A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Ancient Concerts

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ANCIENT CONCERTS. The Ancient Concerts, or, to give them their formal title, The Concert of Antient Music, were established in 1776 by a committee consisting of the Earls of Sandwich and Exeter, Viscount Dudley and Ward, the Bishop of Durham, Sir Watkin W. Wynn, Bart., Sir R. Jebb, Bart., and Messrs. Morrice and Pelham, who were afterwards joined by Viscount Fitzwilliam and Lord Paget (afterwards Earl of Uxbridge). The performances were also known as 'The King's Concerts.' Mr. Joah Bates, the eminent amateur, was appointed conductor, the band was led by Mr. Hay, and the principal singers were Miss Harrop (afterwards Mrs. Bates), the Misses Abrams, Master Harrison (subsequently a famous tenor), the Rev. Mr. Clarke, Minor Canon of St. Paul's (tenor), Mr. Dyne (counter-tenor), and Mr. Champness (bass). The chief rules of the concerts were that no music composed within the previous twenty years should be performed, and that the directors in rotation should select the programme. Mr. Bates retained the conductorship till the time of his death in 1779 [App. p.522 "till 1763; Bates died in 1799"], and directed the concerts personally, except for two years, when Dr. Arnold and Mr. Knyvett acted for him. He was succeeded by Mr. Greatorex, who remained in office until his death in 1831, when Mr. Knyvett, who had been the principal alto singer for many years, was chosen to succeed him. The resolution of the directors in 1839 to change the conductor at the choice of the director for each night led to the resignation of Mr. Knyvett, and the post was then offered to Dr. Crotch, who ultimately declined it. Sir George Smart was invited to conduct the first two concerts of 1840, and was succeeded by Mr. (afterwards Sir Henry) Bishop, Mr. Lucas, and Mr. Turle. It was found however that this system did not work well, and in 1843 Sir Henry Bishop was appointed sole conductor. There was also a change in the leadership of the band, Mr. W. Cramer succeeding Mr. Hay in 1780, and being succeeded in his turn by his son Francçois, who filled the post from his father's death in 1805 until 1844, when he retired. Mr. J. D. Loder [App. p.522 "J. F. Loder"] led the band from 1844 to 1846, in which year Mr. T. Cooke was appointed. Until 1841 it was the custom for the conductor to preside at the organ, but in that year the directors appointed Mr. Charles Lucas as their organist. The band at the time of the establishment of the concerts consisted of sixteen violins, five violas, four cellos, four oboes, four bassoons, two double basses, two trumpets, four horns, one trombone, and drum. At the close of the concerts [App. p.522 "in 1848"] the orchestra numbered seventeen violins, five violas, five cellos, five double basses, three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, two drums, one harp, two cymbals, and triangle. The canto chorus at first consisted entirely of boys selected chiefly from the boys of the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey, but they afterwards gave place to ladies. The earlier programmes included an overture (usually one of Handel's), two or three concertos by Handel, Martini, Corelli, Avison, or Geminiani, several choruses and solos from Handel's oratorios, and an anthem, glee, or madrigal; but occasionally an entire work, such as the Dettingen 'Te Deum,' was given as the first part of the concert. For many years the programmes were almost exclusively Handelian, varied by songs from Gluck, Bach, Purcell, Hasse, and others. After the year 1826 there was greater variety in the schemes, and Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, his Symphonies in D and E fiat, the overture to the 'Zauberflöte,' and a selection from his Requiem were included in the programmes for 1826. From that date an orchestral work by Mozart was performed at nearly every concert, although Handel still maintained his supremacy. In 1834 we find Haydn's 'Surprise' symphony, and in 1835 a selection from the 'Creation' and the 'Seasons' in the programmes. In the latter year Beethoven was represented by his 'Prometheus' overture, and during the last ten years of the concerts his symphony in D, overtures to 'Fidelio' and 'Egmont,' a chorus from 'King Stephen,' and other works were given. In 1847, at a concert directed by Prince Albert, Mendelssohn was the solo organist, and played Bach's Prelude and Fugue on the name of 'Bach.' The later programmes were drawn from varied sources, Handel being only represented by one or two items. In 1785 the Royal Family commenced to attend the concerts regularly, and then it was that they were styled 'The King's Concerts.' As a mark of his interest in the performances King George the Third personally wrote out the programmes, and in later years Prince Albert was one of the directors. Among the distinguished artistes who appeared at these concerts were Madame Mara and Mrs. Billington (1785), Signora Storace (1787), Miss Parke, Miss Poole (1792), Messrs. Harrison and Bartleman (1795). Up to 1795 the concerts were held in the new rooms, Tottenham Street, afterwards known as the Queen's or West London Theatre, but in that year they were removed to the concert-room in the Opera House, and in 1804 to the Hanover Square Rooms. In 1811 Catalani made her first appearance, and two [App. p.522 "three" refer to iii. 710 b] years later Miss Stephens (afterwards Countess of Essex) made her debut at these concerts. In 1816 Mrs. Salmon was heard, and shortly afterwards Messrs. Braham and Phillips were engaged. In addition to the twelve concerts given every year a thirteenth was added, when 'The Messiah' was performed in aid of the 'Fund for the Support of Decayed Musicians and their Families', a practice still maintained in the annual performances by the Royal Society of Musicians. In accordance with one of the customs connected with the concerts it was the rule for the director of the day to entertain his brother directors and the conductor at dinner. The library of old masters belonging to the society was after its discontinuance removed to Buckingham Palace. [App. p.522 "The last concert took place June 7, 1848. The Library was presented to the Royal College of Music."]

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