Risky Regencies

Guest Blogger Michelle Styles


When I did my post on Venice back in March, Janet and Amanda kindly said that they might have me back to talk about obscure 18th century English music. Amanda then contacted me and if I could write it for today. I wonder if I dare mention that I am currently interested in the Prometheans, in particular John Martin and his circle. Amongst other things John Martin was Princess Charlotte’s drawing master around the time she became engaged to Prince Leopold. Prince Leopold then became godfather to John Martin’s son! (Amanda’s note: Possible future guest blog???)

Anyway, yes, 18th century composers and musicians. The advent of the Georges meant a huge influx of Germans into the English music scene. These included Haydn, Handel, and William Herschel. Herschel is perhaps now better known for his work with early telescopes. He discovered the planet Uranus and his sister Caroline was instrumental in observing comets. Herschel was active in Bath being employed by the Pump Room band and eventually becoming the director after James Linley moved to London. Linley’s daughter Elizabeth, or ‘Angel,’ became a star at Drury Lane and eventually married Sheridan. Handel, of course, unlike most of his contemporaries remained popular after his death. The famous Three Choir concerts which were given around England in the early 19th century mainly consisted of Handel’s music.

The greatest composer of concertos in the period was Charles Avison. Born in Newcastle in 1709, he went to London around 1725 to study with the great Italian violinist Geminani whom Avison later championed as being greater than Handel. Hailed by the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as the most important English composer of the 18th century, Avison is now largely unknown. His recent revival in the North East and elsewhere was down to Gordon Dixon’s chance discovery of music hidden away in a broom cupboard. The Avison Ensemble was formed and many of his works recorded for the first time. Another composer, John Garth (1721-1810) was only rediscovered in about 2006 when a student at Durham University embarked on a Ph.D and came across the scores in the Literary and Philosophical Society’s Music library. John Garth mainly composed for the violincello.

Avison’s most famous pupil was William Shield (1748-1829). The orphaned son of a master musician, Shield became apprenticed to a boat builder in South Shields after his father died. Luckily his employer loved music and allowed Shield to continue with his studies with Avison. In 1722, he secured a place at Covent Garden. In 1817 he became Master of King’s Musick, a position he held until his death. He left his viola to George IV, who insisted on paying Shield’s common law wife the full value of the instrument. Shield was one of the originators of the modern musical as he used English, spoken dialogue, folk and popular melodies as well as comic elements in his works. His most famous work, Rosina, borrowed many songs from the Northumberland area. He is credited with the melody for Auld Lang Syne. This accreditation is slightly controversial as Shield was English, and it is possible that it was an old Scottish melody, but it is there in the overture to Rosina and the controversy has raged on and off throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Shield’s music was highly popular in America, and Sigmund Speath in his A History of Popular Music in America mentions how much Shield’s compositions contributed to early American music.

If you want to know more about music in the North East during this period, Joseph W. Pegg’s An Introduction to Newcastle’s Musical Heritage is an excellent place to start.

Michelle Style’s latest Regency Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife was published in the UK in April 2009. She is currently hard at work on the second of her early Victorian duo! Visit her website for more info…

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Carol L.
13 years ago

Good morning Michelle,
I am definitely an early bird but couldn’t sleep so here I am. 🙂 I loved your post. I fouund it very interesting. I was amazed that the melody for Auld Lang Syne was creaded by Shields.I’m also going to pick up “Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife “
Have a great day.
Carol L.

Michelle Styles
13 years ago

Carol —

Yes, I was amazed about that as well. Shield was known for lifting his melodies from folk tunes, in particular NOrthumbrian folktunes, and therefore it could be that. The melody appears in the overture to Rosina. Unfortunately I couldn’t discover Rosina on the web, but did manage to find the various references to Shield and Auld Lang Syne.

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

Great post Michelle! I love it when the work of obscure musicians comes to light. Music was such a huge part of the lives of people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. People created music at home and there were so many great composers out there that people just don’t know about.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

Here is a great book that deals with 19th century music. It was amazing.

Symphony by Jude Morgan

The real-life marriage of Irish actress Harriet Smithson (1800–1854) to composer Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) is the ostensible subject of Morgan’s latest (following Indiscretion), but the two don’t meet until two thirds of the way into this thickly embellished historical romance. After initial reluctance, the young Harriet, her passion for theatre inflamed by Shakespeare, joins her family’s traveling theater company. As drink dissipates her father, weight softens her mother and minimal talent limits her brother Joseph, Harriet takes charge of the family business and appears with theatrical stars of the time. But it’s her magnificent interpretation of Ophelia in Paris that brings her a public, including Hector, the son of a successful doctor and a pious mother. Young Hector’s path to a musical education is told in parallel to Harriet’s youth. After her Ophelia, Harriet turns away Hector’s ardent pursuit, but as her theater begins to fail and his musical star begins to rise, she attends a performance of his Symphonie Fantastique, inspired by her. Morgan’s modernist style, with frequent shifts in tense and POV, won’t be for everyone, but it lets Morgan nicely capture the multiple levels of consciousness a performer juggles on stage (the three minds) and gives the novel real texture.

