1776 – 1783
The greatest threat to Kammell’ career was illness. He had written about his bad health in his letters to Count Waldstein from the beginning of his career in England. He had suffered from some form of depression in the summer of 1766 which ended when he went to Kent and stayed with Horace and Lady Lucy Mann. In June 1774 he told Waldstein that his rheumatic illness had meant that he could not perform at his benefit concert on 24th April.
“My benefit concert was also not the best one, as I hardly was able to walk, I had to leave somebody else to lead, and almost all I gained was devoured by three pig-tailed doctors; wigs.” (FREEMANOVA 1)
He was despondent. He went for a cure to Bath and said he was going to sell all his property and return home – but there was no mention of his wife and family. At this point Waldstein had not heard about Ann and the four year old Elizabeth Rosanna. If he was unable to play he would have
“to work hard, that is compose.”
He claimed that he had a contract with a music publisher who would pay him 100 guineas for each “opera”, which would usually be a set of six sonatas, quartets or symphonies. This seems surprising considering that he had to pay for the printing of his first works himself. If this is true it shows that his reputation as a composer had grown. He was certainly a known name and advertisements by music dealers can be found in the newspapers advertising new works by Kammell.
But if his illness affected a performance this could damage his reputation.
In 1776 John Marsh was disappointed by Kammell’s performance at the Salisbury Festival, noting in his diary
“Having heard much of him as a composer of duetts, trios etc I was rather disappointed, as he by no means as a professor seems to rank above mediocrity, our own leader Tewksbury as well as many gentlemen performers being equal & indeed some superior to him. By way of a solo he play’d a piece so very tame & little interesting & displaying so small a degree of execution, that Dr Stevens, was , I remember, much disconcerted at it & said it was an insult to the audience. To make amends however we had Crosdill on the violoncello & Rauzzimi as principal singer.” (John Marsh Journals, edited Brian Robins, Pendragon Press, 1998)
(Marsh clearly knew him later personally as he visited a friend, Miss Banks, who had sung in the Salisbury festivals, when she was staying at Kammell’s London house in 1779.)
The Reading Mercury of 9th September 1776 reported on this concert in a conventionally polite way, without suggesting anything had been unsatisfactory. The various soloists (the vocalists included Signor Rauzzini and Miss Banks, and the instrumentalists included Kammell, Crosdill, Mr Tewksbury and Kammell’s pupil Benjamin Blake)
“…all performed their respective parts with such accuracy taste and judgement as gained the highest applause from a very numerous and polite audience.”
Kammell did not return to the Salisbury festival in 1777. The leading instrumentalists that year included Cramer, Fischer (the celebrated oboist), Stamitz, Cervetto, Tewksbury and Blake.
He did play at Winchester in the Festival which took place 13th – 15th August that year. This festival included a masque “Pyramus and Thisbe” by Rauzzini, who was the star singer at Salisbury, and performances of Handel’s Messiah and Esther. Kammell is not named in the advertisement in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal 28th July 1777.
He returned to Winchester 1778, when he led the orchestra in Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus and Messiah, and again, according to Michaela Freemanova (FREEMANOVA 1) in 1782.
Despite the evidence that ill-health was threatening his career there are signs that Kammell still continued to give successful performances.
The Hampshire Chronicle for 7th September 1778 advertised a concert for the Winchester festival on 9th September and reported that:
“Mr Vachon and Mr Kammel two of the first performers on the violin who gave universal satisfaction at our last concert, will, we hear, perform at the said meeting.”
On 24th September 1778 he was performing at the George Inn, Northampton. His music had been played in earlier years at Mr Barrett’s Concerts, so he was making a personal appearance as a composer who was well known to the audience. The principal performers were:
“Miss Edicott (a Pupil of Mr. Kammell) Messrs. Kammell, Blake and Blundell; as also Messrs. Rogers and others,”
Miss Edicott was Lydia Edicott, the younger sister of Ann Kammell. “Blake” was Benjamin Blake, a viola player, and another student of Kammell. This concert was a success, and, unusually, it was commented on in a later edition of the Northampton Mercury:
“…the applause that was particularly bestowed on Miss Edicott, Mr Kammell, and Mr Barrett, was a flattering, tho’ but a just, Reward for their masterly Performance.” (Northampton Mercury, 28th September 1778.)
