Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, taken from original sources, Volume II

Ashton, John


CHAPTER XXVI: Opera, Concerts, Music


CHAPTER XXVI: Opera, Concerts, Music




.4. 5 Jan. I saw an Italian opera in Music, the first that had been in England of this Kind,' writes Evelyn; but Pepys mentions it even earlier: ' .8. Jan. 12. With my Lord Brouncker to his house, there to hear some Italian musique, and here we met Tom Killigrew, Sir Robert Murray, and the Italian, Signor Baptista,[1]  who hath prepared a play in Italian for the Opera, which Sir T. Killigrew do intend to have up; and here he did sing one of the Acts.' There is, however, no record of either of these being acted. The first opera of which we have any record is a translation of 'Arsinoe,' an Italian opera written by Stanzani of Bologna, for the theatre of that town, in , and here is the premier advertisement of opera in England.

'At the Theatre Royal in , this present Tuesday being the 16th of January, will be presented a New Opera never perform'd before, call'd Arsinoe Queen of Cyprus, After the Italian manner, All Sung, being set to Musick by Mr. Clayton. With several Entertainments of Dancing by Monsieur l'Abbee, Monsieur du Ruel, Monsieur Cherrier, Mrs. Elford, Mrs. du Ruel, Mrs. Moss and others. And the famous Signiora Francisca Margaretta de l'Epine


will, before the Beginning and after the Ending of the Opera, perform several Entertainments of singing in Italian and English. No person to be admitted into the Boxes or Pitt but by the Subscribers Tickets, to be delivered at Mrs. White's Chocolate House. The Boxes on the Stage and the Galleries are for the benefit of the Actors.'1[2]  The singers were all English; and here we have the commencement of the subscription opera.

In the next two years there were but very few operas, although Addison wrote one called' Rosamond.' During this period, too, the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket was opened for opera, with what success we have seen.

The thin edge of the wedge, as regards Italian singing, was introduced in , when Valentini Urbani, a Castrato, and a female singer called ' The Baroness,' came over here. They made their first appearance 'At the Theatre Royal in , this present Saturday, being the 6th of December, will be presented an Opera called "Camilla." All to be sung after the Italian manner. The Parts of Latinus by Mr. Turner, Prenesto by Signiora Margarita, part in Italian, Turnus by Signior Valentino, in Italian, Metius by Mr. Ramondon, Linco by Mr. Leveridge, Camilla by Mrs. Tofts, Lavinia by the Baroness, most in Italian, Tullia by Mrs. Lindsey.' [3] 

What a curious mixture it must have been, some singing in Italian and some in English! but it was not the sole example, for when Italian opera was introduced into Germany the recitative was given in German and the airs sung in Italian.

Of course an innovation, and coming from a foreign source, roused the insular prejudices of John Bull. It was un-English. As Dennis, the critic, wrote 3[4] : 'And yet tho' the Reformation and Liberty and the Drama were establish'd among us together, and have flourish'd among us together, and have still been like to have fall'n together; notwithstanding all this, at this present Juncture, when Liberty and the Reformation are in the utmost Danger, we are going


very bravely to oppress the Drama, in order to establish the luxurious Diversions of those very Nations, from whose Attempts and Designs, both Liberty and the Reformation are in the utmost Danger.'

With far greater sense and show of reason he says: 'If that is truly the most Gothick, which is the most oppos'd to Antick, nothing can be more Gothick than an Opera, since nothing can be more oppos'd to the ancient Tragedy, than the modern Tragedy in Musick, because the one is reasonable, the other ridiculous; the one is artful, the other absurd; the one beneficial, the other pernicious; in short, the one natural, and the other monstrous. And the modern Tragedy in Musick, is as much oppos'd to the Chorus, which is the Musical part of the Ancient Tragedy, as it is in the Episodique; because, in the Chorus, the Musick is always great and solemn, in the Opera 'tis often most trifling and most effeminate; in the Chorus the Music is only for the sake of the Sense, in the Opera the Sense is most apparently for the sake of the Music.'

