Thomas Anson’s musical life has only emerged from the shadows since the year 2000. It is a curious indication of how little research had been pursued into his life that no-one before 2003 showed any sign of having looked at his will, (1) surely one of the most obvious sources of material about any life. Even more surprising, the first person to refer to the will in print was a Czech musicologist writing about a forgotten Bohemian composer. Antonin Kammell. (This is how the composer spelled his name himself.)
Kammell’s name appears in three documents in the Staffordshire Records Office – the will, the fascinating list of people who received mourning rings as a memorial of Thomas’s death, and in a poem by Sir William Bagot of Blithfield Hall.
Bagot’s poem was written On April 25th 1772 to welcome Thomas back from London to Shugborough at the end of the London season. This was the Sunday after Easter.
Bring Attic Stuart, Indian Orme,
Kammell unruffled by a storm
Shall tune his softest strain;
And my Louisa will rejoice
To notes like his to tune her voice
With health restored again.
(Staffordshire Archives. Anson Papers. D615/D(6)/7/5)
(The copy says “probably” by Wiliam Bagot, but the poem is mentioned in George Hardinge’s memoir of Dr Sneyd Davies. Thomas Anson himself showed the poem to Hardinge and told him it was by Bagot.)
Stuart was, of course, James “Athenian” Stuart, and Orme was Robert Orme, historian of the East India Company. These two were also recipients of money in Anson’s will.
(The will is accessible on-line. There are copies in Staffordshire Archives.)
Kammell’s connection with Thomas Anson was rediscovered by Michaela Freemanova. Her article, based on a collection of his letters in an archive in Prague, was published in Early Music in May 2003.
(Michaela Freemanova and Eva Mikanov, “My honourable Lord and Father…”: 18th– century English musical life through Bohemian eyes, in Early Music, May 2003)
By good fortune, the year before, Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill’s published “Music and Theatre in Handel’s World, the family papers of James Harris 1732-1780”, which includes several references to Thomas Anson’s musical life and his music making at his new house at St James’s Square. Burrows and Dunhill’s book also revealed for the first time the connections between Thomas and James Harris, MP, philosopher of the Greek Revival and musical enthusiast.
(Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill, Music and Theatre in Handel’s World. The family papers of James Harris 1732-1780, OUP, 2002)
In Thomas’s last years, his very active 70s, music can be seen to have been of great importance. It is reasonable to assume it had been one of his interests throughout his life. A grand house, like 15 St James Square, was more than a private home, or a showcase for architecture and art. It had an active life as a place for performances, dinners and conversation, inspired by its classical style.
It would need music to bring it to life.
Antonin Kammell was the man who provided the music in the lavishly decorated rooms. The possibility that he visited Shugborough, perhaps over several years, and the fact that he received not just a mourning ring but a substantial gift in Thomas’s will, suggests that he was a friend, and not just a professional employee. Kammell referred to Anson as “my dear good old friend.”
(Freemanova and Mikanov, op. cit.)
Thomas’s will is brief and very straightforward will. It begins without any pious language, unlike many wills of the century.
I make this my last will and testament which I wou’d wish to have understood to the plainest and most obvious meaning of the words being unacquainted with forms.
This seems odd coming from a trained man of law. Is it ironical? Or does it support the view that he never practised? Or is it simply that as a barrister such things were not part of his experience?
The bulk of the estate (including extensive property elsewhere in Staffordshire and also in Norfolk) was left to his nephew, George Adams. As it would have been obvious that Thomas would not have had any offspring, George Adams would have been treated as the heir to the estate for many years – certainly since the death or Lord Anson in 1764.
Thomas’s two unmarried sisters were allowed to move any furniture they liked to Oakedge Hill, the house Thomas had built for them, landscaping by William Emes, on the slopes of Cannock Chase, with annuities to his other surviving sisters. He also left money to a small but fascinating group of friends, four of whom who would receive annuities, and one, Robert Orme, who would receive a lump sum.
There were annuities of £100 (£10,000 today) to James “Athenian” Stuart and “Mr Stillingfleet”, the botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet. Annuities of £50 (£5,000 today) went to Mr Kammell and to “Mr Kent”. This was the agricultural reformer, Nathaniel Kent, (1737-1810) whose career began as Thomas’s manager of his estates in Norfolk, which had been bought from Lord Leicester. A single payment of £500 (£50,000) went to Mr Orme, “in token of his long friendship”.