In addition to the publicly advertised concerts there were still private events. Though Kammell does not seem to have performed at his Salisbury festival after the disappointing concert in 1776 on 24th February 1779 James Harris paid Kammell 9 guineas for a subscription for a concert for himself, his wife and daughter.
There is a puzzling comment in one of Elizabeth Harris’s letters, 2nd February 1779, about a concert which she refers to as a “Shab Rab”. At this event “never was anything so very shocking” as “Kammell and the others” accompanying her daughter Louisa. This is not necessarily a criticism of Kammell as she does write “and the others”.
“Shab Rab” is a term Mrs Harris uses in other letters to refer to a concert that is either shabby in itself or intended for a shabby audience. In another letter (BURROWS & DUNHILL p. 968-9) the editors say that she is referring to the subscription concerts which happened on Fridays in different houses. These might be the concerts which Thomas Anson’s neighbour, Lady Mayne, started after his death, which took place in a succession of different London houses. If so this could be evidence that Kammell was involved with the series. Harris regularly bought tickets for Kammell’s benefits – a guinea each (£150 today).
In February 1779 Harris paid nine guineas for himself, his wife and daughter, which seems far too much for one concert. Even at a guinea a ticket this would be enough for a series of three, so this might also be connected with Lady Mayne’s concerts.
The Harris family had not turned their back on Kammell after the 1776 Salisbury festival.
Harris was at a performance of a play called “The Fatal Falsehood” on the night of Kammell’s benefit concert on 6th May 1779. Harris’s daughter Louisa went to the concert. There are no comments about how the concert went in the Harris papers, but this is the last mention of Kammell in the published edition. (BUROWS & DUNHILL)
James Harris died on 22nd December 1780.
There is an extraordinarily cruel criticism of Kammell in a curious little book “ A. B. C. Dario Musico” – an ABC of Music. This was published in Bath in 1780 “printed for the authors and to be sold at the Rooms” – but also, as far as the title page goes, available at booksellers in Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge and York, and several places in London. The authors are anonymous. An 1844 book catalogue says that this 68-page book is “very scarce”. Today it is available as a download on IMSLP.
This is a guide to the musicians of the day, particularly the musicians which the concert-goers in Bath would have known. It is partly humorous or satirical, but it also has praise for the performers and composers of whom the anonymous authors approve. The preface gives the author’s justification for their work:
“It is strange that in this country where all objects of amusement are so freely canvassed, that hitherto music, and its professors, should have escaped criticism: under the shelter of which darkness, the most barefaced and impudent pretenders have obtruded their plagiarisms and absurdities on the public, in various shapes.”
There might be a hint of a bias against foreigners in the preface’s possibly ironical insistence that the book is not prejudiced:
“England affords the warmest protection to abilities of all kinds of any country in the world. Whether that protection favours foreigners to the prejudice of natives, we will not pretend to decide on.”
The names of the various subjects are ineffectually disguised by the use of asterisks.
“K * MM * L
“A German, formerly, (he says) an officer in the Prussian service. He has published several works which Mr. Bach has, with great good-nature, assisted him in, as he has done for others. As a performer on the violin, his talents are below mediocrity; and although he has composed for the harpsichord, we know his talent for that instrument is on a par with his violin performance.”
This is cruel, but it is also interesting. The authors knew something of Kammell, possibly at first hand. They have mistaken him for a German, because they might have known that he spoke German. The idea that he had been “an officer in the Prussian Service” might well be a misunderstanding of his talk of his position as a servant of Count Waldstein.
