Davies, Cecilia (DNB00)

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DAVIES, CECILIA (1750?–1836), vocalist, the youngest daughter of a musician, was sister to Marianne Davies [q. v.], from whom she received her first instruction. She was probably born about 1750, but Grove's ‘Dictionary,’ relying on a statement by Dr. Rimbault (Lysons, History of the Three Choirs, 51), that she was ninety-two in July 1832, gives 1740. A writer in the ‘Musical World’ (i. 30, 47) says that in 1836 she was upwards of eighty, and fixes the date of her birth as 1757, but she must have been a few years older, as she sang before the court at Colorno in 1769, which implies that she was already a finished singer. Similar difficulties occur as to the date of her first appearance. Grove's ‘Dictionary’ (following Rimbault) says she appeared at a concert in Dean Street, Soho, on 28 April 1756, but in contemporary advertisements her name is not mentioned, though those of the vocalists are given. Pohl (Mozart in London, 61, 162) says that her sister accompanied her on the armonica at the concert given at Spring Gardens on 17 Feb. 1762, when that instrument was first introduced; but this statement is not confirmed by the advertisement in the ‘Public Advertiser’ for that date, in which no mention is made of vocal music, nor does her name occur in the announcements of any of the numerous concerts which her sister and father gave during the next few years. It is not until 10 Aug. 1767 that the advertisements state that Marianne Davies' ‘sister will sing some favourite airs from the operas of “Artaxerxes” and “Caractacus.”’ Immediately after this the Davies family went abroad. Burney (Hist. of Music, iv. 499) says that when very young she went to France, but she stayed longest at Vienna, where she and her family lodged in the same house as Hasse, with whom she studied singing. Fétis (Dict. de Musiciens, ii. 441) states that she also learnt from Sacchini; but this was probably at a later date, as that master was at Venice from 1768 to 1771, when he came to London, remaining there until 1782. At Vienna Cecilia Davies and her sister were great favourites, and taught the Archduchesses, Maria Theresa's daughters (one of whom afterwards became Queen Marie Antoinette), to sing and act in the little performances given at court on the emperor's birthdays. On the occasion of the Archduchess Amalia's marriage to Duke Ferdinand of Parma (27 June 1769), Cecilia Davies sang an ode written for her by Metastasio and Hasse, with an accompaniment for the armonica by her sister. After this she sang with great success in Italy, where she was known as ‘L'Inglesina.’ She sang at Milan, Florence, and Naples, and was the first Englishwoman who appeared on the Italian stage. In October, 1773, she was engaged at the King's Theatre in Italian opera. She appeared in Sacchini's ‘Lucio Vero’ on 20 Nov. The general performance was poor, but a contemporary (Middlesex Journal, No. 726) says that she was the support of the whole opera. Her voice at this time was not very strong, but sound, clear, and harmonious; her compass was extensive and her execution very finished. Burney, who heard her at this time, says that her bravura was excellent, but that she wanted colour and passion, and adds: ‘If I had had as many hands as Briareus, they would have been all employed in her applause.’ She sang at the three choirs festival at Hereford in 1774, but seems soon afterwards to have returned to Italy, where (in 1784–5) Lord Mount Edgcumbe found her with her sister at Florence, unengaged and poor. The resident English got up a concert for their benefit, and the sisters returned to England. Cecilia Davies sang at the professional concert on 3 Feb. 1787, and in 1791 made her first appearance in oratorio at Drury Lane, but she must at this time have been past her prime, for she seems soon afterwards to have given up singing in public and to have fallen into great poverty and neglect. About 1817 she published a collection of songs by Hasse and other masters, but during the last years of her life she subsisted on a pension of 25l. from the National Benevolent Fund, with a donation from the Royal Society of Musicians, and occasional help from the few friends she had. For many years she was bedridden. She died, forgotten and deserted, at 58 Great Portland Street, on 3 July 1836. The funeral of this fine singer, who had taught the queens of France, Spain, and Naples, was followed only by an old nurse and a faithful servant, and no notice of her death was taken by the daily newspapers. No portrait of Cecilia Davies is known to exist, but in 1773 she is described as being of a low but extremely pleasing figure. She was a good actress, but seems to have been thoroughly italianised by her foreign education.

[Authorities quoted above; Parke's Musical Memoirs, i. 90; Pohl's Haydn in London, 17, 28, 349.]

W. B. S.