Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Moorehead, John

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MOOREHEAD, JOHN (d. 1804), violinist and composer, was born in Ireland, where he received some musical instruction. After playing among the principals in the orchestra of the Three Choirs Festival at Worcester in 1794, he was brought to London by Thomas Dibdin, and engaged at Sadler's Wells Theatre as viola-player in the band and occasional composer. From 1796 to 1800 Moorehead set to music many of the entertainments performed at this theatre, among them 'Alonzo and Imogene,' 'Birds of a Feather,' 'Sadak and Kalasrade,' 'Old Fools,' and 'Blankenberg.'

About 1798 Moorehead entered the band of Covent Garden Theatre, and wrote the music of such pieces as 'The Naval Pillar,' produced on 7 Oct. 1799; 'The Volcano.' pantomime, 23 Dec. 1799; with Thomas Attwood [q. v.] he composed 'The Dominion of Fancy' and 'Il Bondocani,' musical farce, 15 Nov. 1800; with Davy, 'La Perouse,' historical pantomime, 28 Feb. 1801; with Reeve, Davy, Corri, and Braham, 'The Cabinet,' 9 Jan. 1802; with Braham and Reeve, 'Family Quarrels,' 18 Dec. 1802, all published. Besides the popular dance in ' Speed the Plough,' 8 Feb. 1800, songs in farces, several ballads, and a duo concertante for violins, he was also author of the 'favourite' overture to 'Harlequin Habeas,' 27 Dec. 1802. Many of these compositions possess exceptional originality.

After undertaking to compose music for the 'Cabinet,' Moorehead was attacked by a nervous malady, and was unable to produce more than four numbers. He grew rapidly worse, developed symptoms of insanity, and was confined in Northampton House, Clerkenwell, London, which he quitted for Richmond. Here, as T. Dibdin relates, 'a relapse led Moorehead into an extraordinary series of eccentricities . . . and he was committed in a strait-waistcoat to Tothill Fields Prison.' He was released, and was next heard of in 1803 on board H.M.S. Monarch as sailor, and afterwards bandmaster. About March 1804, during a walk in the neighbourhood of Deal, he hanged himself with a handkerchief to the bar of a gate.

Moorehead's brother, Alexander, violinist, and leader of the Sadler's Wells orchestra, died in 1803 in a Liverpool lunatic asylum.

[Annals of the Three Choirs, p. 76; Thomas Dibdin's Reminiscences, i. 190, 261,314; Collection relating to Sadler's Wells, vol. iii. passim; European Mag. 1799 to 1803; St. James's Chron. 5 April 1804; Thespian Dict.; Grove's Dict. of Music and Musicians, ii. 362.]

L. M. M.