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Introduction from the VWML website

John Malchair, [formerly Johann Baptist Malscher] (bap. 1739, d. 1812), folksong collector, was baptized as Johann Baptist Malscher on 15 January 1730 at Cologne, the son of a watchmaker. He was a chorister at Cologne Cathedral from 1744, moved to Nancy in 1750, and in 1754 came to England, where he was known as John Malchair.

In London he played the violin at public-house concerts and taught music to mechanics and others. A gifted artist, he also obtained a post as drawing master at a ladies' school. He lived for some time in Hereford and Bristol, and from 1759 led the second violins at the Three Choirs festival; a peal of bells still rung at Gloucester Cathedral some 250 years later was his composition.

In 1760 Malchair married Elizabeth Jenner, and in the same year won the post of leader of the Oxford Music Room (later the Holywell Music Room) Band over a more prepossessing rival candidate: ‘Poor Malchair, tho' a fine figure, was ugly’ (Crotch's Malchair, MSS, Bodl. Oxf., MS mus. sch. D. 32), according to a friend, the Christ Church organist William Crotch (1775--1847). Malchair led the band until 1792, when an orange thrown at the orchestra during an undergraduate disturbance broke his Cremona violin. His sight was failing and he never led the band again. When Malchair became blind, Crotch wrote down his violin tunes and provided piano accompaniments for them. Malchair's melodies owe much to the folk tradition; he was a pioneer collector of popular airs, and in Oxford noted several melodies from singers and musicians heard in the streets. These include early notations of the country dance tunes ‘Astley's Ride’ and ‘Davy, Davy Knick-Knack’, and of the melody of ‘Early one morning’, which he obtained in May 1784 from the singing of a poor woman and two children. Malchair's own compositions include several pieces whimsically written for a violin with three strings, after an occasion when he took his violin from its case and discovered one string to be broken.

Both Malchair and Crotch were talented watercolour painters, and through Crotch, Malchair influenced later English landscape painters, including John Constable. Malchair died in Oxford on 12 December 1812.

T. B. Healey

(from online Dictionary of National Biography)

Introduction at VWML [1]

PDFs at VWML [2]

An article on Malchair by Alice Little [3]

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