John Bentley

John Bentley. Organist-choirmaster, harpsichordist, composer, b England 1754 or 1756, d Quebec City 10 Nov 1813. Resident in London until about 1781, Bentley moved to the USA and in 1783 founded the City Concerts in Philadelphia.

Bentley, John

John Bentley. Organist-choirmaster, harpsichordist, composer, b England 1754 or 1756, d Quebec City 10 Nov 1813. Resident in London until about 1781, Bentley moved to the USA and in 1783 founded the City Concerts in Philadelphia. In 1785 he joined Lewis Hallam's touring theatre company, participating in its fall season in New York as harpsichordist, orchestra director, and occasional actor. He composed pantomime music for the production The Cave of Enchantment (or The Stockwell Wonder), presented 26 Oct 1785 in New York, and for The Genii of the Rock and Touchstone (or Harlequin Traveller), mounted the same year. While similarly associated 1785-6 with the Allen-Moore Company, Bentley travelled to Albany, Montreal, and Quebec City and wrote music for The Enchanters (or The Triumph of Genius) staged 12 May 1786 in Montreal.

After a brief residence in Montreal Bentley settled in 1787 in Quebec City, participating in theatrical activities and in vocal and instrumental concerts. After 1797 he also held municipal positions such as high constable and surveyor of roads. Music, however, remained his true love; in 1805 citizens wrote to the Quebec Mercury, wishing that 'the High Constable would attend a little more to his duty in having the streets properly levelled... and not bestow his entire attention on his Crotchets and Quavers'. Appointed organist in 1801 and choirmaster in 1802 by the Church of England, he served 1804-7 and 1810-13 as organist-choirmaster at the new Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, providing the consecration ceremonies 28 Aug 1804 under Bishop Jacob Mountain with a full choral service (13 boys, 4 men) and organ accompaniment. In a letter (22 Nov 1814) to Jonathan Sewell, Bishop Mountain remarked: 'Mr. Bentley was paid £40 a year for teaching singing to the Choir and a Dollar each time for playing the organ. It should be known that the service is not daily' (Anglican Church of Canada Archives). He was also organist-choirmaster 1810-13 at Notre-Dame Cathedral, where his duties included training a successor. Two of Bentley's chants appear in F.H. Andrews' Collection of Original Sacred Music (Lovell & Gibson 1848), and he composed an ode (text printed in Quebec Gazette 5 Jan 1792) and sang it at the constitutional meeting, 26 Dec 1791, which divided the old province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada.


Further Reading

  • DCB, vol.5