This mongrel style of performance, half Italian, half English, lasted till . ' Pyrrhus and Demetrius' (a translation of 'Pirro e Demetrio' of Adriano Morselli) was the last opera thus played. On Jan. 3, , the prices of admission were considerably reduced: stage boxes from 15s. to 8s., first gallery from 5s. to 2s. 6d., and upper gallery from 2s. to 1s. 6d., and the pit was 5s.

Steele laughingly criticises [5]  the performance of 'Pyrrhus and Demetrius.' 'That the understanding has no part in the pleasure is evident, from what these letters very positively assert, to wit, that a great part of the performance was done in Italian; and a great Critic fell into fits in the Gallery, at seeing not only Time and Place, but Languages and Nations confused in the most incorrigible manner.'

The opera of 'Almahide' (composer unknown, supposed to be Buononcini) was brought out at the Haymarket on Jan. 10, , and was the first opera ever played entirely in Italian and by Italian singers. These were Nicolini, Valentini, Cassani, Margarita, and Isabella Girardeau. Still


John Bull must assert himself, and between the acts intermezzi were sung in English by Dogget, Mrs. Lindsey, and Mrs. Cross.

Another opera was that of 'Hydaspes' (by Francesco Mancini), which Addison [6]  made terrible fun of, especially of a fight that took place between Nicolini and a lion. He had previously[7]  unmercifully ridiculed 'Nicolini exposed to a Tempest in Robes of Ermine, and sailing in an Open Boat upon a Sea of Pasteboard,' 'the painted Dragons Spitting Wildfire, enchanted Chariots drawn by Flanders Mares, and real Cascades in artificial Landskips ;' but then he might have been sore at the fate of his own opera, 'Rosamond,' which was not a success.

Towards the end of Handel, who was then twentyseven years of age, came over to England, upon the invitation of several noblemen, whose acquaintance he had made at the Court of Hanover; and here he wrote, for Aaron Hill, who then managed the Haymarket Theatre, his opera of' Rinaldo,' the first advertisement of which contains a silly blunder as to dates. 'By Subscription. At the Queen's Theatre in the Hay Market, this present Saturday being the 24th day of February, will be perform'd a new Opera, call'd Rinaldo. Tickets and Books will be delivered out at Mr. White's Chocolate House in St. James's Street, to Morrow and Saturday next.'[8] . In appeared another of Handel's operas, 'Il Pastor Fido,' which was only performed four times.

On Jan. 21, , was performed his opera of 'Theseus,' about which performance, however, there seems to have been some hitch, for we read [9] : 'Advertisement from the Queen's Theatre in the Hay Market.-This present Saturday the 24th of January, the Opera of Theseus composed by Mr. Hendel will be represented in its Perfection, that is to say with all the Scenes, Decorations, Flights and Machines. The Performers are much concerned that they did not give the Nobility and Gentry all the Satisfaction they could have wished, when they represented it on Wednesday last, having been hindred by some unforeseen Accidents, at that time


insurmountable. The Boxes on the Stage Half a Guinea,. the other Boxes 8s. The Pit 5s., the first Gallery 2s. 6d.' On Handel's first visit, in , the Queen gave him a most flattering reception, and would fain have him remain here,, offering him a pension; but he excused himself, as being already engaged to the Elector George of Hanover.

A few. short notes about the singers will be interesting. Very early in Anne's reign mention is made of a singer of whom the only record I can find, is in the following advertisement, and some few others: 'To all the Nobility and Gentry.. Whereas Mr. Abel, having been Honoured with the Commands of the Nobility and Gentry, to sing in 4 times ; this is to give notice that the said Mr. Abel has not engaged to sing in any other Consort, till that Noble Performance be ended.' [10] 

Hughes was a favourite concert singer, with a good counter-tenor voice; and, when opera first came in, he always played the best parts, until Valentini came over, after which he either died, or left the stage, for no more is heard of him.

Richard Leveridge had a fine and powerful bass voice, and stuck to the stage till he was more than eighty years old, singing in the pantomime at Covent Garden. He was not only an actor and singer, but a composer, having taken part in the composition of an English opera, called the 'Island Princess,' in , and he also wrote and composed many Bacchanalian songs. Died , aged 88.

