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…