There is no actual criticism of his own compositions themselves – only the claim that J C Bach had helped him “as he has done for others”, which implies that he did not have the skill to produce them himself.
It must have been well known that Kammell was a friend and colleague of Bach. It is possible that there is some truth in this idea that Bach had helped him. Bach was probably the best composer in England at the time. He is still little known and underrated, especially his operas and vocal music but as more of his music is performed and recorded his importance emerges.
As the “A. B. C Dario Musico” says of him:
“It would fill volumes to particularize the merits of his vocal and instrumental compositions.”
Bach might well have taught and assisted Kammell – but it is impossible to judge to what extent. From what I have seen and heard I feel that Kammell’s music is very different from Bach’s. It does not have Bach’s suavity or smoothness. It can be excessively simple – as in the variations in one of the Op. 8 violin sonatas which have very little musical content, just very flashy violin figurations – but it can also be very expressive and it also has hints of East European folk tunes.
The paragraph mentions that he had composed for harpsichord. The only harpsichord music that he had published before 1780 was not actually for harpsichord at all, but for harp – the Sonatas Op. 9. This music certainly looks like very uncharacteristic and peculiar harpsichord music, but the chordal accompaniments are understandable when they are seen as music intended for the harp.
Kammell cannot be thought of as a major composer. His composition is extremely limited in range compared to Bach, but he can be compared favourably with other performer-composers like Abel.
It is worth putting this criticism in the context of the book as a whole. Other composers are treated equally harshly. Luffman Atterbury had begun life as carpenter and builder. His oratorio “Goliah” had been a disaster in 1773, though it was later performed at West Wycombe for Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord Le Despencer. Atterbury’s earlier career gave the cue for a joke;
“…as a composer we vehemently recommend it to him rather to study plans and proportions, than spend his time raising such a BABEL as his Oratorio and the rest of his grotesque musical edifices.”
Thomas Arne’s opera “Artaxerxes” was a success, and admired by Haydn when it was revived in the 1790s and yet the critics write:
“…we are obliged to remark that there is a palpable want of originality from beginning to end.”
These authors are looking for any excuse for a joke or a judgement that gives themselves a feeling of superiority. They deserve a punch on the nose.
The book was published in 1780 but it could have been written a year or two earlier. The entry for “Miss Linley”, whom they praise, refers to the younger sister of Elizabeth Linley, who had famously eloped from Bath to marry Sheridan in 1773. The authors say that Elizabeth Linley had retired from performing “two years ago.” She had, in theory, retired after her marriage, apart from private performances.
There is, though, an interesting reference to “Lord Rivers”, who was Kammell’s friend George Pitt. He had become Lord Rivers in 1776, so the satire was written sometime after that.
The mention of Lord Rivers shows that he had been the supporter of another composer. This was a Smith, formerly Schmidt:
“Formerly in the Suite of Lord Rivers, and since warmly espoused by a Bishop…Inasmuch as his Musical Directory professes to teach the harpsichord without a master, we think his attendance at the boarding-school for which it was written implies some trifling contradiction.”
This was Theodore Smith (Theodor Schmid) (c1740 – c1810). Smith was probably a pupil of J C Bach. He published songs, harpsichord music and instrumental music but there is only one reference to him in a London concert, in 1766.
Perhaps Smith had been employed as music teacher to George Pitt’s daughter, Louisa, who was born in 1754. The musical connections of Pitt’s family were extended when she married Peter Beckford in 1773. He had brought the composer Clementi from Italy in 1766 and Clementi lived at Beckford’s house near Blandford Forum.
The Dictionary of National Biography’s entry for Theodore Smith does not mention Lord Rivers but does explain the comment about the Bishop – and shows how convoluted the satire of the “A. B. C Dario Musico” is.
Smith’s wife, singer Maria Harris, ran off with a man called Mr Bishop, taking the Smith’s newly born daughter. A few years later Smith became music teacher at a girl’s school at Windsor and at the Chiswick Lane School “in the hope of seeing Mrs Bishop” who would come in to visit their daughter who was a pupil there.