Apart from staff, the only other named beneficiary was Sir William Bagot who was left “all my collection of medals”. This led to a fairly acrimonious dispute between Bagot and George Adams, (who took the name Anson on inheriting), about whether this really meant all of them – ironically considering Thomas’s request that the words should be taken in their plainest sense.
Benjamin Stillingfleet (1702- 15th December 1771 – he died between Thomas’s will and his death in 1773) is sometimes said to have been the original bluestocking – which may seem surprising as the term is usually used of learned women.
He was a regular visitor to the leading lady of the intellectual circle, Mrs Montagu’s, parties, in which card playing was replaced by conversation. Stilingfleet was a great conversationalist, and the author of a poem on “The Art of conversation.” Though some writers disagree, it does appear that the term bluestocking was in use from the 1750s, and that this began because the always hard-up Stillingfleet tended to wear cheap blue worsted stockings rather than formal evening dress.
Mrs Montagu refers to Stillingfleet’s blue stockings in a letter, in which they seem to be a sign of sobriety which he had, at the time of writing, thrown off:
I assure you our philosopher is so much a man of pleasure, he has left off his old friends and his blue stockings and is at operas and other gay assemblies every night.
(Reginald Blunt, Jane Climenson, Mrs. Montagu, “Queen of the Blues”: Her Letters and Friendships from 1762 to 1800, Constable, 1923)
Mrs Montagu may not have taken Stillingfleet seriously. He comes over as a crotchety but amusing character, popular at her own assemblies and those of Mrs Vesey. He was a valetudinarian, always talking about his health ,and the health problems of his friends. Apart from this, his range of interests and his quite adventurous travels make him seem quite a close counterpart of Thomas Anson.
Though he was principally a botanist, Stillingfleet was also a musician, a performer, amateur composer and theorist. While touring Europe, during which he wrote some of the first descriptions of the Alps to reflect the new enthusiasm for landscape, he organised amateur performances with his travelling companions, providing the music himself. William Coxe, who edited Stillingfleet’s works, wrote that after returning to England he
…increased his knowledge and love of music. In the midst of his botanical and classical pursuits, he dedicated a part of his time to the practice of this delightful art, being a tolerable proficient on the Violencello.
(Kay Gilliland Stevenson and Margaret Seares, Paradise Lost in Short: Smith, Stillingfleet, and the Transformation of Epic, Associated University Press, 1998)
Though he published no music of his own he did write librettos for other composers, largely unused, though he had an artistic success in 1760 with an adaptation of Paradise Lost for John Christopher Smith, who had been Handel’s amanuensis.
In his later years Stillingfleet turned his attentions back to music with his “Principles and Power of Harmony” published anonymously in 1771. This which was based on a translation of Guiseppe Tartini’s “Trattato di musica”, originally published in Padua in 1754. The “Trattato” was a scientific study of the mathematical basis of harmony and Stillingfleet’s own commentary attempted to explain Tartini’s theories, which tended to waver into the strange and mystical. The book was well received by the leading musical historian of the time, Dr Burney.. He wrote of the book, published anonymously:
…it was written by no half scholar or shallow musician; but one possessed of all the requisites for such a task.
Mrs Montagu wrote to Stillinhgfleet praising his “Principles and Powers of Harmony” in words which were too obviously based on Dr Burney’s review. Stillingfleet replied on 24th October 1771:
…had the encomiums on my late book been the results of your own opinion i should have been apt to think that partiality had biassed your judgment; but the testimonies you use leave me no room to entertain such a suspicion.
As the authors of “Paradise Lost in short” point out, he almost immediately changes the subject and goes on to discuss a mutual friend’s bilious complaint. He was also a friend, presumably through Anson, of James Stuart, who mentions him several times in his letters, in one, in 1764, trying to persuade him to visit Shugborough, presumably for his health. Stillingfleet was at Shugborough for two months or more in 1769, a few months after the first known concert at Anson’s new house, 15 St James Square. Was Mr Kammell there at the same time? Stillingfleet could have accompanied the violinist on his cello.