Of Lawrence little is known, except that when the opera of ' Hydaspes' was brought out, on May 23, , he was able to take a part in it, although an inferior one, and sing it in Italian. He had a tenor voice, and continued in Italian opera till , when trace is lost of him.

Ramondon seems to have come upon the stage in , and to have had a bass voice, as he took Leveridge's part in 'Arsinoe.' He seems to have left the stage with the opera of 'Pyrrhus and Demetrius,' but he published some songs in , and set the song tunes in 'Camilla' for the harpsichord or spinet.

Mrs. Tofts was our English prima donna, and she too


possessed the then rare accomplishment of being able to sing in Italian. She was the daughter of a person in the family of Bishop Burnet, and, when she appeared on the stage, she won all hearts by her voice, figure, and performance. Her voice was more soprano than contralto.

We have seen her disclaimer when her servant insulted Madame de l'Epine; and doubtless it was sincere, as she was an equal, if not a greater, favourite with the public. She retired from the stage, with a competence amassed by her exertions, in . If we may believe the Tatler (No. 20), she had sad cause for leaving the stage, having lost her reason. 'The great revolutions of this nature bring to my mind the distresses of the unfortunate CAMILLA, who has had the ill luck to break before her voice, and to disappear at a time when her beauty was in the height of its bloom. This lady entered so thoroughly into the great characters she acted, that when she had finished her part she could not think of retrenching her equipage, but would appear in her own lodgings with the same magnificence that she did upon the stage. This greatness of soul had reduced that unhappy princess to an involuntary retirement, where she now passes her time among the Woods and Forests, thinking on the Crowns and sceptres she has lost, and often humming over in her solitude,

I was born of royal race,

Yet must wander in disgrace, From the opera of ' Camilla.'

etc. But for fear of being over heard, and her quality known, she usually sings it in Italian,

Nacqui al regno, nacqui al trono

E per sono

I ventura pastorella.' Sic in orig., but it should read- 'E pur sono Sventurata pastorella.'

A sad, very sad picture, if a true one.

At all events she must have got better, for she married a rich gentleman named Joseph Smith, a virtuoso, and patron of art; and when he went to Venice, as English consul, she accompanied him.



In Spectator 443 is a letter, supposed to be written by her, from Venice.

Her mental malady, however, again seized her, and she lived in retirement, in a remote part of her own house, occasionally roaming about her garden, singing. She is supposed to have died about .

She and her rival are thus celebrated in a song by Hughes (author of the 'Siege of Damascus'), called 'Tofts and Margaretta.'

Music has learn'd the discords of the State,

And concerts jar with Whig and Tory Hate.

Here Somerset and Devonshire attend

The British Tofts, and every note commend;

To native merit just, and pleas'd to see

We've Roman arts, from Roman bondage free:

There fam'd l'Epine does equal skill employ,

Whilst listening peers crow'd to th' ecstatic joy:

Bedford, to hear her song, his dice forsakes,

And Nottingham is raptur'd when she shakes:

Lull'd statesmen melt away their drowsy cares

Of England's safety, in Italian Airs.

Who would not send each year blank passes o'er,

Rather than keep such strangers from our shore


Francesca Margherita de l'Epine came over here with a German musician named Greber, and was sometimes irreverently called 'Greber's Peg.' There is no doubt but that she sang very beautifully, and was without a rival on the stage, or in the concert room, after the retirement of Mrs. Tofts. She herself retired in , and married Dr. Pepusch, the celebrated musician, who gave her another nickname, that of 'Hecate,' because of her swarthy complexion and unprepossessing countenance. However, she came well dowered, for she brought him a fortune of 10,000£, a very large sum in those days. Swift, who evidently had a John Bull's dislike for everything foreign, writes from Windsor to Stella, [12]  'We have a music meeting in our town to-night. I went to a rehearsal of it, and there was Margarita, and her sister, with another drab, and a parcel of fiddlers; I was weary, and would not go to the meeting, which I am sorry for, because I


heard it was a great assembly.' She died about the year .

