The Worgan Family
[ Issue 40 ]

The Worgan Family fascinates Emily Bronto

Bikwil is pleased to present the Worgan Family

The Worgan Family

In this article Kerry Worgan adds to our knowledge of the musical family that owned Australia's first piano.

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The Worgan Family and Their Musical Times
— Kerry Worgan


I read with great interest your piece on Worgan’s Piano (Clavierübung, Issue 20, July 2000) as George Bouchier Worgan was my g-g-g-great uncle being the older brother of my g-g-g-great grandfather Thomas Danvers Worgan.

The family music legacy started with James Worgan (1713-1752) and Dr. John Worgan (1724-1790) who was the most famous of the Worgan organists. Dr. John taught all of his children how to play the piano and the organ and that trait was passed down the line for many generations. They also were very active composers and played at many of the Churches in London as well as giving many performances at Vauxhall Gardens.

Dr. John Worgan is probably best remembered for his playing of the Easter Hymn commonly known as the Worgan Tune (Jesus Christ is Risen Today) as well as having taught Charles Wesley how to play the piano. In addition he was good friends with Handel who would probably have been the composer of choice in 1790 in Australia especially with George Bouchier being an acquaintance of his.

I retrieved the following piece from the Internet concerning the time period in question:

If [Domenico] Scarlatti was not especially well-known as a player outside his circle, his harpsichord sonatas certainly were. Particularly in England, a following for his works developed that established his reputation as one of the foremost keyboard composers of his time. Between the first publication of thirty sonatas in his Essercizi in London in 1738 and the end of the 18th century, more than one hundred sonatas were available in English prints. Of these, more than sixty had been published by 1760, around the time of Scarlatti’s death. For the English public, the keyboard works of Scarlatti, together with those of Händel, formed the foundation of their repertoire.

Commenting on the dearth of native English composers, Charles Burney (1726-1814) said, “Handel’s compositions for the organ and harpsichord, with those of Scarlatti and [Domenico] Alberti, were our chief practice and delight, for more than fifty years.”

Elsewhere, Burney, in reminiscing about the state of music in England around 1750, said:

Handel’s harpsichord lessons and organ concertos, and the two first books of Scarlatti's lessons, were all the good Music for keyed-instruments at that time in the nation; and there were original (and) difficult

. . . Handel's organ concertos long remained in possession of the first and favourite places, in the private practice and public performance of every organist in the kingdom; and Scarlatti’s were not only the pieces with which every young performer displayed his powers of execution, but were the wonder and delight of every hearer who had a spark of enthusiasm about him, and could feel new and bold effects intrepidly produced by the breach of almost all the old and established rules of composition.

. . .Mr. Kelway, a scholar of Geminiani, kept Scarlatti's best lessons in constant practice, and was at the head of the Scarlatti sect. He had, in his voluntaries on the organ, a masterly wildness, and long supported the character of a great player, in a style quite his own, bold, rapid and fanciful. With his harpsichord playing I was not acquainted, but have often been assured that he executed the most difficult lesson of Scarlatti, in a manner peculiarly neat and delicate.

. . . In his youth, [John Worgan, 1724-90] was impressed with a reverence for Domenico Scarlatti by old [Thomas] Roseingrave’s account of his wonderful performance on the harpsichord, was well as by his lessons; and afterwards he became a great collector of his pieces, some of which he had been honoured with from Madrid by the author himself. He was the editor of twelve at one time and six at another, that are admirable, though few have now perseverance sufficient to vanquish their peculiar difficulties of execution. He is still in possession of many more, which he has always locked up as Sybil’s leaves.

I do have a copy of George’s diary and it’s an interesting story and a nice piece of our family history, along with the Bikwil article on the First Piano in Australia!

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