Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Festing, Michael Christian

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FESTING, MICHAEL CHRISTIAN (d. 1752), violinist and composer, was at first a pupil of Richard Jones, who succeeded Carbonelli as leader of the orchestra of Drury Lane Theatre. He subsequently studied with Geminiani, and in or about 1727 became a member of the band at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket. He had made his first appearance in public in a concerto and solo of his own composition as early as 1724. He belonged to the king's private band, and in 1737 was appointed director of the Italian opera. From 1739 onwards he directed the subscription concerts at Hickford's room, and the Swan and Castle concerts in the city were for many years under his direction. An amateur society which met at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand, and was called the ‘Philharmonic Society,’ as well as many benefit concerts, &c., were directed by him, and on the opening of Ranelagh in 1742 he was appointed leader of the band and director of the music. Burney's very poor opinion of his powers as a violinist was probably not far wrong, although allowance must be made for Burney's well-known antipathy to English musicians. Festing seems to have become the fashion, and must have had very little time for study. From about 1730, too, he was more or less constantly engaged in composition. His works for stringed instruments include some twenty concertos in seven parts, eighteen sonatas in three parts, and fourteen solos with figured bass. Among his vocal works are mentioned a paraphrase of a passage from Habakkuk, Addison's ‘Ode for St. Cecilia's Day,’ Milton's song on May morning, an ode on the return of the Duke of Cumberland after the rising in 1745, a cantata, ‘Sylvia,’ and many songs. The best action of Festing's life was the initiation of the Royal Society of Musicians. Festing, Weidemann, the king's flute-master, and Vincent, the oboist, standing at the door of the Orange coffee-house in the Haymarket, saw two children driving milch asses. They turned out to be the children of a German oboe-player named Kytch, who after some temporary success had died in extreme poverty. The musicians, after consulting with Dr. Maurice Greene, an intimate friend of Festing's, started a subscription, by means of which the Royal Society of Musicians was established, on 19 April 1738, for the relief of indigent musicians and their families. The list of original members includes the names of all the notable musicians of the day, among others that of Handel, whose ‘Messiah’ is still annually performed for the benefit of the institution. From Festing's generosity on this occasion, from the fact that he published his compositions on his own account (Hawkins, History, ed. 1853, p. 801), and still more from his having discharged without any remuneration the duties of secretary to the society he had helped to found, it is fairly certain that he was in easy circumstances. He had a brother, John, an oboe-player, who amassed some 8,000l., chiefly by teaching. According to one account the oboe-player was the original of Hogarth's ‘Enraged Musician’ (ib. p. 892). Festing died on 24 July 1752, leaving a son, the Rev. Michael Festing, who married the only daughter of Dr. Greene. He was rector of Wyke Regis, Dorsetshire. Festing's musical property was sold two months after his death. Burney says that ‘with a feeble hand, little genius for composition, and but a shallow knowledge in counterpoint, by good sense, probity, prudent conduct, and a gentlemanlike behaviour [Festing] acquired a weight and influence in his profession, at which had hardly any musician of his class ever arrived;’ and John Potter, in his ‘Observations upon the Present State of Music,’ 1762, says that he ‘deserves praise and esteem as a composer of great merit.’

[Grove's Dict. i. 515; Pohl's Mozart in London; Potter's Observations, &c., p. 59; Hawkins's History, quoted above; Burney, iv. 649, 663, 668; John Parry's Account of the Royal Society of Musicians, prefixed to a programme of the ‘Messiah,’ for a performance in 1858; Gent. Mag. xxii. 337; Somerset House Gazette (1824), i. 84.]

J. A. F. M.