I first came across the 18th century composer and violinist Anton Kammell in 1983. I was investigating Thomas Anson, the developer of Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire – a landscape, which was, in his time, decorated with a mixture of exotic, mysterious, and authentically classical monuments. Anson seems to have gone out of his way to avoid leaving any evidence of his private life. Almost no personal documents have survived in the Staffordshire Archives. One very revealing relic is a poem by his friend Sir William Bagot, dated 25th April 1772. This was sent from Staffordshire to Thomas Anson in London just before Easter, when the London season ended and those who were able to escaped the city for the country. Bagot exhorts Anson to bring his closest friends with him when he returns to his country estate:
“Bring Attic Stuart, Indian Orme,
Kammell unruffled by a storm
Shall tune his softest strain…”
“Attic Stuart” was James “Athenian” Stuart, the architect who had built Thomas Anson’s London House at 15 St James Square, extended the house at Shugborough, and designed the various authentically Greek monuments in the landscape. “Indian Orme” was Robert Orme, historian of the East India Company. In 1983 I failed to identify “Kammell”, though I was intrigued that he was obviously a musician – someone who would “tune his softest strain” – simply because I misread the name as “Hammell.” It never struck me that the first letter could be a K.
It was not until 2007 that I realised my mistake. I finally found myself looking at a copy of Anson’s will, dated February 1771. There was the name – one of only six friends mentioned, and one of four who were to be left an annuity, an annual payment from the estate of, in Kammell’s case, £50. This would be worth between £7000 and £8000 today. These six people must have been the closest friends of Thomas Anson’s old age. The other three who were to receive annuities were Mr Stuart, the architect, Mr Stillingfleet, the botanist and musician Benjamin Stillingfleet, who died, himself, later in 1771, and Mr Kent, who was Nathaniel Kent, who managed Anson’s estates in Norfolk and who was an important agricultural reformer. Robert Orme was to receive a single payment of £500 and Sir William Bagot was to have Anson’s collection of medals.
From this will I knew that these very interesting and creative people were the intimate circle of Thomas Anson. The poem, which I had first seen 24 years earlier, showed not only that Kammell, Stuart and Orme were friends but, very significantly, they were expected at Shugborough for the summer, and that they were familiar visitors. Sir William Bagot, writing from Blithfield Hall, was looking forward to hearing Kammell’s “softest strain” with the voice of his daughter, Louisa, who
With notes like his to tune her voice.”
Stuart had been a regular visitor to Shugborough since the mid-1750s. Though I am building a story on very small scraps of evidence I see Kammell as another regular visitor, one of the Spring and Summer country house party. It would have been a small and intimate one. At that time Shugborough was more of a gentleman’s country villa than a stately home.
Even seeing the name on the will was not enough to confirm that it was “Kammell” rather than “Hammell.” Fortunately, another document, stored with the will and other papers relating to Anson’s death, confirmed that the first letter of the name was a K and not an H. This was a list of people who would receive mourning rings in memory of Thomas Anson. This was a common tradition in the 18th century. The rings would be inscribed with the name and date of death and be given to the family and closest friends. Fortunately, the list included the name “Admiral Keppel” which was a familiar name to me. It was only this that enabled me to be sure that this musician, friend, and recipient of a generous annuity and a pink enamel mourning ring, was named Kammell and not Hammell.
By the end of that same day, thanks to the internet, I knew who Anton Kammell was and I had found that Michaela Freemanova had published an article on his letters in 2003. Within a matter of hours I had an email from Michaela confirming that Thomas Anson was one of Kammell’s most important patrons. Incredibly, Michaela Freemanova in Prague was the only person I had come across who had ever showed any sign of having read Thomas Anson’s will, surely an essential document for anyone researching the history of Shugborough,
As a composer of a kind myself this discovery was very exciting. Thomas Anson has emerged as an important, though almost invisible, patron of the arts, especially as a promoter of the Greek Revival, the rediscovery of authentically Greek design, supported by a rediscovery of Greek philosophy. I now knew that his support for the arts included music.
If I had read Kammell’s name correctly in 1983, I would have found it very difficult to learn much more, even though I was librarian of a very large music library at the time. There is very little information even now, but Kammell’s own letters home, published in English in two articles by Michaela Freemanova in 2001 and 2003, bring the man to life – as an attractive, amusing and possibly slightly vain, personality. Those articles, which have very detailed footnotes, are the primary source for anyone looking into Kammell’s career in English.
As far as Thomas Anson’s musical life is concerned the other enormously important source was also only available from 2001 – Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill’s massive collection of extracts from diaries and letters of the family of James Harris of Salisbury. Harris was the philosopher of the Greek Revival, one of a very small circle which included Thomas Anson and James “Athenian Stuart”. He was also a friend of Handel, attender of vast numbers of concerts and Operas in London, and promoter of the music festival in Salisbury. Kammell played for several years as leader the festival orchestra.
