1770 – 1775
THE KING OF PERFORMERS!
From 1770 Kammell was established as one of the leading musicians in England, working with the best of colleagues – people like J C Bach, Abel, Fischer and Punto.
For the next years he can be found in London during the season, in the individually advertised benefit concerts, in Thomas Anson’s private concerts, and, possibly, as a member of J C Bach’s orchestra.
In the summer months he became a regular in summer music festivals, particularly the Salisbury festival organised by James Harris.
James Harris (1709-1780) was MP for Salisbury, a musician, and a philosopher. He had been a close friend of Handel until his death in 1759, and he had suggested the idea of his choral work based on Milton “L’Allegro ed Il Penseroso”, which allowed a colourful exploration of contrasting moods of melancholy and delight. He was not responsible for the idea of ending it with “Il Moderato” a rather tame celebration of moderation in all things.
The Harris family papers, which include his own letters and diaries, and the letters of his wife, daughter and son, are an immeasurably important window into musical life in the 18th century. The published selection, as “Music and Theatre in Handel’s World”, edited by Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill, is the most useful source on Kammell’s work in England.
As a philosopher Harris was almost unique in mid-18th century England and his importance has very rarely been recognised. At a time when most people had a very materialistic view of the world, and even the Church of England had little time for anything which could be called spiritual, Harris promoted a Greek philosophy in which in which material things had no reality and only truth and beauty were real.
His “Three Treatises”, Dialogues on Art, Music Painting and Poetry, and Happiness, published in 1744, could be seen as the text book to the Greek Revival. It would be the ideal book to read while strolling around a classical garden, pausing for refreshment at a Doric Temple.
His book “Hermes”, which is, on the surface, a discussion of the fundamental principles of grammar, has a climactic moment in which the footnotes, which are made up of quotations from Greek philosophers, many of them translated, take up almost all the page leaving only one line of the actual text above them. This is a dramatic declaration of the Platonic philosophy that only Truth and Beauty, the divine archetypes, are real.
“The WHOLE VISIBLE WORLD exhibits nothing more, than so many passing Pictures of the immutable Archetypes.” (Harris, Hermes, 1751)
Harris’s “Three Treatises” argue for the very high importance of art, in the broadest sense and that happiness comes only from the pursuit (not necessarily achieved) of a good life.
Harris’s inspiration and hero was his uncle, his mother’s brother, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1670-1712). Shaftesbury was a very influential philosopher, particularly in Germany. His interest was moral philosophy and he argued that human behaviour should derive from Beauty and in all life Beauty should be reflected in Harmony. Later in the century Haydn owned Shaftesbury’s book “Characteristicks of Men. Manners Opinions and Times” in an English edition.
Shaftesbury believed that the ideals of Truth and Beauty must come before anything else and that religious ideas should be criticised if they did not live up to them – or, as he argued, they should be subjects of ridicule. James Harris agreed with this view, and he was certainly not a gloomy or humourless philosopher. He wrote comic poetry, including a “Meditation upon Cheese.”
This was the philosophical world of Harris’s home on the cathedral green at Salisbury. It is worth remembering that Kammell had studied philosophy himself, according to Michaela Freemanova. The rehearsals for the music festival took place in Harris’s house and the leading performers stayed there with the family.
The first mention of Kammell in the published Harris papers is as a performer at Sir Robert Throckmorton’s private concert on 10th April 1770. James and Elizabeth Harris had been at Thomas Anson’s concert for Mrs Montagu the previous year at which Kammell was, surely, performing, as he dedicated his Op 5 duets to Anson soon after. Harris attended many concerts at Anson’s 15 St James Square, Bach’s concerts and benefits so Kammell would have been familiar to him by the time he made his first appearance as leader of the orchestra at the Salisbury music festival in 1771, the first of five appearances there, the other years being 1772, 1774, 1775 and 1776. (In 1777, 1778 1782 he was at the nearby Winchester Music Festival.)
The Salisbury music festival was a grand affair, with star performers from London and usually two large choral concerts, in which Handel was always featured, and a miscellaneous concert in which all the visiting singers and virtuosi had an opportunity to display their talents. Salisbury, on horseback, or by carriage, was a two-day journey from London.
The 1771 festival took place later than usual, 23rd-25th October rather than in September. Burrows and Dunhill suggest that Kammell may have been brought in because the previous leader was not available. The organisers found they could get no Italian singers that year.
The principal performances were of Handel’s Joshua in the Assembly Rooms and Messiah in the Cathedral.
In 1772 Kammell lead the orchestra again at the Salisbury festival, in Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day and Messiah. (See BURROWS & DUNHILL p. 684)
A few weeks after the 1772 Salisbury festival he wrote to Count Waldstein in a very positive mood:
23rd October 1772
“…Your excellency knows well my good and open mind which made the whole of England into my friends and the English call me the King of Performers! …whether my violin or my composing contributed a lot to it, but also the interpretation and good mind did quite a lot for it…” (FREEMANOVA 1)
Kammell did not play in Salisbury in 1774 but in July he appeared at Blandford Forum on the day of the Blandford races. This was the second of three known visits to the town, which is 24 miles south west of Salisbury.
His friend George Pitt’s son, George Pitt junior, was Steward of the races. The concert shows the influence of the father as it involved all the musicians who regularly played with Kammell, and, in 1774 the event was a benefit concert for Kammell himself.
The musicians included Madame Grassi (wife of J. C Bach), Bach himself, Punto the Bohemian horn player, Fischer the oboist and Crosdill on the cello. This an extraordinary assembly of stars to travel so far from the city and shows Pitt’s enthusiasm for fine music.
Elizabeth’s Harris’s letter to her son on 14th July says that “Bach and part of his suite” had gone to Blandford, which shows that they had stayed in Salisbury the night before. When Harris’s daughter Gertrude arrived in Salisbury a week later she was upset to miss Bach and Grassi “who were to pass through the town that day; but they could not stop.” The musicians had spent a week in Blandford. It would be possible, at a rush, to get home from Blandford to London in 48 hours.
On 16th July 1775 Kammell had written to Count Waldstein in a more despondent frame of mind, saying that he could not send money, he had had another long illness and that his American land was unsellable. Two days after this letter his son George Anthony was born, on 18th July 1775.
A week later Kammell was back at Blandford for a concert on 26th July.
He was back in that part of the world in September for the 1775 Salisbury festival. Had he ever returned to London to see how his wife and new son were, or had he remained in the west with George Pitt?
The key works that year were Handel’s Jeptha and Messiah.
“The principal vocal performers will be the much celebrated Miss Davies, who met with so just and universal applause here last year, Mr. Norris, Mr Parry, Mr Corse, Mr. Goss &c. &c.
“The principal instrumental performers, Mr. Fischer, Mr, Kammel. Mr. Cervetto, together with Mr. Tewksbury, Mr, Lates, and many other capital hands from divers parts of the kingdom.”
Mr. Cervetto was the cellist James Cervetto, with whom Kammell is recorded to have performed on several occasions. Cervetto was music teacher to the Bridgeman family at Weston Park in Staffordshire, only about 17 miles from Thomas Anson’s estate at Shugborough.
With performances in London and the provincial festivals with the most excellent of fellow musicians, and the friendship and support of Thomas Anson (until his death), George Pitt and James Harris Kammell could fairly think of himself as “the King of performers” – but at the same time as his career was thriving there were serious causes of anxiety in the background – his financial situation and, more alarmingly, his health.