Clay, Frederick (DNB01)
|←Clay, Charles||Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement
|Clayton, John (1843-1888)→|
CLAY, FREDERICK (1839-1889), musician, was born in the Rue Chaillot, Paris, on 3 Aug. 1839, though he himself gave 1840 as the date of his birth. His father was James Clay [q. v.] Being originally intended for political life, he was for some years engaged in the treasury department, and was private secretary to Henry Bouverie William Brand (afterwards Viscount Hampden) [q. v. Suppl.] patronage secretary to the treasury. From childhood he displayed musical talent; his only teacher was Molique at Paris, except that for a short period he had lessons from Moritz Hauptmann of Leipzig. In 1859 he composed an operetta, 'The Pirate's Isle,' which was privately performed by amateurs, as was also a second operetta, 'Out of Sight,' in 1860. The reception of these encouraged him to attempt a larger work, and he collaborated with Tom Taylor in 'Court and Cottage,' which was publicly heard in 1862 with decided success; but he did not relinquish his political career or become a professional musician until several years later. He formed a close friendship with Sir Arthur Sullivan [q. v. Suppl.], and their extemporised pianoforte duets were most successful. Clay's fourth work was an opera in one act, ' Constance,' to a libretto by T. W. Robertson; it was produced at Covent Garden on 23 Jan. 1865. Many songs were composed about this time, and a cantata, 'The Knights of the Cross,' was published in 1866. He then returned to dramatic work, and T. German Reed produced his 'Ages Ago,' written in collaboration with W. S. Gilbert, on 22 Nov. 1869; it was followed by 'The Bold Recruit,' on 20 June 1870, and 'Happy Arcadia,' to a libretto by Gilbert, on 28 Oct. 1872. Clay also set the operettas 'The Gentleman in Black' (1870), 'Cattarina' (1874), 'Princess Toto' and 'Don Quixote' (1875), besides composing incidental music for 'Twelfth Night' and Albery's 'Oriana,' and portions of 'The Black Crook' and the spectacular piece 'Babil and Bijou.' Mr. W. Kuhe commissioned him to compose a cantata for the festivals then annually held in the Dome at Brighton. Clay accordingly set a libretto, constructed by W. G. Wills from Moore's ' Lalla Rookh,' and conducted the work on 13 Feb. 1877. Its success was so great that it was repeated at the festival of 1878, and is even yet occasionally performed. In the winter of 1877-8 Clay visited America. He produced no other important composition until 1883, when he collaborated with Mr. G. R. Sims in a comic opera, 'The Merry Duchess,' performed at the Royalty Theatre on 23 May. His last work, a fairy spectacular opera, 'The Golden Ring,' also written in collaboration with Mr. G. R. Sims, was completed in the same year, and produced at the re-opening of the Alhambra on 3 Dec., Clay conducting. Only a few hours later he was quite suddenly struck with paralysis while walking in Bow Street with Mr. Sims. Some necessary alterations in 'The Golden Ring' were made by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Clay lingered for some years, and although there was a slight recovery in 1889, he died on 24 Nov. of that year at Oxford House, Great Marlow.
Clay's musical powers were lyrical rather than dramatic. His operas and operettas have not been retained on the repertory, but several of his songs are still favourites. They are, in construction as well as feeling, closely allied to the songs of his friend Sullivan, and have, like them, the rare power of satisfying alike the performer, the connoisseur, and the uncultivated hearer. One of the very best, 'She wandered down the mountain side,' was specially successful. An- other of Clay's best songs, 'The Sands o'Dee,' has remained familiar. There are several effective numbers in 'Lalla Rookh,' including a tuneful quartet, 'Morn wanes, we must away,' and a grand scena, describing the simoom, with a very realistic orchestral interlude. This cantata also contains Clay's most successful piece, the ballad 'I'll sing thee songs of Araby,' a tenor solo not of a conventional pattern, very richly harmonised, and so gratefully written for the singer that performers and audiences have always delighted in it. It was first sung by Mr. Edward Lloyd, and was one of the pieces regularly given by him at his farewell tour in 1900.
[Sir Arthur Sullivan's article on Clay in Grove's Dict. of Music and Musicians; Daily News, 28 Nov. 1889; Referee, 25 Nov. 1900; The Choir and Musical Record, 1865, pp. 385, 401, 415, 419; Brighton Gazette, 18 Feb. 1878; Clay's Works; information from R. S. Bathe, esq.]