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Father of the Choral Society, and Assistant Conductor at all the Musical
Festivals performed in Birmingham from their Commencement [in 1778] to the Year
Engraved & Publish'd by T. Carnier 4 Aston Street,
Birmingham, Jany. 1824.
From a Painting by H. Wyatt, in the Possession of the Musical Society.
Sold by J. Bumpus Holborn Bars London, & all Printsellers. Subscribers
Engraving, scarce. Image 330 x 271mm. 13 x 10¾". Trimmed, foxing and
laid on album page.
James Kempson (1742-1822) was the first
choir master at St Paul’s, Birmingham and was a well known figure in
Birmingham’s musical circles during his long and active life. Kempson
was offered the post of clerk and choir master of St. Paul’s in 1777,
soon after the laying of the foundation stone. He had already a
considerable reputation as a choir master in Birmingham having been
associated with St. Philip’s all his life - he was baptised there
in 1742. In 1762, the age of 20, he
was directing the choir at St. Bartholemew’s and had combined the choirs
of St. Philip’s and St. Bartholemew’s into a singing group which met at
Cooke’s Tavern in the Cherry Orchard; this merry band of musicians
became known as The Musical and Amicable Society.
Such musical societies often met in taverns and
consequently were mainly given over to a 'conviviality' which was typified in the
preamble to the printed rules of the most important of them, the
and Amicable Society, which included the lines:
'May the catch and the glass go about and about
And another succeed to the bottle that's out'.
This association was, however, remarkable in being
also a friendly society and engaging in charitable works. Its founder,
James Kempson, was associated with Michael Broome who had set up a
music-publishing business in Lichfield Street, Birmingham, in 1734.Broome
is credited with being the first such publisher in the town.
Three years later in 1765 saw the formation of
the Chappell Society, an offshoot of the Musical and Amicable Society,
and in 1766 when the building of the General Hospital began, James
suggested to friends on the board that there should be a Musical
Entertainment to raise money for the building fund. Thus, in 1768 there
was the first Music Festival. There were performances in the theatre,
and at St. Philip’s there was a performance of Handel’s Messiah with
James as chorus master. He is credited with having started,
in 1766, the Birmingham Choral Society that gave annual performances in
St. Bartholomew's Chapel for the "Distressed House-keepers' Charity".
Twelve years later in 1778, James arranged
another Festival, this to raise money for the building funds for the
unfinished hospital and for St. Paul’s. Another Festival was held in
1784 and so began the Triennial Musical Festivals in Birmingham raising
money for the General Hospital. This tradition continued until 1912,
attracting new works by famous composers, many now being in the standard
The Chappell Society continued its existence
until 1847, providing a large group within the massed choirs of the
festivals. It is likely that the remaining members became the nucleus of
the recently formed Birmingham Festival Choral Society which began life
in 1843 and is still one of the main choral societies in Birmingham
James `Daddy` Kempson was held in great affection
by his choirs and in his later years the Chappell Society commissioned a
portrait of him by Henry Wyatt (above). Many special musical events were held in
subsequent years, Handel being the favoured composer. Some of the
performances were an integral part of a church service. Some were to
raise money for charity or a new organ, of which there were several.
James Kempson died on
10th March 1822, was buried in St. Paul’s churchyard, aged 80.
In the catalogues of
Birmingham Public Libraries, on the Birmingham Collection page, we
find copies of sssome of James Kempson's publications:
- Kempson, J - Eight anthems in score, for three and four
voices. pp 39. 8vo
- Kempson, J - [ed.] A choice collection of thirteen anthems, set
by R Bishop, etc. pp 30. 4to.
- Kempson, J - [ed.] A collection of psalm tumes in four parts. (2nd
edn., revised.) p. 50. obi. duo.