Andrew Ford (b. 1957)

The Musical Child (2009)
for speaker, piano duet and string orchestra
words by Cathryn Strickland

William Crotch (1775 –1847) was appointed the first principal of the Royal Academy of Music in 1822, resigning some ten years later amid a certain amount of scandal. He had reputedly kissed a student, following a particularly pleasing harmony exercise.

But Crotch's greatest fame was far behind him. As a child prodigy, he had played at court for George III and also at the Chapel Royal, and been shown off by his ambitious mother, Isabella, in a London hat shop. She had even advertised these appearances:

Mrs. Crotch is arrived in town with her son, the Musical Child, who will perform of the organ every day as usual, from one o'clock to three, at Mrs. Hart's, milliner, Piccadilly.

The London Magazine of April 1779 reported the infant phenomenon thus:

He appears to be fondest of solemn tunes and church musick, particularly the 104th Psalm. As soon as he has finished a regular tune, or part of a tune, or played some little fancy notes of his own, he stops, and has some of the pranks of a wanton boy; some of the company then generally give him a cake, an apple, or an orange, to induce him to play again.

As an old man writing his memoirs, William expressed mortification at the manner in which he had been exploited. After all, at the height of his fame he had been just three and a half years old.

The Musical Child tells William Crotch's story with very little fabrication, and is, you might feel, a cautionary tale. It was commissioned by the Australian National Academy of Music.

© A.F.