Anglo-Irish Music from 1701 to 1741

From A History of Irish Music by William H. Grattan Flood

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Chapter XXIV....concluded

In 1734 Dublin possessed three theatres—Smock-alley, Aungier-street (Theatre Royal), and Rainsford-street; and high-class concerts were given in Crow-street Music Hall, the inaugural performance having taken place on November 30th, 1731. There were several amateur societies at this date, and in 1731 the Freemasons produced Addison's Cato in aid of their needy brethren. Smock-alley was re-opened (after being rebuilt) on Thursday, December 11th, 1735, and four days later Shakespeare's Henry IV. was given, with the usual "entertainments of music and dancing."[4]

Gavan Duffy writes:—"Addison [5] and Tickell, during their residence in Ireland, introduced the pastoral and romantic ballad into Anglo-Irish poetry. Some of the old English ballads were then making their way into favour; and imitating them was a favourite amusement among the exiled poets. Tickell's 'Leinster famed for Pretty Maids' was extremely popular in its day."

Matthew Concanon, an Anglo-Irishman, deserves notice as having re-arranged the ballad opera, The Jovial Crew, in 1731, but previously he had published a volume of "Miscellaneous Poems" (1724), many of which are to be found set to music in the Musical Miscellany.

Dean Swift deserves mention, too, as a versifier, especially for his "O'Rourke's Noble Feast," and for his efforts to support Gay, the writer of the Beggar's Opera. Though not musical, he patronised the St. Cecilia celebrations, and befriended several of the vicars choral.

In 1737 Rainsford-street Theatre collapsed, yet Dublin was sufficiently catered for in the Theatre Royal (Aungier-street), and Smock-alley. It was on February 12th, 1737, that Peg Woffington first appeared as Ophelia at the Theatre Royal, Aungier-street, Hamlet being given for the benefit of Mercer's Hospital. There was dancing between the acts by Mr. William Delamain. On January 26th, 1738, Lampe's Dragon of Wantley was given—a most popular opera, which held the boards for a quarter of a century. The libretto was by an Anglo-Irishman, Henry Carey, who is best known for his adaptation of an old Irish folk song to "God Save the King," the English national anthem. So popular was the Dragon of Wantley in Dublin that several editions of it, with music, were published by Peter Wilson "at Gay's Head, in Dame-street."

In 1738 Geminiani came to Dublin on the invitation of his pupil, Dubourg, and opened an academy at Spring Gardens, a court at the lower end of Dame-street. He remained in the Irish metropolis for over three years, and left in September, 1741—returning to London.

Barsanti was in Dublin in September, 1740, and noted down some Irish airs.

It can truly be said that in 1741 Dublin was a most musical city. And yet, time and again, the statement has been made that Handel first caused a stir in matters musical. I have mentioned that all the ballad operas were heard in Dublin almost immediately after their production in London, whilst some of them got their first hearing in Dublin. A splendid revival of the Beggar's Opera was given in the Theatre Royal, Aungier-street, on December 15th, 1739, when Peg Woffington, no longer a Lilliputian, appeared as Polly Peachum, and sang her songs to the delight of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the Lord Chancellor, and a distinguished assembly. At the same theatre, on February 21st, 1740, a new ballad opera, The Sharpers, by a Dublin man, Matthew Gardiner, was produced for the first time, with much success, Peg Woffington reciting the epilogue.

The Right Hon. Luke Gardiner, P.C., who was Master of the Revels, patronised music, and was himself an amateur of known ability. In 1741 he appointed James Worsdale, the painter-dramatist, as Deputy Master of the Revels—the author of a successful ballad opera, A Cure for a Scold (1735), and a musical interlude, The Queen of Spain.

Of the five musical societies [6] that contributed their quota to art and social enjoyment in Dublin, in 1739, the Charitable and Musical Society was the most prominent. In 1740 Dean Swift requested the Sub-dean and Chapter "to punish such Vicars as should appear at the Club of the Fiddlers in Fishamble-street, as songsters, fiddlers, pipers, trumpeters, drum-majors, or in any social quality, according to the flagitious aggravation of their respective disobedience, rebellion, perfidy, and ingratitude;" and, in 1741, he issued a further manifesto as follows:—

"I require my sub-dean to proceed to the extremity of expulsion, if the said vicars [of St. Patrick's Cathedral] should be found ungovernable, impenitent, or self-sufficient, especially Taberner, Phipps, and Church, who, as I am informed, have, in violation of my sub-dean's and Chapter's order, in December last, at the instance of some obscure persons unknown, presumed to sing and fiddle at the club above mentioned."

In 1740, as appears from Faulkner's Journal (March 14-17, 1741) the Charitable MusicalSociety "released 188 miserable persons of both sexes" from the Marshalsea. So flourishing was this musical society that the members resolved to build a hall for their meetings and performances, and they engaged the services of Mr. Richard Castell to build a suitable "Musick Hall." Accordingly, on Friday, October 2nd, 1741, the "New Musick Hall" in Fishamble-street was opened under the presidency of Mr. Neale, with great éclat. It was named the "New" Music Hall in order to distinguish it from the Crow-street Music Hall, built by the Academy of Music (the Anacreontic Society) ten years previously, also known as Mr. Johnson's Hall.

The principal Dublin performers in 1741 were Messrs. Roseingrave, Clegg, Neale, Lee and the Mainwarings. This year is also memorable for the invention of the Musical Glasses by Richard Pockrich, a native of Co. Monaghan, who settled in Dublin in 1715, and established a brewery and distillery at Island-bridge. He was an excellent musical amateur, and was an unsuccessful candidate for the post of Master of the Choristers of Armagh Cathedral in 1742. But further details of his musical career are reserved for the next chapter.

END OF CHAPTER XXIV.

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[4] Thomas Amory, writing of the year 1735, refers to "the merry dancings we had at Mother Redcap's, in Back-lane; the hurling matches at Dolphin's Barn; and the cakes and ale we used to have at the Organ House on Arbour-hill."

[5] Lord Wharton (Viceroy) brought over Thomas Clayton to superintend performances at Dublin Castle of Addison's opera, Rosamund, in 1709.

[6] In 1733 a musical society was established at the "Hoop," on Cork-hill.