The Cavaliere Nicolino Grimaldi, [13]  commonly called Nicolini, was a Neapolitan, and came over to England in , entirely on his own responsibility, hearing we were passionately fond of foreign operas. He had achieved a high reputation in Italy, and sustained it here, although foreigners were only tolerated, not liked. He first played in 'Pyrrhus and Demetrius,' and he left England June 14, . His departure is thus chronicled by Addison[2 ] : 'I am very sorry to find, by the Opera Bills for this Day, that we are likely to lose the greatest Performer in Dramatick Musick that is now living, or that perhaps ever appeared upon a Stage. I need not acquaint my Reader, that I am speaking of Signior Nicolini.'

Of Isabella Girardeau we know little, save that her maiden name was Calliari, that she married a Frenchman, and sang from to .

Of the musical composers living in Anne's reign, perhaps the oldest was Dr. Blow, who died in . Then there was Tudway, who composed an anthem[14]  on the occasion of Queen Anne visiting the University of Cambridge, in , which gained him his doctor's degree, and he was afterwards made public Professor of Music to that university, where he was longer remembered for his punning proclivities than for his musical talents.

Jeremiah Clarke, who was coadjutor with Dr. Blow as organist at the King's Chapel, composed the beautiful anthem 'Praise the Lord, 0 Jerusalem.' He shot himself in when about forty years of age. There is a curious story told about his suicidal mania. Some weeks before he finally committed the rash act, he was riding to town, accompanied by a servant, returning from a visit to a friend in the country, when the fit seized him, and, dismounting by a field in which was a pond surrounded by trees, he tossed up whether he should hang or drown. The coin fell on its edge in the clay, and saved his life for that time.

Dean Aldrich was then alive (he did not die till ),


and he will be long remembered, not only for his 'Artis Logicae Rudimenta,' but for his skill as a musical composer [15] ; whilst no one at all conversant with Church music will forget the names of Drs. Crofts and Greene.

Among the secular composers was Tom D'Urfey, whose 'Pills to purge Melancholy' is a storehouse of song; but, with the exception of Henry Carey, whose 'Sally in our Alley' and ' Black Eyed Susan' are immortal, the opera and ballad composers of Anne's reign were of no great mark.

A most curious outcome of musical brotherhood was Thomas Britton, the small coal man, already casually mentioned. He must not be passed over under any circumstances, as it is perhaps the only instance of fraternity, absolute and equal, recorded in this reign, between the upper and lower ranks of society. It was of him that Prior wrote:-

Though doom'd to small coal, yet to arts allied;

Rich without wealth, and famous without pride,

Music's best patron, judge of books and men;

Belov'd and honour'd by Apollo's train.

In Greece or Rome sure never did appear,

So bright a genius, in so dark a sphere !

More of the man had probably been sav'd

Had Kneller painted, and had Virtue grav'd.

This singular man had a small coal shop in Aylesbury Street. Clerkenwell; and his room, which was over his coal stores, could only be reached by a breakneck ladder, as Ward remarks-

Upon Thursdays repair

To my palace, and there

Hobble up stair by stair;

But I pray ye take Care

That you break not your shins by a Stumble.

Somehow, he had a soul above his vocation. He was a fair chemist, and a collector (with some knowledge) of old books and manuscripts. But the most curious part of all his surroundings was the fact that he was able to gather round him in his dirty little den, not only all the musical talent


available, but titled dilletanti, and even elegant ladies came to his reunions. It was quite the proper place to go to. Hear what old Thoresby says, [16]  'In our way home called at Mr. Britton's, the noted small coal man, where we heard a noble concert of music, vocal and instrumental, the best in town, which for many years past he has had weekly for his own entertainment, and of the gentry &c. gratis, to which most foreigners and many persons of distinction, for the fancy of it, occasionally resort.' And no wonder, when the learned musical Dr. Pepusch might be present, or Handel played the harpsichord, whilst Banister would take first violin. Still, it was a peculiar place to meet in, and only shows what inconveniences people will suffer for fashion's sake.

His death was almost as remarkable as his life. One of his performers was injudicious enough to introduce to him a friend of his who was a ventriloquist, who, without seeming to speak, bade him, as from a far-off, sepulchral voice, fall down on his knees at once and say the Lord's Prayer, for that he should die within a few hours. Poor Britton did as he was bid-then went home, took to his bed, and died in a few days of sheer fright, a victim to practical joking.

