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Henry Thomas Smart

October 26, 1813 - July 6, 1879
born in London, England, composed during the Romantic period
Henry Thomas Smart was generally recognized as the most virtuosic concert organist of his day and considered by some contemporaries among the greatest British composers of all time. The latter estimation was obviously a grand exaggeration; nevertheless, Smart produced several memorable compositions, in particular his settings of the hymns Regent Square and Heathlands.

Smart was born in London on October 26, 1813. His father, also named Henry, was a gifted musician, accomplished as both a violinist and conductor. He was also a music publisher and once an owner of a piano factory. Young Henry studied first with his father, and like his father, developed a talent for the construction and design of keyboard instruments. In his youth Smart worked as a draftsman for a time, but then turned to law. Soon, however, he abandoned that profession and returned to music, steadily building a career as an organist and composer, his further education limited to composition studies with W.H. Kearns.

In 1831 Smart was appointed organist at the Parish Church in Blackburn, Lancashire, where he would serve until 1836. During this period Smart was busy not only as an organist but as a composer, writing anthems and other works, despite a growing problem with his vision that had begun when he was 18. He returned to London in 1836 to take an organist post at St. Philip's Church, Regent Street. He also began to teach music and to write music criticism for the Atlas, a popular weekly journal.

Though he would soon become recognized as England's most brilliant concert organist, he never neglected composition. Over the years he produced a large output that included hymns, various works for church service, songs, organ pieces, cantatas, chamber works, and even an opera. From 1844-1864 he was organist at St. Luke's Church, Old Street. At about the age of 52, Smart found his failing eyesight an impossible encumbrance to endure for composition and thus began dictating his works to his daughter.

Still, he would serve as organist at St. Pancras Church from 1865-1879 and as editor of The Presbyterian Hymnal (1875). Moreover, as he had in the past, he continued to supervise the installation of organs at various London churches. He even made a trip to Dublin in 1878 to evaluate the organ at Christ Church Cathedral there. Smart died in London on July 6, 1879. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi
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