Clayton, Thomas (DNB00)

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CLAYTON, THOMAS (fl. 1706), musical composer, was one of the musicians in ordinary to William and Mary. His name occurs in the lists of the royal band from 1692 until 1702, at which date he probably went to Italy. He returned about 1704, bringing with him (as was said at the time) a considerable quantity of Italian songs which he had collected abroad. These he set to an adaptation by Peter Motteux of a drama by Stonzani, which had been performed at Bologna in 1677, and at Venice in 1678. In association with N. F. Haym and C. Dieupart, Clayton entered upon a series of opera performances at Drury Lane Theatre — the first venture of the kind in the annals of the English stage. The first season began on Tuesday, 16 Jan. 1705, with 'Arsinoe, Queen of Cyprus,' the work which Clayton had vamped up from his Italian gleanings. It was announced as 'a new opera, after the Italian manner, all sung,' with recitatives instead of spoken dialogue. It seems to have attained some success, though a contemporary writer (supposed to be Galliard) says 'there is nothing in it but a few sketches of antiquated Italian airs, so mangled and sophisticated, that instead of Arsinoe, it ought to be called the Hospital of the old Decrepid Italian Operas,' and Burney was inclined to acquit Clayton of plagiarism in its composition, for 'nothing so mean in melody and incorrect in counterpoint was likely to have been produced by any of the reigning composers of that time.' It was sung by Leveridge, Hughes, Ramondon, Good, Mrs. Lindsay, Mrs. Cross, and Mrs. Tofts, the last of whom made in it her first appearance on the stage. On 6 Feb. 1705 it was played at St. James's before Queen Anne, at the celebration of her birthday ; according to Genest it was performed fifteen, or according to Burney twenty-four times in 1705, and thirteen times in 1706. Encouraged by this success, Clayton tried his hand at another opera, and on Tuesday, 4 March 1707, produced at Drury Lane a setting of Addison's 'Rosamond,' in which Holcomb, Leveridge, Hughes, Mrs. Tofts, Mrs. Lindsay, and Maria Gallia sang the principal parts. This work was repeated on the 15th and 22nd of the same month, but its failure was so decided that it was never again performed. The anonymous author already quoted opines that 'Rosamond' 'mounted the stage on purpose to frighten all England with its abominable musick.' Both 'Arsinoe' and 'Rosamond' were published, and posterity has thus been enabled to endorse the opinions of Clayton's contemporaries. After the failure of 'Rosamond' the operatic venture continued until 1711, when it ceased, and Clayton and his partners gave concerts at the Music Room in York Buildings. On 24 May 1711 settings by Clayton of a version of Dryden's 'Alexander's Feast' (altered by John Hughes), and of Harrison's 'Passion of Sappho, were performed, but both works failed, after which nothing is heard of the luckless composer. He is said to have died about 1730. Clayton is of importance in the history of English music as the first to acclimatise legitimate opera in England, but as a composer his position is summed up in the words of his anonymous contemporary: 'If a reward was to be ordain'd for him that made the worst musick in all the world, the author of Rosamond wou'd have reason to say he had not lost his labour, since he wou'd have an undoubted title to the gratification.'

[Burney's Hist. of Music, iv. 199-204; Hawkins's Hist. of Music (ed. 1853), 810-14; Chamberlayne's Present State of England, 1692-1704; Grove's Dict. of Music, i.; Clayton's Queens of Song, i. 2, 7, 11; Busby's Anecdotes, i. 71; Georgian Era, iv.; Daily Courant for 1705 and 1707; Genest's Hist. of the Stage, i. 318; London Gazette, No. 4095; A Critical Discourse upon some Operas in England (1709), 65.]

W. B. S.