William East of Waltham

[The] pioneers of the fuging tune ... were all local singing masters in the depths of the country. They were by no means equals in skill: East's stand out as the most adroit at dealing with the problems involved. (Temperley, 1979, p. 176)

Subsequent research may deny William East the title of 'pioneer of the fuging tune', but his ability as an editor of music seems to be unquestionable. Try singing the psalm-tunes he published!

Births, marriages(?), deaths

William East's exact origins are obscure. He came from a local Waltham family – there are William Easts going back to the mid-1600s in the Waltham parish registers – but working out when he was born/christened is impossible. First, there were two William/Will Easts in the same generation, both born to William East and Edith Goodwin (married 17 October 1661). William was baptised on 15 February 1664 and Will on 23 October 1670. At first I thought that the first son must have died, hence the re-use of the name, but no: Will East married Elonour Bilk (?) on 13 November 1707, while William married Elizabeth Kolham (?) on 14 September 1708. The name William East appears in another context: Mary Wyse Alis [alias] East, daughter of William and Ellinor, was baptised 20 June 1723, while a William Wyse Alis East married in the 1750s.

The second problem is that there are gaps in the Waltham parish registers. From 1723 to 1747 there are no entries of marriages. The records of baptisms are nearly illegible through poor handwriting, cramped layout and faded ink. However, The Spiritual Gamut, a religious tract detailing how William East was converted on his death-bed, mentions a wife and children – all sadly without names. (The tract also gives an idea of what East may have been like as an individual.)

When did our William East die? Here again, the registers pose a problem: two William Easts died in Waltham in 1758! The first was buried on 17 April 1758, and the second (called William East Junior in the register) on 15 August 1758. The Spiritual Gamut once again comes to the rescue: it includes a letter written by J. N. of London to William East in July 1758, which implies that William East Junior is our singing master.

Making a living

When it comes to making a living, East seems to have had several strings to his bow. He travelled through Leicestershire as a singing teacher setting up 'schools' in villages. For this he would have been paid a fee, perhaps by the churchwarden. He also composed, collected and published sacred and secular music in sheet and book form which he sold 'for the use of my schools'.

East obviously believed in charging a reasonable fee for his services: The Spiritual Gamut records his annoyance with those who taught music for less than he did. However, he had a good reputation as a teacher, taking 'much pains to instruct as man could well take; that being the science his soul delighted in'.

The view of East's contemporaries

East's contemporaries seem to have appreciated his musical efforts. The Spiritual Gamut describes him as 'a Man well-skilled in the Music of this World', and reminds its readers that 'His natural talent in the art of music was large, as all who know his compositions will allow'. And the following appears in the Collection of Church Musick (c. 1755; the spellings match the original):

To the Author of the Divine Melody

Accept, my Friend, what Justice makes me do,
And your Harmonick Notes compels me to;
Great Playford's Works Immortaliz'd his Name,
And Tansur's stretch'd the blowing Cheeks of Fame;
Green, Barber, Chetham, Smith, etc in thought was best,
Yet all these Worthies are Reviv'd in East,

Great thanks my Friend, we to thy Labours owe,
Which makes the Paths of musick smooth to go:

How many Psalmists (who pretend to be)
Instills vile Stuff, instead of Psalmody?

But heres a well Drest Peice, in proper Light,
Composed Just, Collected full as right. ...

Thou art Sollicitous of Time and truth,
T'employ thy toiles, to mend both Age and Youth.

No more harsh Strains, will from our Choirs be heard
If we rely on thee to be our Guard;
No more tremendous Sounds will intervene,
Nor Jarring Discords be Illegal seen;
But all are taken Elegantly Just
To Canon Rule, and Art, Own it I must. ...

Thy Labours Friend, have found their just success,
And the Judicious they Desert Confess.

Go on great Artist, with this Earthly Choir,
Till Body's flat, and Soul is raised higher:
Then may'st thou Sing with Choristers of Fame,
Celestial Hymns to Celebrate the same.


East's publications have a standard format. They are all engraved and usually printed on only one side of the paper.

The titles of East's works so far found are:

Distribution routes

East sensibly used several routes to distribute his publications:

  1. He sold separate sheets of music for three-farthings each -- for example, East's version of Knapp's funeral anthem based on Job 7, 'Is there not an appointed time ...?', would have cost 3.75d. (There is evidence that some of the plates used in the books were originally engraved for items sold separately.) His wife helped him in this work -- witness The Spiritual Gamut.
  2. He sold bound books of music to his schools.
  3. Stationers sold the books in various market towns around Waltham (strangely, the closest town to Waltham -- Melton Mowbray -- does not feature here).
  4. Some books could be bought from 'the men that carry the Cambridge and Stamford papers' (i.e. newspapers). (These men were also possible sources of musical instruments -- for example, the Stamford Mercury for 31 January 1744/45 carries an advert for a 'concert flute and a small one' that could be bought from the 'men that carry the Mercury'.)
  5. East also used the subscription method -- this would have generated a useful amount of capital to cover the initial engraving and printing costs.


Temperley, N. (1979) The Music of the English Parish Church, vol. 1, Cambridge Studies in Music, Cambridge University Press

Temperley, N. (1981) 'The origins of the fuging tune', Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 17, 1-32. [This article takes a detailed look at several of the psalm-tune books published around 1750, including East's.]

Temperley, N. and Manns, C. G. (1983) Fuging Tunes in the Eighteenth Century, Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography, no. 49, Information Coordinators, Detroit. [The main part of this book is a very useful index of fuging tunes (as defined by Temperley 1981) printed before 1800 in the UK and north America. Its sources are all the printed tune books known to Temperley and Manns in the early 1980s. Books found more recently in County Records Offices are, of course, not included in the survey. However, the book is helpful in suggesting possible connections between different psalmodists etc. that can then be explored through primary sources.]