James Turle

Short Name: James Turle
Full Name: Turle, James, 1802-1882
Birth Year: 1802
Death Year: 1882

TURLE, JAMES (1802–1882), organist and composer, son of James Turle, an amateur 'cello-player, was born at Taunton, Somerset, on 5 March 1802. From July 1810 to December 1813 he was a chorister at Wells Cathedral under Dodd Perkins, the organist. At the age of eleven he came to London, and was articled to John Jeremiah Goss, but he was largely self-taught. He had an excellent voice and frequently sang in public. John Goss [q. v.], his master's nephew, was his fellow student, and thus the future organists of St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey were pupils together. Turle was organist of Christ Church, Surrey (Blackfriars Road), 1819–1829, and of St. James's, Bermondsey, 1829–31. His connection with Westminster Abbey began in 1817, when he was only fifteen. He was at first pupil of and assistant to G. E. Williams, and subsequently deputy to Thomas Greatorex [q. v.], Williams's successor as organist of the abbey. On the death of Greatorex on 18 July 1831, Turle was appointed organist and master of the choristers, an office which he held for a period of fifty-one years. Turle played at several of the great musical festivals, e.g. Birmingham and Norwich, under Mendelssohn and Spohr, but all his interests were centred in Westminster Abbey. His playing at the Handel festival in 1834 attracted special attention. At his own request the dean and chapter relieved him of the active duties of his post on 26 Sept. 1875, when his service in D was sung, and Dr. (now Professor Sir John Frederick) Bridge, the present organist, became permanent deputy-organist. Turle continued to hold the titular appointment till his death, which took place at his house in the Cloisters on 28 June 1882. The dean offered a burial-place within the precincts of the abbey, but he was interred by his own express wish beside his wife in Norwood cemetery. A memorial window, in which are portraits of Turle and his wife, was placed in the north aisle of the abbey by one of his sons, and a memorial tablet has been affixed to the wall of the west cloister. Turle married, in 1823, Mary, daughter of Andrew Honey, of the exchequer office. She died in 1869, leaving nine children. Henry Frederic Turle [q. v.] was his fourth son. His younger brother Robert was for many years organist of Armagh Cathedral.

Turle was an able organist of the old school, which treated the organ as essentially a legato instrument. He favoured full ‘rolling’ chords, which had a remarkable effect on the vast reverberating space of the abbey. He had a large hand, and his ‘peculiar grip’ of the instrument was a noticeable feature of his playing. His accompaniments were largely traditional of all that was best in his distinguished predecessors, and he greatly excelled in his extemporaneous introductions to the anthems. Like Goss, he possessed great facility in reading from a ‘figured bass.’ Of the many choristers who passed through his hands, one of the most distinguished is Mr. Edward Lloyd, the eminent tenor singer.

His compositions include services, anthems, chants, and hymn-tunes. Several glees remain in manuscript. In conjunction with Professor Edward Taylor [q. v.] he edited ‘The People's Music Book’ (1844), and ‘Psalms and Hymns’ (S. P. C. K. 1862). His hymn-tunes were collected by his daughter, Miss S. A. Turle, and published in one volume (1885). One of these, ‘Westminster,’ formerly named ‘Birmingham,’ has become widely known, and is very characteristic of its composer.


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