Perhaps two genii should preside over tonight's event: one a famous one, the great Domenico Scarlatti; the other a largely forgotten English (or perhaps Welsh) composer, John Worgan (1729-1790), who was organist of St Botolph's from 1753 onwards.
Worgan may be the least of the composers in the programme, yet I feel confident that the music of his that you will hear (organ voluntaries during the interval, songs and an accompanied harpsichord piece in the second half) will entertain you, and go some way towards explaining why he was so highly regarded in his own time. He was clearly a player with a relaxed, nonchalant virtuosity, his musical style deriving from two of the "1685 masters", Scarlatti and G. F. Handel, and later absorbing the galant idiom of John Christian Bach.
Worgan had studied with the eccentric Irishman Thomas Roseingrave, organist at Handel's own parish church of St George, Hanover Square. Roseingrave had known Handel and Scarlatti when they were young bucks in Italy, and witnessed their famous keyboard contest in Venice in 1707. When Scarlatti's Essercizi were published in London in 1739, Roseingrave, like Charles Avison in Newcastle, was criticised by some for plagiarising the edition - Roseingrave reprinting many of the sonatas, and Avison cashing in by arranging them (often very imaginatively) as string concertos.
When in the 1750s Worgan wished to publish more of Scarlatti's work, he wrote to the composer in Madrid, and obtained a 14-year exclusive licence for publication in Britain. This licence was renewed in the 1770s after Scarlatti's death – possibly, it has been suggested, by the great Catalan keyboard virtuoso, Antonio Soler himself – and the result was the publication by Worgan of two Scarlatti volumes each entitled XII Sonatas Modernas para Clavicordio. Thanks to Worgan's advocacy of the Neapolitan master – who had found his freedom and his true voice in Iberia – St Botolph's has an existing connection, perhaps unique among the City Churches, with Baroque Spain: which makes it an especially appropriate place to welcome the young Baroque enthusiasts of Ars Musicae.
Worgan was organist at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the 1750s, playing Handel's concertos there and earning a tribute from the ageing composer: "Mr. Worgan shall sit by me; he plays my music very well at Vauxhall." He also wrote his own organ concertos; these do not survive, but one source states that they were based on Worgan's harpsichord sonatas, six of which were published in 1769. I have therefore added "accompaniments" for Ars Musicae in a performance of the very concise G major Sonata.
An impression of Worgan appears in the journals of the glee composer R. J. S. Stevens, who in 1786 sang in the chorus of one of Worgan's oratorios: "Doctor John Worgan was a musician of a most eccentric mind, but a man of the greatest Genius, and a most admirable organ player." This was the age of Dr Johnson and of Tristram Shandy, and the era when the ideal of the "eccentric genius" took root, so perhaps it is not surprising that England was where the "modern" style of Scarlatti most found favour. Worgan could be indifferent to the preservation of his own work (though he did publish 14 volumes of his Vauxhall songs, which presumably sold well), and only 15 of his brief organ voluntaries survive, printed after his death by his son James. Matthew Dunn, organist of St Botolph's (where the organ has been beautifully restored to its mid-18th-century condition), will kindly play a few of these during the interval. They are not deep, but they are concise, colourful and engaging – with perhaps more of a Vauxhall Gardens flavour than some Anglican clergy would have liked – and give some idea why, after Worgan finally left Vauxhall in 1773, admirers would flock here to Aldgate to hear him play.
5 June 2015