Musical London

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    Jan 31, 2013
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Novello Theatre - Aldwych, London - Crazy For You
Novello Theatre - Aldwych, London - Crazy For You
Photo by ell brown

Musical parties were given in the eighteenth century at many different levels, not only in London but in the provinces as well, and music clubs and societies were an important feature of social life.            

As in painting, the fashion in music was to defer to Italian-and later, to German- taste. People who had been most critical of their own countrymen`s performance were ready to accept foreign musicians at their own valuation.            

References to Italian opera singers can be found in some records what is thought to be the first performance of Italian opera in London on 3 January 1674. At first the singing was in a mixture of English and Italian and the English songs were heard only between the acts. At the end of this year Handel came to England and produced “Rinaldo”. In 1741, Dury Lane saw the production of the “Messiah”, with Handel himself as conductor.            

There were grumblers, who thought that the new fashion was in some way connected with popery, but most of the fashionable would took to opera most warmly. It was very expensive, and even the cheapest seats were far beyond the means of the great majority of music lovers. Those who could not afford seats of the opera, or at fashionable concerts, and yet longed for good music, made a practice of attending Thomas Britton`s weekly concerts held over his coal shop. Britton, also known as “the musical small-coal man”, was a remarkable character, who for many years persuaded the greatest performers of the day to come and give their services in his Thursday concerts. He charged nothing for admission. Londoners and foreign visitors agreed that the music, both vocal and instrumental, was “the best in town”.            

The great and the rich were able to indulge their musical tastes by adopting performers into their households and such patronage was of course very profitable for these musicians who came to London to make a living as painters and writers tried to do, by their art. The painter might earn his bread and butter, as the writer did, by hack-work, and in the same way musicians could hire themselves out to play at a ball. Sometimes they formed their own orchestras, more often an agent collected the instrumentalists he needed and treated directly with the customer.            

The German and Italian musicians and singers came to London but were not of London – that is to say, they came there to make their names but never intended to identify themselves with the capital (as did those provincials who came thither to seek their fortunes and stayed to invest and spend them). Only Handel really became a Londoner and found there his spiritual as well as his temporal home. The fact that he was able to do so demonstrates not only his personal qualities but also the genuine (as distinct from the fashionable) musical taste that permeated eighteenth century London. From the “small-coal man” to the Duke in Bedford House, in Court circles and suburban parlours, music was a part of life as it had not been since Elizabethan times.




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