‘My dear Sir, I never in my life played upon a gridiron’: George Smart as organist

Sir George Thomas Smart (1776–1867), the 150th anniversary of whose death falls this year, is not as well known to the general musical public as he should be, not least because he was the first British musician to wield a baton over his forces and the first to take sole charge of a musical performance.  During a very long life, his activities and interests were extensive.  He was both a superb organiser and administrator, and a very able musician. Thus, when George Smart chaired the first General Meeting of the College of Organists on 5 July 1864, he brought with him the weight and authority of a well-connected musical grandee. It was one of the final acts of a most remarkable public life, but also a very characteristic one.  Smart spent his entire working life promoting change and innovation, in repertoire, in performing practice, and in the establishment of professional musical institutions.  This article seeks to examine his reputation and influence as an organist.  The famous and misleading quote in the title, made on a tour of the organs at the Great Exhibition, is one of the most widely known anecdotes from his life, but, as this article will show, this humorous aside does not reflect Smart’s attitude to the organ and its music in 1851, nor his reforming zeal.

The article, by John Carnelley, first appeared in the RCO Journal of 2017.


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