Tartini, as translated by Stillingfleet, believes that the simplest music can be the most effective:
“Every nation,” he adds, “has its popular songs, many of which are of antient tradition, many newly composed, and adopted by common consent. In general, they are extremely simple; nay, the most simple are generally the greatest favourites……That the people listen with greater pleasure to one of these songs, than to the most exquisite song modulated through all the maze of harmony, is an observation as easy to make, as it is significant when verified…Nature has more power than Art.”
(Benjamin Stillingfleet, The Principles and Powers of Harmony, 1771)
Stillingfleet, who reveals his high regard for Ancient Greece at every opportunity, adds that the lost music of Greece was believed to be simple and
uncommonly touching, and capable of producing any effect almost within the limits of possibility.
And that the expressive style of Italian opera was in the same spirit:
Those feelings of nature, which, as Tartini observes, are and must be common to us and the Greeks, have of late years put the Italian masters upon working the parts less in their opera music; and have produced those thrumming bases, as they are called by our harmonists, by way of ridicule.
The expressive power of Ancient Greek music was legendary, and musicians had been trying to recreate its effects for centuries, most successfully in the Renaissance, when such ambitions inspired the development of the baroque style, with harmonic accompaniments to dramatic vocal parts – the beginning of opera. The power of such music depended on the Platonic (or, much older, Pythagorean) belief in Harmony as the inherent law in all Nature.
This ideal was best achieved through simplicity, like folk songs, rather than the complexities of polyphony, fugue and such intellectual devices:
I believe most men, if they dared to speak their own feelings, would talk the language of Tartini; but the dread of being thought to have a vulgar taste, puts them under restraints, and makes them undergo the fatigue of silently listening, with a dozing kind of attention, as if they were well bred, and ashamed to interrupt others, to what they are told is fine ; but which they cannot, with all their endeavours, be brought to think agreeable ; whereas, many of our old simple songs steal our affections, in spite of all our prejudices, and even when we are almost ashamed to be touched by such low and vulgar things ; but high-bred taste, like high-born pride, is sometimes forced to listen to the humble dictates of Nature, and enjoy a pleasure it does not openly avow.
Though Stillingfleet is expressing a traditional view his book is an important contribution to the literature of the small circle of people who make up the intellectual Platonic Revival behind the more visible Greek Revival.
The other musical legatee in Thomas Anson’s will, Anton Kammell, had been a pupil of Tartini.
Kammell was born in Belec, Central Bohemia in 1730. His father was a forester and it was as an agent selling wood for ship’s masts supplied by his employer Count Vincent Ferrerus Waldstein that he came to England in 1765. It seems likely that his real motive was to launch his musical career. His mast business was a disaster; the masts were not big enough to match the British navy standards, but his letters to Waldstein show that his career was successful, though unfortunately affected by ill health.
(Unless otherwise credited, information about and quotations from Kammell are from Freemanova and Mikanov, op. cit.)
Kammell had studied philosophy and law in Bohemia before becoming a student of Tartini, the leading violin teacher of the day, in Padua. Tartini had written the basis of Benjamin Stillingfleet’s last publication, and he had also been the teacher of Maddelena Lombardini, another of the musicians who played at 15 St James’ Square.
Kammell’s letters, written in a mixture of languages including English, give the impression of a rather vain man, very concerned indeed that his art should be well rewarded, but his education suggests that he may have been a person of very wide knowledge and interests.
He arrived in London in March 1765, writing to Count Waldstein that it was the largest town he had ever seen and that “one even feels like entering some other world”. Kammell travelled from The Hague with the Italian cellist and composer Francesco Zappa, then working for Lord Buckingham. 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.
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.
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.”
A few months later, in August, Kammel was developing his wardrobe:
….just in the last 8 days I have paid in London 87 guineas to the tailor, shoemaker and other people…here a virtuoso must be very clean, concerning his clothes and everything.
Kammell’s letters talk a great deal about his earnings and expenditure. A leading musician could earn a lot of money but depended entirely on his own skill and on making the right connections. As he wrote in July 1766:
I made much money here already through my old violin, (and) also lost a lot of it, as I must pay for everything very dearly…
Fortunately, he immediately made the acquaintance of Johann Christian Bach, the leading figure in music in London after the death of Handel in 1759, a music teacher to the Queen, and the promoter, with Carl Frederick Abel, of the most important series of public concerts. Bach must have recognised Kammel as a violinist of high quality.
