Reeve, William (DNB00)

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REEVE, WILLIAM (1757–1815), actor and musical composer, born in London in 1757, was originally destined for a business career, and for that purpose was apprenticed to a law stationer in Chancery Lane, where Joseph Munden, subsequently the comedian, was his fellow clerk. Office work, however, proved distasteful, and Reeve, who had some aptitude for music, gave up business to become a pupil of Richardson, organist of St. James's, Westminster. From 1781 to 1783 Reeve was organist at Totnes, Devonshire, but he resigned his post to take an engagement as composer to Astley's. In 1787 he was assisting John Palmer (1742?–1798) [q. v.] in the management of the Royalty Theatre, and appeared on the stage. In May 1789 he was playing the part of the Knifegrinder at the Haymarket in George Colman's successful play, ‘Ut Pictura Poesis, or the Enraged Musician.’ Two years after this, while a chorus singer at Covent Garden, Reeve was called upon to complete the music to ‘Oscar and Malvina, or the Hall of Fingal,’ a ‘ballet of action,’ adapted from Ossian, which Shield had begun, but declined to finish owing to a dispute with the manager. The success of this effort was emphatic, and from that time Reeve's services were in great demand at various theatres. He adapted Gluck's ‘Orpheus and Eurydice,’ produced at Covent Garden, 28 Feb. 1792, for Mrs. Billington's benefit; and in the same year he was appointed organist of St. Martin's, Ludgate Hill, a post he resigned in 1802 on becoming joint-proprietor of Sadler's Wells Theatre. During this period Reeve was industriously composing music for plays like ‘Tippoo Saib’ (Covent Garden, 6 June 1791); ‘The Apparition’ (1794); ‘Ramagh Droogh’ (Covent Garden, 12 Nov. 1798); ‘Paul and Virginia,’ a popular success, written in collaboration with Mazzinghi (Covent Garden, 1 May 1800); ‘Chains of the Heart,’ a comic opera, also with Mazzinghi (Covent Garden, 9 Dec. 1801, with Storace and Braham in the cast); ‘The Cabinet,’ comic opera by Dibdin, with music by Reeve, Rauzzini, Braham, Corri, and others (Covent Garden, 19 Feb. 1802); ‘The Jubilee,’ a pièce d'occasion written by Dibdin in honour of the jubilee of George III, which was produced at Covent Garden for a charity, 25 Oct. 1809, but the performance was stopped by the ‘O. P.’ combatants; and ‘The Outside Passenger’ (1811). He also wrote ‘The Juvenile Preceptor,’ a pianoforte tutor (London, n.d.).

Reeve, who had earned a comfortable independence, died 22 June 1815, at Marchmont Street, Russell Square. He was a popular writer of comic songs; and in those dramatic works in which he was associated with Mazzinghi the latter is said to have composed the serious music, while Reeve was entrusted with that in a lighter vein. A daughter of Reeve appeared at one time upon the stage, making her début at Covent Garden as Ophelia.

[Oulton's Continuation of Victor's and Oulton's Histories of the Theatres of London and Dublin, 1818; Biographia Dramatica, 1812; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Parke's Musical Memoirs, i. pp. 265, 282, 296, 306, 341; Gent. Mag. 1815, i. 648; Georgian Era, iv. 524; Grove's Dict. of Music; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

R. H. L.