I have read several Jude Morgan books and they are very similar in some respects to the Austen style. Two of them could be called Austenesque. An Accomplished Woman is a retelling of Persuasion and Indiscretion have a real Austen feel even though it takes place in Victorian times if my memory serves me correctly. Although it might not; I am 233 years old. 🙂

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Verrry interesting, Michelle!
Can you imagine how excited the PhD candidate was to discover a forgotten composer? That’s the stuff scholars live for!

That was a beautiful Auld Lang Syne rendition, probably the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. Of course, I’ve mostly heard it sung on New Year’s…

Michelle Styles
13 years ago

Louisa
Wh at I was surprised about was how often it was work of living composers that was preformed and not the dead ones. I was also surprised in a way that city wide orchestras were not really founded until the 1840s.
I also now know the difference between a catch and a glee.

Michelle Styles
13 years ago

Jane —
I have no idea what to say except I am certain that Jude Morgan is pleased you enjoyed the books.

Have you read Claire Harman’s book Jane’s fame which explores how the fame of Jane Austen rose since her death?
She is currently doing the rounds of literary festivals in the UK. NIcola Cornick has something on her blog…

Michelle Styles
13 years ago

Diane —

I thought you would be interested. Every time I read about various singers during the Regency times, I think of you.LOL.

And yes, I can well imagine Simon DI Fleming’s excitement. It comes through on the notes to John Garth Six COncetrtos for Violoncello with Richard Tunnicliffe.

And I did listen to a number of Auld Lang Synes on you tube, but thought that one by Don MacClean was particularly good.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Welcome back, Michelle! I do love music posts, since I used to work at a classical music radio station, and always liked to use obscure early music when I got to pick my own filler. 🙂 I vaguely remember they had a CD with some short excerpts from “Rosina,” but is there a full-length recording out there?

Jane, I read Judge Morgan’s novel about all the Romantic poet women, and really enjoyed it (even though I can’t remember the title!). I will have to seek out his other books.

Michelle Styles
13 years ago

Oh I tried and tried to find a full length version of Rosina. I was very interested to see the synopsis. I suspect that it was very Commedia dell’ Arte. As I am sure you know Commedia dell Arte was highly popular in the theatre of that period. So I am envious Ammanda.
YOu would love the music library of the Lit and Phil. It has loads of scores and old recordings. I tend to go for the books but a friend who plays the lute waxes lyrical about the music collection. The Lit & Phil has played a part in the rediscovery of both Avison and Garth. And the Avison Ensemble does give lunchtime concerts there.

jcp
jcp
13 years ago

How interesating

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

Fabulous post, Michelle. Can’t wait to get back home to play the videos! I find it so extraordinary that there are still mss. hidden away in broom cupboards etc.

I am a major Jude Morgan fan and I’m trying to get him as a RR guest blogger. (Amanda, the book about Byron, Shelley et al is Passion.)

Michelle Styles
13 years ago

The videos are music, Janet but I wanted people to get a flavour…

It is incredible what you find in old houses. When we unblocked the chimney in my study last year, we found a newspaper from 1951. Here I had been blaming another family for blocking all the chimneys…

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“YOu would love the music library of the Lit and Phil.”

It does sound amazing! Can anyone go there, or do you have to have an “in”?

“Amanda, the book about Byron, Shelley et al is Passion”

Yes, that was it!!! It was great.

Michelle Styles
13 years ago

WIth the Lit and Phil, anyone can go there, but you have to be a member to into the stacks (they have 7 floors) and to check out books or music. It is a wonderful resource.
The lunchtime concerts tend to be free.
If you are ever in Newcastle…

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

I think I just need to move to England in order to get to everything I want to do there 🙂

Caffey
13 years ago

Wow, loved this about the music. Even though I can’t hear music, I feel it and remember doing alot of that when i met my hubby, then boyfriend, and he taught me more to feel music. But I love to understand more through hearing the history and when they have it, the lyrics.

Might be a silly question, but I wondered if music had anyway to be ‘recorded’ over the years? How they do that?

I haven’t had the joy to read yours yet Michelle but love Medieval, Vikings, Regencies, etc so I must change that very soon!

Caffey
13 years ago

By the way, those pics you picked for the videos are beautiful! I love seeing historical pictures/paintings

Michelle Styles
13 years ago

Caffey —
There are music scores around from various periods. Part of the problem is that we often do not know quite how they sounded as the musicians might not have played it precisely in that way. For example, the Regency soprano Angelica Catalani was known for her old fashioned approach to singing, often adding trills and other embellishments. She was a very forceful woman and once refused to sing for Napoleon.
Because modern instruments do sound different, sometimes groups like the Avison Ensemble do play the pieces on period instruments. Or close approximation. For example with Roman instruments, we can not be certain on the exact tuning or speed.
Kate Hardy in her recent Medical wrote a fanstic scene where the deaf heroine feels the vibrations from the cello that the hero is playing. In real life, Kate is deaf and wears a hearing aid. She also writes local history about NOrfolk under Pam Brooks.

Living in the UK as an expat can be fun, Ammanda. It is 21 years for me this year…

susan fraser king
13 years ago

Interesting piece about the music, and very lovely examples, worthy of cranking up the volume a few notches.

The version of “Auld Lang Syne” posted here is by Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean. (www.dougiemaclean.com)

Susan (hi Diane!)

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Hi, Susan!!!!! So nice to have you here.

I LOVE that version of Auld Lang Syne. It is the best I’ve ever heard.

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