On April 10th 1770 James Harris attended a private concert at Sir Robert Throckmorton’s which was led by Johann Christian Bach accompanied by Abel (on the viola da gamba, his principal solo instrument for which he composed many pieces, or on the cello), Johann Fischer on oboe (the busiest and best oboist in London) and Kammel on violin.
(Burrows and Dunhill op. cit.)
This suggests that Bach thought KammelL a worthy and reliable performer and Bach seems to have regularly employed him in his other performances, orchestral instrumental or operatic.
Kammel saw his music as a way of charming ladies especially:
When I play the Adagio one could hear the ladies sigh.
…young and old ladies and Misses…all of them in love, and I made them even more loving through my old violin.
(Freemanova and Mikonov, Op. Cit.)
This emotional effect of performing is very reminiscent of the performances of Count St Germain, at Jemima Grey’s, twenty years earlier, and is in keeping with the expressive style Tartini advocated.
Kammell is an attractive and interesting minor composer rather than a forgotten master, but his career sits at a time of change in musical style and fashion and he does have a claim to fame in the beginnings of classical style that has gone unnoticed.
His music is exclusively instrumental. He wrote solo sonatas for violin, duets, trios and quartets and some orchestral works, just two published violin concertos and two sets of overtures or symphonies. These would have been created for himself to perform and, presumably, also intended for his patrons, who received dedications, to play themselves.
Fortunately all of Kammell’s known music was published (there may be missing symphonies) and copies of most of his known works are accessible in the British Library, Library of Congress and in many other collections.
(For a biography of Kammell and a catalogue of his works see: https://andrewbakercomposer.com/home/writings/anton-kammell-a-bohemian-composer-in-18th-century-england/)
Kammell’s music is in the early classical, or rococo, style. It is melodious and elegant, recognisably in the same vein as earliest Mozart and Johann Christian Bach. It follows the ideals of simplicity and expression that Tartini taught.
The instrumental form that most clearly demonstrates the new classical style is the String Quartet. Baroque chamber music would be under-layed by the continuo bass, a bass line with harmony filled in by a keyboard instrument. The String quartet, of 2 violins, viola and cello, abandoned the keyboard’s harmonic infilling and began to make the four instruments more equal.
The string quartet was an ideal medium for private music making, but quite early on quartets did begin to be performed in public.
“Concert Life in Eighteenth-century Britain” by Susan Wollenberg and Simon McVeigh, analyses public performances of string quartets in London. The authors write that “the date of the first known performance of a string quartet on the London concert stage was 27th April 1769”. Their table of performances by date reveals that this was, in fact, a quartet by Kammell.
(Susan Wollenberg and Simon McVeigh, Concert Life in Eighteenth-century Britain, Ashgate, 2004)
He was very much in the forefront, as the next quartet listed is one by Pugnani in 1773. Quartets by Haydn, the greatest developer of the form, were not performed in public in London until 1778. “String Quartets: A Research and Information Guide” by Mara Parker (2005) has an entry for Kammel, referring to a 1981 article in “Haydn studies” by Zdenka Pilkova, which supports the suggestion that his significance may have been underestimated or overlooked:
Antonin Kammel, a Bohemian contemporary of Haydn who contributed to the formation of the classical style, has largely been ignored. The works of Haydn and Kammel from the 1760s and 1770s share many common stylistic and structural features. At times Kammel’s works were known under Haydn’s name.
(Mara Parker, String Quartets: A Research and Information Guide, Routledge, 2005)
The 1769 performance would have been of one of the set of six quartets published in 1770 as Op. 4. Two other sets of six quartets followed in 1774 and 1775.
Though Kammell may not have been as important a figure in his art as James Stuart was in his, he was, like most of Thomas Anson’s friends, at the cutting edge of new style and ideas, though his works straddle both classical and baroque style, with several still retaining the baroque “Thorough bass”. It is worth remembering that Thomas Anson was in his seventies at the time his new house was ready for music and it is remarkable that he was still interested in the very latest ideas, in art and science, right until his death in 1773.
