Oxford Ramble

Speed the Plough



A Taste of Ale

Six for Gold

Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell

The Robber Bird

Three Quarter Time

The 25th





John Baptist Malchair

1729-1812, musician, composer and artist.

Christened Johann Baptist Malscher, at Cologne in January 1730, he came to England in 1754. In London he played violin at public-house concerts and taught music "to mechanics and others" (Oxford DNB); he also worked as a drawing master at a ladies' school. After living for a time in Hereford and Bristol, he came to Oxford in 1760 as leader of the band at the Oxford Music Room - later the Holywell Music Room. He held this post until 1792 when he quit, following 'a tumult of ye young men' during which his Cremona violin was broken by an orange thrown at the orchestra.

Malchair had a strong interest in folk melodies and country dance tunes. One of his surviving musical manuscripts includes tunes copied out from Playford's English Dancing Master , and many of his compositions are clearly influenced by or imitative of folk tunes. He also collected some folk tunes, noting down melodies which he heard being sung, whistled or played on the streets of Oxford. One of Malchair's MS tune books (Vol 3 The Third Collection of Tunes), held at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, has now been digitised and can be viewed at the EFDSS Gallery of Historic Dance and Tune Books.

Another manuscript tune book, Tunes composed by John Malchair for the 3 stringed violin also others for the common violin is held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and is the source for Asiatic and Round about the Maypole. This is listed in the Bodleian Summary Catalogue of Western MSS thus

29151. In English, on paper: written in .abont A. D. 1800-35, chiefly by W. Crotch: 97/8 x 15 in., viii + 78 pages.
'Tunes composed by John Malchair for the 3 stringed violin [pts. 1-2, pp. 1-28J, also others for the common violin [pt. 3. pp. 29-5 1 J. The whole adapted by William Crotch for the Piano Forte.' These tunes are interspersed with numerous notes and anecdotes about Malchair by dr. Crotch. The originals were composed by Malchair in about 1783-99, and this book was copied out by Crotch for Malchair perhaps chiefly in about 1800. The volume remained with Malchair till 1804, when he gave it to Crotch, who added many personal notes at various later dates. Pp. v-vi are an autograph leaf of pencil notes by Malchair (about Thomas Worlidge, - Hagley of Bristol and Edmund Broderip) 'from Dr Wellesley's sale,' 1866: but the whole leaf has
unfortunately been traced over in ink.
Boughtfrom mr. T. W. Taphouse on Dec. 10, 1878, for £2.
Now MS. Mus. d. 32.

The third, and as far as we know only other surviving manuscript of Malchair's tunes, is held by the Royal College of Music: The Arrangement [Vol. 4] Being an Extract of the Welsh, Irish and Scothch Tunes, contain'd in the foregoing Vols, & placed in separate Classes.

Piper sketched by Malchair on the streets of Oxford in 1786, from the Ashmolean Museum, via Na Píobairí Uilleann Source

Malchair was a talented watercolour painter, whose influence can be seen on later English landscape painters such as Constable.

Malchair died in Oxford in 1812.



Biography of Malchair in the Oxford DNB by T.B. Healey.

Article on Malchair on Grove Music Online by Robert J. Bruce

Margaret Dean-Smith: ‘The Preservation of English Folk Song and Popular Music: Mr. Malchair's Collection and Dr. Crotch's Specimens’, Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vii (1953), 106–11.

John Malchair of Oxford: Artist and Musician, Ashmolean Museum, 22 Sept – 13 Dec 1998 (Oxford, 1998), ISBN: 1854441124
exhibition catalogue edited by Colin Harrison

You can see a selection of Malchair's paintings and drawings on Tate Online and in the Courtauld Institute of Art online collection.