Anglo-Irish Music from 1701 to 1741

William H. Grattan Flood
Chapter XXIV

IN the first years of the eighteenth century it would seem that the "city music," or the Dublin Corporation city band, achieved no small share of admiration for their performances.[1] On several occasions between the years 1701 (when the statue of King William was formally inaugurated on July 1st) and 1740, the "city music" discoursed most pleasantly. However, the "State Music" or the Viceregal band was also much in evidence, and in 1710 John Sigismund Cousser was appointed master of the King's band in Dublin, being also made master of the choristers in Christ Church Cathedral. From 1710 till his death, in the winter of 1727, Cousser did much for modern music both in the Cathedral and in the State band. He had studied for six years at Paris under Lulli, and was afterwards Chapel Master at Wolfenbuttel, and at Stuttgart. Many of his operas were popular, especially Pyramus and Thisbe, and Jason, and one of the pieces which was printed during his seventeen years in Ireland—namely, a "Serenade" for the King's birthday (George I.) in 1724, was much above the ephemeral compositions of this kind.

The success of the Hibernian Catch Club led to the formation of other musical societies, and in 1705 the "Bull's Head Society"—so called because the meetings were held at the "Bull's Head" Tavern on the western side of Fishamble-street—was started. The members met every Friday evening, the subscription being an English crown. A regular programme was gone through, and the entertainment concluded with "catch singing, mutual friendship, and harmony," the series of musical performances for each year being regulated by a committee. Each year a dinner was given in December, and the society ended the season in May. Another society was formed about the year 1710 by Gregory Byrne, and the members were wont to assemble at the "Cross Keys" in Christ Church yard under the presidency of Patrick Beaghan. A few years later, this society removed to the "George" Tavern in Fishamble-street.

Gilbert writes as follows:—

“On Beaghan's death, in 1723, John Neale was chosen President of the 'Bull's Head Club,' which was then removed to the Bear Tavern in Christ Church Yard, where the members organised a plan for discharging the liabilities of confined debtors, and assumed the name of the Charitable and Musical Society. The number of members of the club rapidly increased after this period; and many noblemen and commoners of high rank having joined it, the Bear was found too incommodious for the meetings, which were thence transferred to the Bull's Head in 1725.”

The fame of Italian opera having spread to Dublin, Joseph Ashbury, Deputy Master of the Revels, invited over Nicolo Grimaldi Nicolini and his Italian opera company from the Haymarket, in March, 1711. Nicolini was the then greatest soprano in the world, and had achieved much popularity in London. Accordingly, he came over to Smock-alley Theatre at the end of March, and produced several plays, including Rinaldo, Camilla, and Pyrrhus and Demetrius—Nicolini singing in Italian, whilst all the other performers sang in English. The Italian singers captured the Dubliners from April to July of the year 1711, and a further impetus was given to musical art.

In connection with Italian opera it is gratifying to chronicle that the adaptation of Scarlatti's operas of Camilla and Pyrrhus and Demetrius was due to the Irish theatrical manager, Owen MacSweeny, who produced these works in London. He was manager of the Haymarket Theatre from 1706 to 1708, and died on October 2nd, 1754, leaving his large fortune to Peg Woffington.

At both cathedrals Daniel Roseingrave, a pupil of Henry Purcell and Dr. Blow, was Organist and Vicar Choral, and he did much to improve the musical services both at Christ Church and St. Patrick's. His son Ralph was appointed Organist of Trinity College Chapel in 1705, and was given a Vicar Choralship in St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1719, becoming assistant to his father in 1726. On his father's death, in 1727, he succeeded to both positions, which he held till 1747. His younger brother, Thomas, born in Dublin, showed such musical precocity that the Dean and Chapter of St. Patrick's, in 1710, sent him to Italy to study, where he was placed under Scarlatti, at Venice. Subsequently he settled in London, and was appointed the first organist of St. George's, Hanover-square, in 1725.

Following the fashion of London, a Dublin Academy of Music was founded in 1729, and in the following year the members built the Crow-street Music Hall "for the practice of Italian musick." In the list of subscribers to Handel's twelve grand concertos, published in 1739, is: "The Academy of Music at Dublin, two setts."

The Charitable Musical Society, also known as the Bull's Head Society, Fishamble-street, devoted their funds to the release of debtors in the Marshelsea. In the Dublin Evening Post, under date of December 16th, 1735, we read:—"Last week 55 poor prisoners were discharged out of the several gaols in the City and Liberties of Dublin by the Charitable Musical Society held at the Bull's Head in Fishamble-street, the year ending the 10th day of December, 1735."