The Quartets op. 4 are dedicated to George Pitt, Esq.
George Pitt (1721-1803) was MP for Dorset and, from 1776. Baron Rivers of Stratfieldsaye, the house that later became the home of the Duke of Wellington.
Kammel’s address in 1769, given on one of his concert advertisements, was “at George Pitt Esqr In Half-Moon Street Piccadilly” and his will in 1778 also gives his address as Half Moon Street. By then Kammell is listed as the rate payer for the house. Pitt was certainly his longest serving supporter, even in later years when Kammell’s career had been seriously affected by illness. The composer had even written to Count Waldstein, hoping that Lord Rivers would travel with him to Carlsbad where he could meet his old employer.
The fragmentary evidence suggests that Pitt was heavily involved with music. He was briefly a director of the Italian Opera in the King’s Theatre for the 1770-1 season, even though at this time he had been appointed ambassador-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary to Madrid. It seems to have been quite common for ambassadors never to visit the places in which they were supposed to act as representatives of their country. His period of involvement with the opera may have included the J C Bach version of Gluck’s Orfeo.
Benjamin Stillingfleet, who spent much of his time living in his friend’s houses, stayed with both George Pitt and Thomas Anson in 1769. Letters from James “Athenian” Stuart to Thomas Anson mention that he had been wondering where Stillingfleet was and had discovered he was at Shugborough.
Stillingfleet wrote to Thomas Pennant, another botanist and nephew of Thomas Anson’s old friend James Mytton, on 20th October 1769, mentioning that he had been staying in Berkshire, and then Dorset before coming to Shugborough. He wrote:
…as you are so kind a to inquire after my health I must inform you that it is rather better than of late, and that I did look after plants while in Dorsetshire something more than I have done for years. I was moved to this by Mr Pitt’s curiosity in relation to the subject and by the fine weather which suffered me to be a good deal out of doors.
(Warwickshire Archives. CR 2017/ TP 367/14)
It is reasonable to assume that he had been staying with George Pitt at Stratfield Saye, which is in Berkshire, close to the border of Hampshire. Stillingfleet was always short of money (hence his supposed blue worsted stockings rather than black silk) and spent a lot of time in the houses of his friends. He was at Shugborough for at least two months that year.
Kammell was also at Stratfield Saye that winter. The birth of a daughter, Lucy was registered at the nearby Hartley Wespall on December 11th and she was christened at Stratfield Saye on 31st December 1769, suggesting that Kammel and his wife were staying there over Christmas and New Year and that she had been born at Pitt’s house. Lucy did not survive long enough to be mentioned in his will.
Anton Kammell dedicated his next work, 6 duets for two violins op. 5 to Thomas Anson Eq.
The date of composition is unknown, but the date of publication is almost certainly 1770, as the edition gives Kammell’s address as Half Moon Street, where he appears to have moved that year. This would suggest that the duets were written some time earlier. This would tie in very well with the date of the first known concert at Thomas Anson’s new house, 15 St James Square. This may well have been the beginning of Kammell’s connection with Anson.
Lady Shelburne, the wife of the Prime Minister William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, described a lavish event at 15 St James Square in April 1769 (not 1768 as given wrongly on the English Heritage website and elsewhere – the Harris papers and contemporary references confirm the date):
Thursday Morning, April 13th. We breakfasted at Mr. Anson’s, who gave a breakfast and concert to Mrs. Montagu, to which she very obligingly invited us. We called upon her and went together, and saw a very fine house, built and ornamented by Mr. Stuart. The company were Count Bruhl, Lord Egremont, Mr. and Mrs. Harris and their daughter, Mrs. Vesey, Mrs. Dunbar, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Scott, a M. de Vibre, M. de Maltête a President de Parlement, who came over expressly to see a Riot, but was deterred from going to Brentford by the French Ambassador, and condemned to pass this memorable morning in the calmer scene of Mr. Anson’s house and entertainment.
The riot mentioned was over the political scandals of seditious MP John Wilkes.
This may have been a kind of house warming. The house had been completed in 1766, but Stuart was a slow worker and it may be that it was only then, in April 1769, that the house was fully decorated and ready to be shown off.
