William Bennett was an eighteenth-century composer and teacher of sacred music from Combeinteignhead in south Devon.
Bennet's book A New Set of Psalm Tunes and Anthems was published at Exeter: it is updated but appears to be from c1770.
A document (Devon Heritage Centre, reference 818A/PZ93) preserved among the parish records of West Alvington (near Kingsbridge) records the agreement made between a group of parishioners and William Bennett 'of Combintinhead' to teach a choir in the parish. The agreement is dated 21 April 1772, and provides that Bennett would teach a choir in West Alvington, 'consisting of so many as are willing to learn', that he would meet the choir twice a week for the first two months and once a week for the next eleven months, and that he would cover any associated expenses: in exchange, he would be paid 6s 6d a time. The agreement is signed by nine parishioners of West Alvington (headed by Thomas Pyle, the vicar) and by William Bennett.
In addition to A New Set of Psalm Tunes and Anthems, the Burnet Morris index, a card index of information relating to Devon compiled by R. Burnet Morris over the period 1915-1940 and currently held in the Devon Heritage Centre, includes a card bearing a closely-cropped clipping from a bookseller's catalogue which identifies the existence of a second book by William Bennett. The clipping reads:
BENNETT (Wm., of Comb-in-Tin-head, Devon)
The second set of Psalm Tunes and Anthems, with a list of Devonshire Names as Subscribers, 99 pages of printed Music and over 130 pages more, written in a contemporary hand, oblong 8vo, calf, 5s 6d
Newton Abbott, printed for the Author and sold in Exeter, n.d.
The Burnet Morris index does not give any further information as to the origin of the clipping, and no copy of the book has yet been found.
A set-piece From Jesse's root, behold a branch arise, using a text from Alexander Pope's Messiah, also seems likely to have been the work of William Bennett. This piece occurs in a manuscript part book from Cruwys Morchard (Devon Heritage Centre, reference 2075M/Z1) and in an early 19th-century manuscript book from Ashburton (Devon Heritage Centre, reference 2141A/PZ1). This Cruwys Morchard part book and an earlier manuscript music book from Ashburton (Devon Heritage Centre, reference 2141A/PZ3) both include items from A New Set of Psalm Tunes and Anthems, and the choir of Ashburton subscribed to that book. An arrangement of From Jesse's root, behold a branch arise is included in Thomas Jarman's collection The Voice of Melody, London: [c1832-1834]. Jarman attributes the piece to 'Bennett', and comments in a footnote: 'N.B. As this Piece has never before appeared in print, the Editor feels justified in making the necessary alterations, as many parts of the Original were disallowable'. Jarman's The Voice of Melody also includes the anthem Blow ye the trumpet in Sion, from William Bennett's A New Set of Psalm Tunes and Anthems, with no attribution.
It appears that this William Bennett may have been the father of the individual of the same name who was organist of St. Andrew’s, Plymouth in the early nineteenth century. John Sainsbury, in the first edition of his A Dictionary of Musicians (vol. 1, 1824: pp79-80), describing the latter, writes that 'William Bennet’s father resided at Coombinteignhead, near Teignmouth, having inherited a comfortable estate in that parish. He was a highly respectable character. The subject of our memoir was the eldest son, and born about the year 1767'. The article was republished without a change in the second edition of A Dictionary of Musicians (vol. 1, 1827: pp77-78).
William Bennett of Plymouth died in 1827: the burial register for St. Andrew's, Plymouth (Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, reference 358/61) identifies him as 'Mr Willm Bennett Organist', gives his abode as 'Plymo', the date of burial as 10 March 1827 and his age as '60 years'. Death notices appeared on p3 of the North Devon Journal on 16 March 1827 and on p3 of the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette on 17 March 1827: both described Bennett as 'upwards of 30 years' organist at St. Andrews, but neither gives an age (in both cases, ages are given for some but not all individuals listed in these notices). The Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association, commenting on the entry in the Dictionary of National Biography for William Bennet or Bennett of Plymouth, includes an observation that 'the reputed age of Mr Bennett at his death harmonises with the statement in the Dictionary [i.e. Sainsbury’s Dictionary] that he "was born about 1767."' (vol. 18, p306). While this is the case, the age of '60 years' is 'round' enough that it may itself be an estimate.
The Combeinteignhead register of baptisms for the period 1725-1812 (Devon Heritage Centre, reference 3419A/PR2) does not include any Bennett baptisms in the year 1767, but there is an entry on 11 June 1763 for William, son of William and Agnes Bennett. Other children of William and Agnes Bennett are John (baptised 6 February 1766) and Thomas (baptised 22 December 1769). In the light of this, it appears that William Bennett of Plymouth might have been born in 1763, making him 63 or 64 at the time of his death in March 1827 and that his father might have been the William Bennett who was active as a singing-master in the early 1770s and who composed A New Set of Psalm Tunes and Anthems.
No relationship has been identified between the Bennett family of Combeinteignhead and Plymouth and the miniaturist and composer William Mineard Bennett (1778-1858), who was born in Exeter.
List of choral works
Canticles and other liturgical settings
Metrical psalm tunes
Set-pieces (through-composed settings of metrical texts)
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- A New Set of Psalm Tunes and Anthems, Exeter: printed for the author, [c1770]