William Croft


The first English composer to grasp the stylistic characteristics of the late Baroque, William Croft was both a preserver of tradition and an embracer of new techniques. A fervent admirer of Purcell, he also responded to the arrival of Handel and his published violin sonatas pre-date and anticipate Corelli's influential Opus 5 set. He is perhaps best known for writing the hymn tune to which O God, our Help in Ages Past is sung.

Croft was born in Warwickshire and baptised on 30 December 1678. A chorister in the Chapel Royal, he studied with Blow and quickly developed a love for the music of Purcell. It is likely he is the 'Philip Crofts' mentioned as organist at St Anne's Church, Soho from 1700, and he also seems to have renewed his connection with the Chapel Royal at this time. In 1704, along with Jeremiah Clarke, he succeeded Francis Pigott as organist, and when Clarke died in 1707, he became the sole incumbent.

Already a composer of anthems for the Chapel Royal to celebrate the battles of Blenheim and Ramilies, he formally succeeded Blow as composer upon the latter's death in 1708. At the same time, he also became organist of Westminster Abbey. In 1712 he relinquished his position at St Anne's and, in the following year, took the Oxford DMus degree, publishing his submission as Musicus apparatus academicus.

In 1724, enjoying the patronage of Sir John Dolben of Finedon, the sub-dean of the Chapel Royal, Croft published a large two-volume collection of his sacred music. This musica sacra was particularly unusual for its time: it was engraved as a complete score rather than separated into its parts, something that Croft encouraged others to do. Not long after, on 14 August 1727, Croft died; he was buried close to Purcell in Westminster Abbey.

A serious man, according to accounts, Croft was also serious about his music. His reverence for the past and acceptance of the future can best be seen in his Te Deum in D. Modelled on Purcell's 1694 setting, it was nevertheless revised upon hearing Handel's 'Utrecht' setting of 1713. Also noteworthy is his harpsichord music, which surpasses the models of his predecessor, Blow. His approach to rhythm, tonality and phrase, and his use of concertante textures, as seen in the Musicus apparatus academicus, clearly demonstrate him to be a composer on the cusp of progress.

Related composers: PurcellHandelBlowClarkeCorelli

Show more