Born Gloucester, 13 December 1770, died Holmer, near Hereford, 22 February 1836. Clarke was probably the most famous musician associated with Armagh Cathedral. His early musical training was at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he allegedly studied music under Dr William Hayes but this is more likely his successor, Philip Hayes. VII While there he was appointed organist of Ludlow Parish Church in October 1789. In 1793 he matriculated to take the degree of BMus, shortly afterwards publishing at least two compositions during his time at Ludlow, Clarke probably took up his position at Armagh towards the end of 1794. He was known to still be in Ludlow in January 1794 performing at a concert.
Clarke himself refers to this three-year tenure at Armagh in his autobiographical material Cathedral Music, vol.2. VII While there, he was granted the degree of MusD from Trinity College, Dublin, by diploma by private grace on 10 October 1795. Interestingly he would have played Armagh's Snetzler instrument with knowledge of the Snetzler in Ludlow Parish Church. He moved to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin as master of the choristers in succession to Langrish Doyle, his appointment taking effect from Christmas Day 1797. This post was, as before, simultaneously linked with the post at St Patrick's Cathedral. On 4 June 1798 he was given leave to go to England on private business and on 26 December his letter of resignation was received, addressed from England. He himself said that he left Ireland "owing to the Irish Rebellion."
For the next twenty years Clarke settled in Cambridge as organist at St John's and Trinity Colleges under the joint arrangements then prevailing. He secured recognition of his academic status when he was granted the degree of MusD by incorporation in 1799. In his autobiographical notes he stated that he took the Oxford degree of D Mus in 1810 although there is no official record of this. VII In 1814 he changed his name to Clarke-Whitfeld in expectation of an inheritance from his mother's family, a hope which unfortunately came to nothing and left him in debt "owing to a Chancery suit and the unfeeling conduct of a relative."
In June 1820 Clarke-Whitfeld returned to the area where he was born, as organist and master of the choristers at Hereford Cathedral, and a year later he was elected (non-resident) professor of music at Cambridge, as he says "by a majority in the Senate of more than 100." He was often involved with the Three Choirs Festivals as a conductor and accompanist and was a popular and prolific composer of church music. His many published works include musical settings of the poetry of Sir Walter Scott and Byron and also two oratorios which were performed in 1822 and 1825 at the Hereford Festival.
He tendered his resignation at Hereford in April 1823, probably due to ill- health, but withdrew it in June. He finally was obliged to retire in 1832 after the Chapter decided "In consequence of the long and increasing deterioration in the choral services of the Cathedral proceeding as they are aware from Dr Whitfeld's infirm state of health which has for a long period experienced the forbearance of the Chapter; the Dean and Chapter now feel it to be their indispensable duty to communicate to him their decision that the office of organist will be vacant at Midsummer next." VII Clarke-Whitfeld retained his Cambridge professorship until his death at Holmer near Hereford in February 1836. On the east wall of the Bishop's Cloister of Hereford Cathedral there is the following inscription:
Sacred to the memory / of / John Clarke Whitfeld Esquire. / Mus Doc in the three Universities / and professor in that of Cambridge / Born Dec 13. 1770 Died Feb 22. 1836 / aged 65 / He left to his family / the inheritance of a fair and honourable name / and to many / who knew and loved him / a memory without stain / as the father the gentleman / and the friend.
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