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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2013

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Communications: Conferences
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

A number of common strands ran through this year's conference on music in eighteenth-century Britain: the role and participation of women in music, music at Covent Garden Theatre, and one of the most unusual of instruments – the piano-forte guittar. Proceedings started with a paper by Jenny Nex (Royal College of Music) concerning the business of making English guitars in late eighteenth-century London, and in particular the work of Charles Pinto. Pinto was one of a number of manufacturers working in London at this period; the activities of this small- to medium-sized type of business are often neglected. An inventory made of Pinto's premises in Johnsons Court after his death in 1792 casts extensive light on the sort and scope of the activities he undertook, and presents a fascinating picture of a house with musical instruments and the tools of the trade scattered in every room. His activities were compared, using further archival material, to those of other manufacturers active in London at the time in order to elucidate their different manners of working, indicating that other businesses may have had small workshops attached or specific portions of the house set aside for manufacture.

One of the instruments Pinto produced was the distinctly odd-looking piano-forte guittar, a type of English instrument in which a mechanism including keys (sometimes placed in a box on top, sometimes integrated into the body of the guitar itself) allowed hammers to strike the strings through the central rose. The piano-forte guittar enjoyed a brief vogue at the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth, and was designed principally as an instrument that was easy and elegant to play, targeting a female market. Daniel Wheeldon (London Metropolitan University) elaborated on the battle for the patents for this instrument, conducted between Christian Clauss and Longman & Broderip. Clauss (who also produced tutors for the instrument) won with a mechanism that was more basic and less elegant than that of Longman & Broderip, but cheaper to make. Detailed pictures of extant instruments and a reconstruction of the mechanism accompanied the explanation of the workings of this short-lived but popular instrument.

These were the sorts of instruments sold by Benjamin Milgrove, the musical ‘toyman’ of Bath. Toy-shop owners sold a wide variety of goods, including musical instruments, and Milgrove's shop in fashionable Bond Street catered for the ladies and gentlemen of the town. Matthew Spring (Bath Spa University) examined Milgrove's career in detail, to demonstrate the many activities a musician had to undertake to earn a decent living. Trained as a musical-instrument maker, Milgrove was also active as a French horn player and as a violinist, working with William Herschel and others in garden concerts in the town. He also held an organist's post, taught singing, the English guittar and keyboards, and was well known for his compositions, including psalm tunes that are still sung today. All in all, he contrived to live a comfortable and prosperous life, no mean feat for a provincial musician in an uncertain and insecure profession.

Douglas MacMillan (Royal College of Music) moved into totally different territory, examining the music written for the small or sixth flute (the recorder) in the first thirty years of the eighteenth century. This particularly English genre, not found in Europe, was mainly for theatrical use, where the small flute was favoured as a solo instrument in concertos, principally for music heard during the intervals. Works by William Babell, John Baston, Charles Dieupart, Giuseppe Sammartini and Robert Woodcock still survive; while some of these are of better quality than others, they are particularly interesting from the point of view of orchestration, in view of the issues of balance and audibility with such a relatively quiet instrument.

The theatrical connection was continued in the first paper of the afternoon. Neil Jenkins (University of Cambridge), author of a new biography of the English bass singer John Beard, talked about a neglected period in the life of Covent Garden Theatre. The years in the 1760s between the death of John Rich and the arrival of Brinsley Sheridan are generally considered to be fallow ones, in which nothing much of interest occurred at the theatre – a marking of time between two more significant eras. However, this was precisely the time during which Beard, Rich's son-in-law, was associated with the theatre, and marked a new direction in productions there; Beard undertook to make the theatre famous for musical entertainments and the home of a new English opera. Amongst the works he put on were some of Thomas Arne's most famous compositions: his setting of Comus, the afterpiece Thomas and Sally and the more substantial Artaxerxes.

Such was Beard's success that it contributed to the decision of David Garrick at Drury Lane to leave London for a sabbatical in Europe. Garrick had been the impetus behind the composition of William Boyce's Dirge for Romeo and Juliet in 1750. Drury Lane and Covent Garden had mounted rival productions of Shakespeare's play; in an effort to outsmart his competitor, Garrick inserted an extra scene into the funeral at the end of the play with words of his own composition. This scene proved enormously popular and was set to music by a number of composers, including Arne and Avison. Boyce's version of the dirge has long been the subject of controversy; Sofia Botsfari (Goldsmiths, University of London) explained the problems of identifying the various manuscripts and compiling a definitive edition.

Returning to the subject of Covent Garden, Paul Rice (Memorial University of Newfoundland) examined the vicissitudes of William Shield's operatic farce Hartford Bridge, Or, The Skirts of the Camp. This was performed at Covent Garden in November 1792, at a time of political turmoil in Europe. The theatres in London were eager to present productions that reflected the troubles in France, but the Lord Chamberlain's office, anxious to avoid the possibility of the unrest spreading to Britain, forbade all political references. This paper examined the ways in which William Pierce, the librettist for the farce, contrived to thwart John Larpent, the Examiner of Plays, by producing a romantic comedy which was also a clever analogue of Britain's precarious political situation. Shield supplemented this with music that established a military atmosphere, underlining the political allusions.

The final paper of the day returned to the theme of the role of women in eighteenth-century British music-making. Corrina Connor (Birkbeck College, University of London) examined attitudes to music in the Bluestocking circle of Elizabeth Montague and in other contemporary groups such as Hester Thrale's salon at Streatham, looking at the moral role played by music in female intellectual groups. Some well-known women of this period, such as Fanny Burney, made their living through cultural activities, but music was not considered to be ‘polite’; female performers such as Louisa Gautherot, the violinist, were considered to be compromising their femininity, being described as ‘too masculine’. The societies of women seem to have been valued as forums for discussion and debate in the intellectual study of music, rather than as opportunities to learn and to play musical instruments.

Notice was also given concerning events planned at Hampton Court Palace for 2014 – the celebration of the succession of George I. Between 1716 and 1720, in an effort to court popularity with his new subjects and to eclipse the popularity of his son and heir, George held summer concerts and dinners at the Palace; an appeal was made for information on these events, as part of an attempt to re-evaluate the cultural impact of George I (information to <>). A new series of books was also announced; The Italian Opera Aria on the London Stage 1705–1801 is to be accompanied by a database (at present in development) hosted by the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford and headed by Michael Burden. The books and database aim to provide comprehensive details of all arias performed in London during this period, including performers, librettos, sources and performance history, and will also provide indices of authors, singers, printers and other associated professionals in the theatres.