John Eccles

John Eccles


• 1668 1735


John Eccles was a fine composer who had the unenviable task of trying to forge a career composing for London's theaters in the era between Henry Purcell and Handel. He was first taught music by his father, Solomon Eccles, who was also a composer. He became an active participant in London's busy theater life in the 1680s. He later joined the King's ensemble in 1694 and was made Master of the King's Music in 1700.

As a theater composer Eccles wrote incidental music for a adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth and Dryden's The Spanish Friar, among many others. In 1693 he became the house composer for the Drury Lane theater. In addition to his own works he also collaborated with almost all of London's most prominent composers of the time; including working with Purcell on music for the successful Comical History of Don Quixote and with Gottfried Finger on The Loves of Mars and Venus. In 1701 he came second (to John Weldon) in a competition to find London's best theater composer by setting Congreve's The Judgement of Paris. His last major work for the London stage was a setting of Semele written by Congreve. It was the last throw of the dice for English opera and it ended in disappointment. There were complicated disputes during rehearsals and the project was abandoned and Semele was never performed in the composer's lifetime. Largely due to the Semele debacle, Eccles became increasingly disillusioned with London's musical life, in particular its growing obsession with Italian opera, and he left the city to devote his time to angling. For the rest of his life he continued to write music for his official post, including odes and other occasional works for the monarch, but his output slowed down considerably.

Like many other English composers wedged between Purcell and Handel, Eccles' music is yet to receive the full attention it deserves. He was especially gifted in writing for the voice and his solo songs are among the best examples of the post-Restoration period. He developed a special working relationship with the darling of the Restoration stage, singer and actress Anne Bracegirdle, for whom he composed countless songs.