For the past ten years I have arranged performances of Kammell’s music at Shugborough. I have heard violin sonatas, trios, string quartets and the set ofviolin duets Op. 5 which are dedicated to Thomas Anson. The published music is all aimed at the domestic audience. Other unpublished works are lost, frustratingly. No-one could claim that Kammell is an important composer, but his music is always very pleasant. It’s melodious and, the performers say, well written. It’s contemporary with early Mozart, and may sound similar in style, if not in sophistication. This is because the most important model for Kammell and Mozart was Johann Christian Bach, youngest son of J S Bach. “The London Bach” was the leading musician in London in the 1760s and 1770s. There is, though, an individual touch. Every now and a tune has something which sounds, to a British audience, slightly Scottish. Even though Kammell did visit Scotland this is not a “Scot’s snap”, a distinctive rhythm, but a hint of eastern European folk music.
It has been wonderful to perform his music at Shugborough, and to show that music has important a part in the life of such a place as architecture and art. Most excitingly, the performances have always been free, so that anyone of any age can enjoy the music. Mr Kammell would be delighted to know that small children have sat in the saloon at Shugborough, entranced by one of his string quartets, refusing to leave until they have heard some more.
In 2014 Sylva Simsova’s “Traces in the Sand” appeared, a short book on Kammell in England, which was published by the Dvorak Society. I was very pleased to be involved in the launch of this book, held at Shugborough, which included the performance of some of the string quartets. Sylva has researched Kammell’s career in England in great detail, particularly trying to find out more about his social circle and his family. After the book was published I contacted Sylva and over the last few years we have exchanged ideas and discoveries. She has very generously given me copies of her notes and she has encouraged me to investigate some very important unanswered questions. The final three chapters, on the end of Kammell’s life, his family, and a possible descendant of the composer, are all based on research and inspirations by Sylva Simsova.
I am not an academic, and I do not read Czech. I am not in a position to delve into every detail that might be uncovered by a student who has access to the archives and the publications that might be available in Prague. I would be very happy to help someone who was in position to do that. I certainly cannot produce an accurate catalogue of his works. That would need access to all the various editions printed in Europe. I know that some works that seem to be new in French editions are the same as works already published in England under different opus numbers. When we performed his trios Op. 9 we used an English copy of the keyboard part and French parts for the violin and cello. My only contribution to a future catalogue is the tracking down and performance of a very small and simple work that was unpublished and had been unknown.
Though I have not discovered previously unknown archives of personal information, such as letters and documents of other friends, I have been able to use on-line resources, such as ancestry.co.uk and the British Newspaper Archive to expand on the work of Sylva Simsova. This means that almost all the references to Kammell’s family and to many of the public concerts can be checked by anyone. The most important source of information is Kammell’s own letters, and I have had to use the translations in Michaela Freemanova’s articles. As far as possible I have checked all the passing references to people and events myself. The other resource, which also revealed to me Thomas Anson’s musical life, is the massive selection of material from the James Harris papers by Harris and Dunhill.
I also have to thank Nicola Schneider for allowing me to reproduce what I believe is the only surviving manuscript of a work written by Kammell in England.
This is certainly not an academic study. It is not a biography, as information is still too limited for that. It is simply my personal attempt to put the story of Kammell in England in the context of the times, places and people he knew.
A note about his name –
Kammell was originally Anton John Kammel. Though the name is sometimes spelled in all kinds of ways in letters and official documents it is usually written, in England, as “Kammell” and it would have been pronounced in the same way as “camel.” Some people heard it as “Kemmell”, which might reflect 18th century pronunciation.
Published music usually Italianises the name to “Antonio Kammell” – and one of his sons was called “George Antonio.”
In private life, though, he was Anthony John Kammell, and this would be how he was known by his wife.
There are references to sources in the text. The two articles by Freemanova and the volume by Burrows and Dunhill can be found online.
Michaela Freemanova and Eva MIkanova:
“My honourable Lord and Father…”: 18th-century English musical life through Bohemian eyes.
(Early Music, May 2003)
“A certain Mr. Nouelle…”: A Rutland Association for the Musician Anton Kammel.
(Rutland Record 21. Rutland Local History & Record Society, 2001)
BURROWS & DUNHILL
Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill
Music and Theatre in Handel’s World – the family papers of James Harris 1732-1780.
(Oxford University Press, 2002)
Traces in the Sand, the story of Anthony Kammel in 18th century England.
(The Dvorak Society, 2014)