Charles Avison was born in Newcastle in 1709. He learnt music from his father who was a musician in the employ of the town responsible for playing at ceremonies and waking up the town on dark mornings. Charles’ employers, Ralph Jenison and Colonel John Blaithwaite, recognised his talent and supported him to continue his musical training.
Combining his love of playing music with a sense of civic duty, the first record of Charles playing for an audience was in 1734 at the age of 25 for a charity concert. He would continue to use music to support causes for the rest of his life. After completing his training in London, Charles was appointed the organist of St. Nicholas’s Church in Newcastle. The organist was responsible for playing the music accompanying worship but was also responsible for the general training of musicians at the church and with the organisation of the choir.
Charles quickly acquired a reputation as a talented musician, teacher, composer and concert organiser in the north-east for his talent. From 1736 he began to organise subscription based concerts which ran fortnightly from October through to April. By 1857 he was organising two seasons of music, one for spring and a second for the summer. By 1764 he was able to charge 15s (about £77 in today’s money) for a seasonal subscription. This income was generated on top of the income he received from St. Nicholas’s for teaching harpsichord, violin and flute and from his published works.
As well as organising concerts for high society in Newcastle and Durham, Charles organised several charitable concerts designed to raise money for local causes including local hospitals such as the Lying-In Hospital (the current home of Newcastle Building Society).
When Charles died in 1770 his son completed the following year’s concerts, but no further music concerts were organised in Newcastle for another 20 years. His music continued to be played regularly into the 19th century. Charles is notable for refusing several higher paid, more prestigious positions around the country in order to stay in Newcastle. Avison’s work is promoted across the country by the Avison Ensemble, a registered charity which performs Charles compositions using traditional instruments. In 2009 the newly built City Library in the heart of Newcastle was named the Charles Avison building in his honour.
Lomas, R. (2009). An encyclopaedia of North-East England, Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, pp. 21-22.
Middlebrook, S. (1950). Newcastle: Its growth and achievement, Newcastle: Newcastle Journal and North Mail, pp. 126, 153.
Southey, R & Cross, E. (2018). Charles Avison in context: National and international links in eighteenth-century north-east England, Abingdon: Routledge.
The Avison Ensemble, ‘Charles Avison Biography’ Available here (Accessed: 23/05/2018).
Zon, B.M. (2004). Charles Avison. Available here (Accessed: 23/05/2018).