In matters theatrical Dublin could give a lead to London, but it is not within the scope of this work to chronicle the fame of Irish dramatists and actors. At Smock-alley, Elrington produced all the London successes, whilst the first performances of many afterwards celebrated plays were given in Dublin. For instance, Charles Coffey's ballad opera, The Beggar's Wedding (dedicated to the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin), produced at Smock-alley in September, 1728, was enormously successful the following years in London. It abounded in old Irish tunes, and, when published, ran through four editions in a short time. Though now forgotten, many of the airs are still popular. Coffey was a Dublin man, and his after successes included: The Female Parson (1731), and The Devil to Pay (1731).[2]

Perhaps the strongest evidence of the musical tendencies of Dublin in the years 1701-1741 is the number of music shops and music publishers. For long it was believed that the Neales were the earliest music publishers in Dublin (in 1726), but it is absolutely certain that many musical works were printed by Brocas, Dobson, Hoey, Crampton, Risk, Powell, Rhames, and Wilson, during that period. For instance, in 1706, John Brocas, of Ram-lane (Schoolhouse-lane), printed a good edition of Barton's Psalms, edited by Thomas Smith, all adapted to the church tunes to be found in the current editions of Sternhold and Hopkins. This scarce work—a copy of which is in the British Museum—has the musical setting in two parts, Treble and Bass, "with brief instructions for the understanding of the same." Other Psalm-books were printed by Powell, including the Huguenot Psalters, in 1731 and 1735. Neale, of Christ Church Yard, published the Beggar's Opera in 1728, and Polly in 1729, previous to which he had issued collections of Irish airs, dance music, etc. An edition of Allan Ramsay's songs, with music, was printed by Risk in 1729, and a pirated edition of Daniel Wright's "Aria di Camera" in 1731. A collection entitled The Vocal Miscellany was printed in 1738, and numerous sheet songs date from the years 1735-1741.

Shakespearian plays were much in vogue in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, and in 1721 George Grierson, "at the sign of the Two Bibles in Essex-street," published Othello, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar. It was the custom at this date to have "entertainments of singing and dancing" between the acts, and therefore most of the actors and actresses had perforce to be vocalists. Pantomime, too, became popular in Dublin; and in December, 1729, Madame Violante created a furore at Smock-alley, in which Cummins danced the "White Joke," a set off to the then popular "Black Joke." This lady became such a favourite that on November 20th, 1730, she opened a booth at Fownes'-court, whence in April, 1731, she removed to George's-lane, where her Lilliputian actors and actresses won instant favour with the Beggar's Opera. Most writers state that Peg Woffington was a child actress at Madame Violante's booth in 1727, but the event must certainly be dated four years later, namely, in May, 1731. Early in the following year (1732) Madame Violante brought her Lilliputian troupe to London, where Peg Woffington repeated her triumph as Polly—singing her songs most charmingly.

But to return to matters more strictly in the domain of music. In 1726 the annual celebrations in honour of St. Cecilia's Day were inaugurated in St. Patrick's Cathedral, although Dean Swift was not partial to any departure from the ordinary Anglican service. These celebrations received a great fillip in the year 1729, when Dubourg appeared for the first time as leader of the orchestra. The performance on this occasion lasted from ten in the morning to three o'clock, including a sermon.

Concerts were not unfrequent at this period. For instance, on August 27, 1734, there was a "Grand Consort of Musick" given at the Taylors' Hall (Back-lane), Dublin. According to the advertisement in the Dublin Evening Post, the programme was to be rendered "by the best Masters," the chief attraction being a Mr. de Reck, who was announced to play "a solo on the hautboy and curtel."

Organ building must have been carried on in Dublin at this period, for in the year 1725 we read that "Master Cuvellie, of Dublin, built an organ for the church of St. Michan, after twenty years' labour," and the case of it was carved and decorated by William Wilson, of Dublin. A few years later an organ was built for St. Werburgh's, which instrument was burned by an accidental fire in 1754.[3] St. Andrew's (the Round) Church possessed a fine organ; and from 1735 to 1775 annual sacred concerts were given in that church for the benefit of Mercer's Hospital.


[1] In 1692 the "city music" petitioned against persons who under their names "presumed to go about publicly and play for money."

[2] Charles Coffey died in London, May 13th, 1745.

[3] Owen Nicholas Egan, an Irishman, about the year 1740, was given the preference over seven rival competitors to build an organ for Lisbon Cathedral. He was a dwarf, being scarcely four feet high.