Mrs Montagu was not only the leading light of the Bluestocking circle but also another important patron of James Stuart. She had commissioned him to decorate her house at 23 Hill Street, which already had Chinoiserie rooms by Robert Adam, in 1765. In 1767 she wrote that Stuart had painted “some of the sweetest Zephirs and Zephirettes in my bedchamber that ever I beheld’. Stuart was a notoriously slow worker and still at work at Hill Street in 1772.
Though this event was in Mrs Montagu’s honour, and there would have been other guests, not known to Lady Shelburne, it is delightful to know that, on this occasion, several key figures of this story come together.
Kammell would have been leading the orchestra. Such an event, showing off Stuart’s work, could hardly have happened without the presence of James “Athenian” Stuart himself. Also present was Elizabeth Carter, given the courtesy title of “Mrs”, though unmarried, by this time the famous translator of Epictetus and a key figure, with Mrs Montagu and Mrs Vesey, amongst the bluestockings. No doubt Benjamin Stillingfleet would have been there – not a man to miss a free meal. And there also were the philosopher musician James Harris and his family.
A few weeks later, after the London season had ended and everyone had escaped to the country, John Parnell enjoyed music at Shugborough in May or June 1769. He wrote in his journal:
There has been this day, Thursday, a most agreeable meeting of the neighbouring gentry, Snead Clifford, Piggot etc who all play or sing and dance together here afterwards and have music again on the evening…
(Transcription of extracts from John Parnell’s Journal in the William Salt Library, Stafford.)
This seems to have been a whole day of music making with Sneyds, Cliffords and Bagots. This suggests that music was a very important part of life at Shugborough as well as at St James’ Square. This would have been only a month or two after the public performance of Kammell’s quartet. Could Kammel have been one of the musicians that Parnell heard? It is perfectly possible that Kammel had accompanied Thomas on his journey back to the country at the end of London season.
The 1772 poem by Bagot, quoted at the start of this chapter, implies that “Athenian” Stuart, “Indian” Orme, and Kammell were all familiar visitors to Shugborough in the summer. It is an attractive possibility, if nothing more definite, that the music making in 1769 was a product of the first of a series of summer holidays with his patron, Thomas Anson, for Kammell.
James Harris and his family had been at the concert for Mrs Montagu. The Harris family archive is a rich source of information on the musical life of the 18th century, including the music at St James’ Square.
Louisa Harris wrote to her brother James Harris Jnr (original in French) on 13thApril 1769 the day of the Breakfast concert for Mrs Montagu:
Today my father, mother and Gertrude are all at a concert at Mr Anson’s, and this evening Gertrude is to go to Almacks with lady Mar Hume, but as far me, having neither a ticket for Almack’s nor an invitation to Mr Anson’s concert I am spending my time pleasantly writing to you.
(Burrows and Dunhill, Op. Cit.)
(Almacks was the location of J C Bach’s concerts.)
On 18th April 1769 James Harris wrote to James Harris Jnr:
Lord Spencer’s and Mr Anson’s houses by Stuart, Lord Shelburne’s by Adams are models of Grecian taste, not unworthy of the age of Pericles.
(Burrows and Dunhill, Op. Cit.)
The Harris correspondence includes references to at least five different concerts at St James Square. The first is the breakfast and concert for Mrs Montagu in April 1769, the others mentioned were in March and April 1772 and two in March 1773 only a few weeks before the 78 year old Thomas Anson died.
It is reasonable to deduce that Anson’s concerts took place at the end of the season, in early Spring, and that the pattern was the same in each year between 1769 and 1773.
On the 27th March 1772 Elizabeth Harris wrote to James Harris Jnr:
Yesterday morning we were all at that most elegant house of Mr Anson’s to a breakfast and concert after, ever thing suited the elegance of the house. When breakfast was ended the room were open for people to walk about and admire – after that the concert, for which he had collected the best hands in town – Madame Sirman, Grasi, Fischer, Crosdale, Ponto, Kamell etc. Got home in time enough to snap a short dinner before the opera.
(Burrows and Dunhill, Op. Cit.)
These names are indeed the leading musicians of the moment – and note the “etc”.
