbooks, in Avison’s own handwriting, which he used to work out ideas for compositions and musical arrangements and note down the music of other composers. The books were purchased by the Avison Society with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

If you would like to find out more about Charles Avison a biography, The Ingenious Mr Avison: Making Music and Money in Eighteenth-Century Newcastle, by Roz Southey, Margaret Maddison and David Hughes is available, price £10, at Newcastle Libraries, all good bookshops, and direct from Tyne Bridge Publishing, Newcastle Libraries, PO Box 88, Newcastle upon Tyne NE99 1DX. (Add £1 postage).