Complete Encyclopaedia of Music/A/Abel, Charles Frederic

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Complete Encyclopaedia of Music by John Weeks Moore
Abel, Charles Frederic

Abel, Charles Frederic, youngest brother of Leopold Augustus Abel, was born al Coethen, and was a celebrated composer as well as performer of music. During nearly ten year he was in the band of the electoral King of Po-land, at Dresden, at the time that the celebrated Hasse was chapel master. Either from the calamities of war having reduced their court to a close economy, or, as some say, by reason of a dispute with Hasse, Abel quitted Dresden about the year 1760, with only three dollars in his pocket, and proceeded to the next little German capital, where his talents procured him a temporary supply of money. The following year he made his way to England, where he soon obtained notice and reward. He was first patronized by the Duke of York, and, on the formation of Queen Charlotte's band, was appointed chamber musician to her majesty,with a salary of �200 per annum. In 1763, in conjunction with John Christian Bach, he established a weekly concert, by subscription, which was well supported. Abel performed on several instruments; but that to which he chiefly attached himself was the viol da gamba, now hardly ever used. He remained in London till 1783, when the desire of seeing his brother and revisiting his native country led him again into Germany. It was during this journey, that notwithstanding his advanced age, he gave, at Berlin and Ludwigslust, the most striking proofs of his talent. King Frederic William, then prince royal of Prussia, on hearing his performance or the viol da gamba, presented him with a valuable smuff box and a hundred pieces of gold. A few years after this, the derangement of his affairs obliged him to remain for some time at Paris, whence he subsequently returned to Loudon. Abel was a man who well knew the world, and kept on tolerable terms with society, though a natural irascibility and disposition to say strong things sometimes rendered him overbearing and insolent in company. His greatest failing was a love of the bottle, in which he indulged to a degree that probably shortened his life. He died in Lon-don in 1787, after remaining three days in a lethargic state, without experiencing any pain. Dr. Burney gives the following character of his compositions and performance: "His compositions were easy and elegantly simple, for he used to say, ' I do not choose to be always struggling with difficulties and playing with all my might. I make my pieces difficult whenever I please, according to my disposition and that of my audience.' Yet in nothing was he so superior to himself', and to other musicians, as in writing and playing adagios, in which the most pleasing, yet learned modulation, the richest harmony, and the most elegant and polished melody, were all expressed with such feeling, taste, and science, that no musical production or performance with which I was then acquainted seemed to approach nearer perfection. The knowledge Abel had acquired in Germany of every part of musical science rendered him the umpire of all musical controversies, and caused him to be consulted on many difficult points. His concertos and other pieces were very popular, and were frequently played on public occasions. The taste and science of Abel were rather greater than his invention, so that some of his latter productions, compared with those of younger composers, appeared somewhat languid and monotonous; yet he preserved a high reputation in the profession till his death." Abel's published works consist chiefly of overtures, concertos, quartets, and trios. His adagios in score, and for the piano-forte, have been long published separately in London; and a new edition of them has been lately edited by Mr. Cramer, who was his pupil in counterpoint, previously to studying under Clementi.

In 1787, the admirers of the then modern school lost the great abilities of Abel, who was the only skilful performer on the viol da gamba. This instrument, the then wiry tone of which even the always pleasing and frequently learned modulations of Abel could scarcely render attractive, was practised with considerable success by one M. Lid, who obtained upon it a facile execution, and just rendered bearable its nasal and ungrateful powers. It is perfectly unaccountable, but not the less true, that Abel's ear, finely tuned as it was known to have been, was partial to the crude, grating tones of this instrument. The late Dr. Walcott says, that at the table of a certain noble-man, Abel and himself were a part of a numerous company, in which, the various qualities of musical instruments coming under discussion, each guest was requested by the nobleman to name his favorite. One said he preferred the variety and spirit of the violin; another was partial to the generous manliness of the violoncello; a third advocated the majesty of the organ; a fourth was most sensible to the mellow murmurings of the hautboy ; and a fifth to the thrilling sweetness of ,he flute; when Abel, finding that no one mentioned the viol da gamba, disdainfully rose from his seat, and, sans ceremonie, quitted the room.