Maddelena Lombardini Sirman was a Venetian violinist and composer who had recently arrived in London. Like Kammell she was a student of Tartini and an early composer of string quartets as well as concertos. Her quartets are small scale but particularly expressive. She had an important connection with Tartini as he wrote her a long letter or essay on the art of violin playing, which was published and translated into English by Dr Charles Burney. It is intriguing that Kammell, Sirmen and Benjamin Stillingfleet each had connections with Tartini and his literary or theoretical work.
Madame Grassi was one of the leading singers, later married to Johann Christian Bach. Johann Fischer, Giovanni Punto and John Crosdill were the leading oboist, horn player and cellist of the period.
These musicians were regular colleagues of Johann Christian Bach. James Harris heard a concert by Madame Grassi, Johann Christian Bach on keyboard, Fischer, Punto, Crosdill and Kammell together at the Blandford Races in July 1773. The races were managed by George Pitt’s son.
Elizabeth Harris mentions no keyboard player in her letter, but there is likely to have been one amongst the “etc”. Could J C Bach have been there? Surely, she would have mentioned him, unless he was so ubiquitous it would seem unnecessary – and yet all these other performers were of Bach’s close circle – his favoured virtuosi.
What music would this very starry group have been playing at 15 St James Square on 27th March 1772?
Madame Sirmen, though she later had a career as a singer, would have been a guest artist and she may have been able to perform one of her own new concertos, published in 1772, with a reduced orchestral accompaniment. There may have been instrumental pieces by Kammell – or by Bach – but the presence of Madame Grassi suggests that the concert would have primarily been of vocal music.
Though it is only speculation it is possible, and an almost irresistible guess, that the concert on 27th March would have featured extracts from J C Bach’s new serenata (a short, and light hearted opera) “Endimione”.
“Endimione” is a beautiful work and something of a forgotten masterpiece – though that could be said of many of J C Bach’s works. Bach had presented his adaptation of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” in 1770 and this new work of 1772 may be seen as a reaction to Gluck’s influence, as a simply structured mythological story. Fortunately, this delightful serenata has been published and recorded, conducted by Bruno Weil who calls it “a wonderful work, so full of humour it could almost be a comedy” and “the music is so damn good”, and it could be mistaken for early Mozart.
(Insert notes for Endimione, by Johann Christian Bach. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77525 2, 1999)
The first performance of “Endimione” was at the King’s Theatre (Burrows and Dunhill say the Little Theatre at the Haymarket, the concert advertisement says “The Theatre Royal”) on April 6th 1772, only a week after Thomas Anson’s concert. The work features several arias with solo instruments accompanying. The first performance was for the benefit of flautist J B Wendling, but the original advertisement mentions that Mr Fisher (Johann Fischer) and Mr Ponta (Giovanni Punto) as well as Mr Wendling would accompany songs.
Was Thomas’s concert a preview of part of “Endimione”? There is a mystery about why Bach wrote such a work at this time. Who commissioned it? Was there a connection with George Pitt, though his involvement with the King’s Theatre seems to have ended a year earlier? Even more wild but delightful speculation might suggest that Thomas Anson might have played a part in the Serenata’s commission.
At the very least it is a work that can be enjoyed as a perfect example of the kind of music that belongs to the same world as 15 St James Square and the Greek Revival.
On 14th April 1772 Elizabeth Harris writes:
To morrow no music; Thursday again at Mr Ansons.
(Burrows and Dunhill, op. cit.)
Curiously, James Boswell’s correspondence reveals that Boswell met Thomas Anson on this same day at Mrs Montagu’s.
The evening was in honour of Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli (1725-1807), a Corsican patriot and leader. Lord Lyttelton was also there, as well as the Archbishop of York. Boswell had a long-standing interest in Corsica and Paoli. Boswell’s book about Corsica, “An Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that Island”, mentions Thomas Anson’s “muffoli” or Corsican sheep. According to Boswell, Anson’s estate showed
a rich assemblage of what is curious in nature as well as elegant in art.
(James Boswell, ed. By James T Boulton, An Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that Island, and memoirs of Pascal Paoli, OUP 2006)
Boswell does not seem to have met Anson before 1772, but had been told about the muffoli by John Dick, Thomas Anson’s agent for his classical purchases. Dick had sent the muffoli to Anson himself. In a deleted passage Boswell wrote that Anson kept one muffoli
as a Pet and was very fond of, for it was very diverting.
