James G. Speaight, the forgotten child prodigy remembered - and his brother Joseph Speaight, the composer

By Bob Kosovsky, Librarian
February 13, 2008
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Many warm greetings and thanks to Sebastian Pryke who, in a reponse to one of my previous posts, revealed himself to be the great-great grandnephew of child prodigy James G. Speaight. Sebastian and his brother Jonathan Pryke are apparently the great-great grandsons of James's brother Joseph Speaight (1868-1947) who was a British pianist, composer, and taught at Trinity College. According to Baker's biographical dictionary of musicians (7th edition), Joseph composed three symphonies, a piano concerto, and other works such as songs.

The British Library catalog lists quite a number of songs and small works by Joseph Speaight. Sebastian mentioned Joseph's unpublished orchestral work, "Vita Brevis," apparently written to commemorates the composer's younger brother. The newspaper article which was affixed to the manuscript is from the Boston Globe. Here in the Music Division of The New York Public Library I could locate only one score, his string quartet entitled "Some Shakespeare Fairy Characters," published in 1916.

Coincidentally, the only recording of music by Joseph Speaight that I could locate was of the second movement of this quartet. Entitled "The Lonely Shepherd," it was recorded ca. 1927-1929 by the Spencer Dyke String Quartet as a filler side to their recording of Dvorak's Quintet in A major, Op. 81, for the privately financed and short-lived National Gramophonic Society. Let's hope that an enterprising company like Naxos will someday record a CD filled with the music of Joseph Speaight.