Carter, Charles Thomas (1735?–1804), musician and composer, was born in Dublin, elder son of Timothy Carter, chorister and music teacher; nothing is known of his mother. A member of the choir of Christ Church cathedral in his youth, Charles wrote two anthems for the cathedral's repertoire. From his early teens he made frequent appearances at public concerts, often playing his own compositions. His output included several harpsichord sonatas and he was reputedly able to sight-read harpsichord music he had never seen before, even when it was upside-down. He was organist at St Werburgh's, Dublin (1751–4) until the organ was destroyed by fire, and afterwards organist at St Peter's (1757–63); he resumed his position at St Werburgh's when the organ was rebuilt (1767–September 1769). As a composer he worked mostly in the theatre, receiving his early theatrical experience in the Smock Alley and Crow Street theatre orchestras. In July 1765 he wrote a new overture for the opera ‘Amintas’, which played at Covent Garden (December 1769); it was probably to take part in this production that he resigned his position at St Werburgh's. He stayed in London and wrote many songs for performance at Vauxhall Gardens. Two volumes of his songs were published in 1773 and 1774, and a third in 1801. The 1773 volume contained his best-known work, ‘O Nanny, wilt thou gang with me’, its words taken from Thomas Percy's Reliques (1765). This song, in the Scottish style then fashionable, was extensively reprinted and rearranged by other composers, and retained its popularity well into the nineteenth century. His hunting songs, such as ‘Tally-ho’, ‘Stand by your guns’, and ‘Ye sportsmen give ear’ were also popular. Some of his songs were adapted as hymn tunes, most notably a popular air entitled ‘Guardian angels’.
Carter composed the music for several comic operas, all produced at Drury Lane: ‘The rival candidates’ (first performed in Ireland at Smock Alley, 17 November 1775), by the Rev. Sir Henry Bate Dudley (1745–1824); ‘The Milesians’ (25 February 1777), by Isaac Jackman (qv); and ‘The fair American’ (Smock Alley, 31 December 1782) by Frederick Pilon (1750–88). One London critic said of the music of ‘The fair American’ that it ‘exhibited a judicious prettiness, certain of not displeasing, [rather] than a bold originality capable of demanding animated applause’ (Walsh, 220). For this work, however, Carter received no money; as Pilon fled abroad without paying him. In 1785 Carter applied for the post of organist at St George's chapel, Windsor castle, but the anthem he composed was not well received and he was unsuccessful. In 1787 he was appointed musical director of the newly founded Royalty Theatre in Goodman's Fields, and in 1788 he became director of music at Lord Barrymore's private theatre at Wargrave. He wrote several operas in the late 1780s and 1790s, but only a pastoral, ‘The birthday’, survives. His last work for the stage was the music for Thomas Hurlstone's ‘Just in time’, which many critics considered his best. It was produced at Covent Garden on 10 May 1792. Carter had written a long part for the great Elizabeth Billington but she turned it down at the last minute, and the production was not a success. Careless about money, he ended his days in poverty and debt. After his death a story appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine claiming that he had once forged a Handel manuscript and sold it for twenty guineas (£21), and that for many years afterwards the piece passed as a genuine composition of Handel. He died 12 October 1804 in London. He married (1769) Margaret May in St Werburgh's; there are no details of children.
His younger brother Sampson, a music teacher, graduated as a doctor of music from TCD (1771) and was appointed vicar choral of St Patrick's cathedral (1797). Charles was sometimes called ‘Thomas’ or ‘Tom’ Carter, and several of his compositions have been confused with those of Thomas Carter (1769–1800) another Dublin-born musician and composer, who studied in Naples, was musical director in the theatre at Calcutta in the early 1790s, and died 8 November 1800 in London.