Curiously, Dr Johnson does seem to have visited Shugborough in the 1760s, as he wrote a satirical Latin epitaph on the Tower of the Winds. Boswell criticised Johnson for being rude about his host, whom he took to be Admiral Anson. This is hard to explain according to the dating of the monument. Boswell’s confusion possibly supports the supposition that he had not met Thomas before this 1772 dinner.
Only ten days after the Thursday concert that Elizabeth Harris planned to attend Sir William Bagot wrote his poem welcoming Anson, Stuart, Kammel and Orme to Shugborough. Considering the relative modesty of the house at that time this must have been the whole of the house party, and they should be considered a close circle of friends.
The concerts continued in the 1773 season, until within a week of Thomas’s death.
On June 23rd Anton Kammell wrote to Count Waldstein:
My dear good old friend Mr Anson, the brother of the Admiral who defeated so much the Spaniards, died two months ago. I do not like to lose good friends, his death contributed a lot towards my illness, in his testament he left me 50 gineas yearly for the time of my life, my friend George Pitt, when he saw me so distressed after Anson’s death, he also gave me by the law 50 gineas yearly, now I have 100 gineas yearly to spend as I wish.
(Freemanova and Mikanova op. cit).
It may be significant that Kammell published a burst of works after Anson’s death, the publications all dated by Grove’s Dictionary to c1775. Kammell had appealed to Count Waldstein for funds to publish his early trios. In those days publication was at the expense of the composer.
Could it be that Kammell’s income left to him by Thomas Anson, and doubled by George Pitt, was used to finance the publication of these works?
Six quartets Op. 7 were dedicated to Countess Spencer.
Thomas Anson could well be the link between Kammell and the Countess. Lady Spencer was another important patron of James Athenian Stuart, who had worked on lavish interiors for Spencer House before he had built 15 St James Square. There was, and is, a music room at Spencer House where this music might well have been heard.
Six “solos” (sonatas for violin, with figured bass) were dedicated to Richard Ottley Esq.
Three of Kammell’s works were dedicated members of the Young and Ottley family. Sir William Young (1724/5- 1788), governor of Dominica. There is a portrait of the family by Zoffany in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool from about this date which shows Sir William playing cello and the others singing and playing instruments. Sir William and Lady Young held private concerts in London. They were friends of James Harris, who attended seven of their concerts in 1770. Lady Young was the dedicatee of Kammell’s Notturnos, Op. 6. Her daughter became the second wife of Richard Ottley (1730-1775) was a rich Tobago plantation owner who lived in Argyll St.
The Op. 9 set of six sonatas, described as being for piano, harpsichord or harp, with accompaniment of violin and cello, were dedicated to “Miss Ottley”, Elizabeth Ottley, Richard Ottley’s daughter by his first marriage.
Six overtures Op.10 were dedicated to the Duke of Devonshire
The Duke of Devonshire is the grandest of Kammell’s dedicatees, and is the last of them who can be connected to the artistic world of St James. The Duke had married Georgiana Spencer, the daughter of Countess Spencer, on 7th June 1774, so this might be well the occasion of this grand dedication. The overtures, in effect, symphonies, are the only ones Kammell published, and were probably written some years earlier, as such pieces for full orchestra were traditionally performed at the start of concerts. Most of Kammell’s publications were aimed at the growing market for domestic, mainly amateur, music making, and there would be far less demand for works that required a full orchestra.
Op. 9 is intriguing. Thomas Pennant reported that he saw Thomas Anson
about thirty hours before his death, listening calmly to the melody of the harp.
By the mid-1770s Kammell was in serious financial difficulties, losing money in a banking disaster, and investing a great deal in American land, which would be was unfortunate in the years leading up to 1776. His later career would be blighted by rheumatic illness, which took away the use of his hands and feet. Bach and George Pitt supported him throughout his later years. He died on 5th October 1784, though his place of death and burial are a mystery. He was survived by his wife, a penniless beauty apparently, not the rich woman he once told Count Waldstein he would marry, and several children.