There was a vast amount of musical taste at that time, but of course it was not so highly developed as now. We have seen that a dramatic performance was generally accompanied by a musical one, and the concerts, or consorts, as they were then called, were numerous.

Owing probably to the mourning consequent on the decease of William III., the first announcement of a concert in Anne's reign that I can find is one postponed from April 30, , to May 7, and this was to take place at Stationers' Hall, a very usual place for such entertainments. In the same newspaper is a notice that 'The Queen's Coronation Song, compos'd and Sung by Mr. Abell is to be perform'd at Stationers Hall near Ludgate, to Morrow, being the First of May at 8 of the Clock at Night precisely, with other Songs in Several Languages, and accompanied by the greatest Masters of Instrumental Musick; Each Ticket 5s.'

York Buildings was another favourite concert room, as


was also Hickford's Dancing Room. This latter place, being at the extreme West End of London, bid for aristocratic patrons, and the prices were high; indeed, the tickets for the following concert were the highest priced of any I have ever met with: ' To Morrow being Wednesday the 2nd of April, Signior Fr. Conti will cause to be perform'd at Mr. Hickford's Dancing Room in James Street, in the Hay Market over against the Tennis Court, the Consort of Musick compos'd by him for her Majesty, and which he had the Honour to have perform'd at Court the Day after the Act for the Union[17]  pass'd. Signiora Margarita, the Baroness, and Signior Valentino will sing in it accompanied with several Instruments, and the Signior Conti will play upon his great Theorbo, and on the Mandoline, an instrument not known yet. The Consort will begin at 7 a Clock at Night. Tickets to be had only at White's Chocolate House, and at the Smyrna Coffee House at a Guinea a ticket.' A high price-but consider the attractions. All the available talent, together with a Monstre Instrument, and an entirely novel one!

Nowadays we should hardly expect concerts to be given at Chelsea Hospital, but it was different then, and ' Ladies of Quality' probably had as much influence then as they have now, and could get pretty well what they liked: ' In Honour of the Queens Coronation; The Ladies Consort of Musick; by Subscription of several Ladies of Quality (by permission) at the Royal College of Chelsea, on Monday the 25th of the present May, is to be performed once, a new Consort of Musick, by Mr. Abel and other voices; with Instrumental Musick of all sorts; To be placed in two several Quires on each side of the Hall; a manner never yet performed in England. The Hall to be well illuminated ; the said Consort to begin exactly at five a Clock, and to hold 3 full hours. Each Ticket 5s. Notice that the Moon will shine, the Tide serve, and a Guard placed from the College to St. James's Park, for the safe return of the Ladies.'

The moon and tide were important factors then, as we find in a notice of 'a Consort of Musick' at Richmond Wells,


Aug. 12, : 'This Consort to be perform'd but once, because of the Queen's going to the Bath. Note. The Tide serves at 11 o'clock in the Morning and Light Nights.' So that the visitors were evidently expected to spend the whole day there.

Another suburban Spa (Hampstead) was famous for its concerts, and continued in favour during the whole of the reign.

' On Saturday August the 4th In the great Room at the Ship Tavern Greenwich will be an extraordinary Consort of Vocal and Instrumental Musick, viz., Several Songs set by the best Masters; Particularly a Song of two parts by Mr. Henry Purcel, never perform'd but once before in Publick,' etc.

Towards the latter end of the reign the character of some of these concerts seem to be altering. Take one at Stationers' Hall, Feb. 22, , for instance: 'Among other choice Compositions, a celebrated Song of Mr. Hendel's by a Gentlewoman from Abroad, who hath never before exposed her Voice publickly in this kingdom. To which will be added an uncommon piece of Musick by Bassoons only. Country Dances when the Consort is over; and such a Decorum kept that the most innocent may be present without the danger of an Affront.'

Concerts, as we see, were both vocal and instrumental. Of the vocal performers much has already been said; of the instrumental, none are worth notice, except Gasparini, an Italian, who was an excellent violinist. The last and perhaps the least of them was: 'A Boy of about Eight Years of Age will perform an Italian Sonata on the Trumpet, who never yet perform'd in publick.' This musical treat took place at York Buildings, Feb. 24, .