DNB says that, though this story seems tragic, Smith was unpopular and thought of by some as a charlatan. Nevertheless, he is another composer who must have been known to Kammell in the circle of George Pitt.
The background to this anecdote in the “A. B. C. Dario Musico” shows what a cruel and unpleasant book it is.
By 1780 Kammell had had fifteen years in England, building up a reputation and playing with the “best hands” in the country. He had frequently led the orchestra for J. C. Bach who would not have supported any second-rate performer who might damage his own reputation. Yet it is, unfortunately, very possible that the authors of this annoyingly witty little book had experienced performances when illness had made Kammell’s playing “below mediocrity.”
It is very interesting to find a lengthy review of this book in “The Critical Review” for July 1780 (available on Google Books) which talks of the bitterness and maliciousness of the author. It mentions the suggestion that Bach had helped Kammell with his music.
“Indeed, Mr Kammel’s gentleman-like productions do not bear the least marks of Mr Bach’s generosity, though a thought may now and then have been filched from him now and again sans y penser.”
This seems to be a complimentary comment.
During this period Kammell continued to have benefit concerts in London, and to appear in other people’s concerts. He performed in the Salisbury festival in 1775. 1776 and the Winchester festival in 1778 and 1779.
His last letter to Count Waldstein was written on 1st February 1778. He sent with it two newly published works, a set of 6 Chamber Divertimenti and 6 duets. This is music, he writes,
“which is generally liked in London and even more in Paris; not difficult, rather the opposite, could be played well and with a lot of expression.” (FREEMANOVA 1)
These must have been a set of duets, Op. 11, which is only known in an edition published in Paris, and a set of Divertimenti, Op. 12, three of which are for string quartet and three for oboe or flute, two violins and bass, which would be intended for a cello.
In this same letter he wrote that he hoped to travel to Carlsbad in the summer with Lord Rivers, who had been Mr. Pitt. He also explained that:
“…I now have 3 children alive, 2 boys and one girl…”
He had had at least two children who had died, Lucy and William, and Anthony and Ann would have another son who would die very young and a third who would survive.
There were further new publications in these years, though the appearance of editions published in Paris makes it very difficult to know what are new works and which are French editions of works which had already been published in England. A violin concerto and a concerto for two violins appeared in Paris in the early 1770s and these did not appear in print in London. The concerto for two violins could be the work Kammell played with Madame Sirmen in 1771.
Op. 13 is a set of six violin sonatas (violin and continuo) which appeared in Paris. There is no other known work published as Op. 13 so this may be a new work, but the inferred publication date, 1774, is several years to early.
Op. 14 is another set of Divertimentos for string quartet, and flute or oboe and strings dedicated to Sir Gregory Page Turner (1748 – 1805). In 1775 Turner, who was M.P. for Thirsk had inherited estates in what is now Blackheath in South East London. I have been unable to find any connection between Turner and Kammell’s other acquaintances other than the fact that his estates at Blackheath lie on the road from London to Kent.
Sir Gregory Page Turner
The publishing date is estimated as c1780, which may be one or two years after the date of composition.
Op. 15 is a set of Six Duets dedicated to the Earl of Aylesford. Heneage Finch, 4th Earl of Aylesford ( 1751 – 1812) had been MP for Maidstone, Kent, until 1777, when he inherited the title. He did, therefore, have a link with Kent, where Kammell’s first supporters had their country seats. Aylesford is in Kent – but neither the 4th Earl nor his predecessors had any direct personal connection to the county. Their principal property and estates were in Warwickshire.
The 4th Earl was a talented landscape artist.
The publishing date is estimated as 1785, but these must date from 1779 or earlier, perhaps 1777, the date that Finch inherited the title, if my dating of the last known works, examined in the next chapter, is correct.