1765

ARRIVAL – THE LONDON MUSICAL SCENE

 

Kammell wrote to Count Waldstein on 29th March 1765. London, he wrote, was the largest town he had ever seen and that “one even feels like entering some other world”.

He had travelled from The Hague with the Italian cellist and composer Francesco Zappa. Zappa had been music teacher to the Duke of York while the Duke had been living in Italy, and was on his way to London after touring northern Europe. He returned to The Hague after his London visit to work for the Prince of Orange.  Zappa was, indeed, the ancestor of zany rock genius Frank Zappa, who financed a recording of Francesco’s work. Kammell “lived thriftily” with Zappa on his arrival in London. This chance meeting meant that he would have had a contact with the London musical scene from the moment he arrived.

The channel crossing was appallingly stormy, everyone having to work the water-pumps, and in the end, all the luggage was “swimming in water”. Kammell wrote that he arrived in London

“like a poor sinner taken to the gallows, one jacket, one shirt, one handkerchief and one hope.” (FREEMANOVA 1)

Smart, even fabulously showy, clothes were essential for a solo musician who wanted to make the right glamorous impression. Kammell immediately had two new suits and six new shirts made “to be able to keep up the status of your Excellency as my most honourable Lord and Master.”

Kammell hints that his visit to London will not be a short one, as the English people do not like to see someone earn money from them and then take it out of the country.

The most elaborate and fashionable musical entertainment in London was opera in Italian. This was an expensive business, paying visiting stars huge amounts of money. There were rivalries between singers and entrepreneurs. Earlier in the century Handel had come to England and become the dominant composer of opera in the Italian style, but from the 1730s he stepped aside from this cut-throat world and concentrated on his own development of oratorio. Staged performances were not allowed during lent, so Handel saw a niche and filled it with spectacular success, financial as well as artistic. Oratorios could be as dramatic and varied as opera, and use a big choir for excitement and drama, but they did not need the lavish and expensive staging, design, and costume of the opera.

Handel died in 1759, by which time fashions and musical styles were changing. Shortly after his death concerts, with a mix of vocal and purely instrumental music began to become fashionable.

The most important concert series in London began in 1760, under the control of Theresa Cornelys. Madame Cornelys (1723-1797) had been a lover of Casanova, who was the father of her daughter. Cornelys had an inspired way of marketing her concerts. They included drinking and gambling. They were extremely expensive, and she personally had to approve the applicants for season tickets. Everyone who was anyone wanted one.

From 1764/5 the musical leaders of these concerts were Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel. J C Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach (1735-1782), came to London in 1762, originally for a production of three of his operas. He was very successful and became music master to Queen Charlotte. Abel was also a composer, but he was mainly famous as a player on the viola da gamba, the precursor of the cello.

From the point of view of a musical career the most important person to know was Johann Christian Bach. Any musician wanting work in the world of instrumental concerts would have made every effort to meet “the London Bach.” Francesco Zappa, whom Kammell had met on the boat, might have been a point of contact, but there was another possible means of introduction.

J C Bach by Gainsborough, 1776.

However their first meeting might have came about Kammell and J C Bach very quickly became colleagues, and performed together over many years, in the city and at country music festivals.

Kammell had arrived at the very end of the London season. It was lent, and Easter Day fell on April 7th that year. The opera houses would have been closed and the wealthy population would have been preparing to leave for the country.

On 30th April, he wrote:

“Now there is nothing to do, until the winter time, because most of the Milords are already in the country, and so the music in London is buried, now there is nothing else to be done besides composing and publishing.” (FREEMANOVA 1)

Also left in London was the Mozart family. Leopold Mozart had brought his young children, Wolfgang and Nannerl, to London in the hope of making a fortune in public concerts, showing off his two musical prodigies. Though fortunes were to be made in the new commercial, rather than aristocratic, concerts, competition was very hard indeed. The potential audience was small and could not support many visiting stars or prodigies at the same time.

As income from concerts was more limited than expected eight-year-old Wolfgang was being encouraged to develop his composing skills. This was another way of showing off his genius. His first symphony, written in Chelsea, was first played on 21st February 1765. By April, when the audience for public concerts was leaving the city, Leopold was advertising the times of day when interested observers might visit the family at home and test the skills of the children.

Kammell’s letter of 30th April continued:

“I have also met Mr Mozart…Your excellency should well hear the wonder of the world, (that is) his son, who is 8 years old, plays the instrument in a very virtuoso manner, composes like an angel, plays even the most difficult pieces prima vista, and apart from it he has the intelligence which one always associates with a man of 40 or 50 years (of age). The father, mother, daughter, and the little Kapellmeister send their respects to your Excellency. The merits of Mr Mozart and his whole family really urged me to strike up a special friendship with them…”

The Mozart family.

This is a remarkable illustration of the fact this was a turning point in musical history. The music Mozart was composing in London is very different to the style of music associated with Handel. Mozart’s early music is heavily influenced by Johann Christian Bach. There is no doubt of this. Bach was the most influential composer in London, and Mozart’s first piano concertos are arrangements of sonatas by J C Bach.

This new style was suave and elegant, and very carefully designed to appeal to the not necessarily very attentive audiences at the subscription concerts. A symphony would tend to last no more than ten minutes and there would be an emphasis on melody and beautiful sound, rather than the more intellectual methods of baroque music. Just the kind of music, in fact, that Benjamin Stillingfleet, inspired by Tartini, advocated.