The instruments in domestic use were the chamber or house organ, many of which were frequently advertised for sale, the spinet, and harpsichord, or harpsicalls, which we know so well, thanks to the South Kensington Museum. Here, however, is a rare one: 'To be disposed of, a most excellent Harpsicord made by the Famous Sign. Gieronimo Senti, at Pesaro in Italy, having 2 Extraordinary fine Keys of Ivory, several Stops and Alterations besides the 2 Principals,


and one Octave, or the Spinet, which may be plaid seperately or together, imitating most exactly the Theorba, and most curiously the Arch Lute.' The flute was played, as were also the lute, and the theorbo, a lute-like instrument. The other stringed instruments were the bass viol and the violin, Cremonas being then, as now, highly prized.

It was essentially an age for chamber music, with nice little social gatherings, at which were played duets on the flute, etc., or catches, rounds, and three-part songs were sung. What we should call good music was thoroughly appreciated, and Corelli, perhaps, was then the favourite composer. The following advertisement will show the class of music then in vogue (): 'To all Lovers of Musick. This day are published, and to be sold at Isaac Vaillant's Book and Mapseller in the Strand near Catherine Street, Per.[18]  Opera 2 da, Sonata di Camera for 2 Flutes and Bass, Marini Opera 6 ta, 12 Sonatas for 2 Violins, a Viol and double Basses, 6 Sonatas and Solos transposed for the Flute, pr 5s. Mr Novel's 12 Sonatas for 2 Violins and double Basses, pr 6s., Six new Sonatas for 2 Flutes and a Bass by Mr. Keller. Albicestilo, Opera Nona, 12 Solos for the Violin, a new Book for the Harpsichord by Mr. Anglebert, with several Overtures, Minuets, Jigs &c. of Mr. Lully transposed for that instrument. These books are printed by Steph Roger, most of them on Royal Paper. At the abovesaid Vaillant's may be had the new Edition of Corelli printed on Imperial Paper pr 32s. 6d.'

But all music was not as dear as this-for instance: 'The Monthly Mask of Vocal Musick: the newest Songs, made for the Theatres and other occasions Compos'd by Mr. John Welden and Mr. Dan Purcel. Publish'd for November, which collections will be continued monthly for the year pr. 6d. Also a Set of Lessons for the Harpsicord or Spinnet. Composed by Mr. John Eccles, Master of Her Majesties Musick pr 6d.'

Music was printed either from engraved copper plates, as in the case of 'The Nightingale,' which was engraved by Thomas Cross, who worked in the very early part of the century, or by movable types, as is the case with all music


taken from 'The Dancing Master.' But the Dutch hit upon a cheaper plan, and made use of pewter plates, which they stamped, and so were able to undersell the engraved music. It is said they got 1,500£. by printing the opera of 'Rinaldo.' One Richard Mears also engraved music, but he, finding his trade interfered with by the Dutchmen, took to stamping. At his death in almost the whole of the music printing in the country was done by the son of the following advertiser: [19]  'Twenty four New Country Dances for the year , with proper Tunes, and New Figures, or direction to each Dance, composed by Mr. Kynaston, all fairly Engraven, price 6d. NOTE The New Country Dancing Master is published, containing the Country dances for the three last years. Printed for John Walsh. Servant in Ordinary to her Majesty.'


[1] Battista Draghi.

[2] Daily Courant, Jan. 16, 1705.

[3] Ibid. Dec. 6, 1707.

[4] An Essay on the Operas after the Italian Manner, 1706.

[5] Tatler, No. 4.

[6] Spectator, 13.

[7] Ibid. 5.

[8] Daily Courant, Feb. 24, 1711

[9] Ibid. Jan 24, 1713.

[10] Postman, May 9 12, 1702.

[12] Journal, Aug. 6, 1711. OPERA, CONCERTS, MUSIC.

[13] Cavaliere di San Marco.

[2 ] Spectator, 405.

[14] 'Thou, 0 God, hast heard my vows.'

[15] See Christ Church Bells, Appendix.

[16] June 5, 1712.

[17] The Royal Assent to this Act was given March 6, 1707.

[18] ? Perti, who lived to the age of nearly 100, and was alive in 1744.

[19] Tatler, 88.