Thomas Anson's musical life has only emerged from the shadows since the year 2000. It is a curious indication of how little research had been pursued into his life that no-one before 2003 showed any sign of having looked at his will, (1) surely one of the most obvious sources of material about any life. Even more surprising, the first person to refer to the will in print was a Czech musicologist writing about a forgotten Bohemian composer. Antonin Kammel. (This is how the composer spelled his name himself. It is often written Kammell and sometimes even Camel or Camell.)
Kammel's name appears in three documents in the Staffordshire Records Office - the will, the fascinating list of people who received mourning rings as a memorial of Thomas's death, and in a poem by Sir William Bagot of Blithfield Hall.
Bagot's poem was written On April 25th 1772 to welcome Thomas back from London to Shugborough at the end of the London season. This was the Sunday after Easter.
'Bring Attic Stuart, Indian Orme,
Kammell unruffled by a storm
Shall tune his softest strain;
And my Louisa will rejoice
To notes like his to tune her voice
With health restored again.' (2)
(The copy says "probably" by Wiliam Bagot, but the poem is mentioned in George Hardinge's memoir of Dr Sneyd Davies. Thomas Anson himself showed the poem to Hardinge and told him it was by Bagot.)
Stuart was, of course, James "Athenian" Stuart, and Orme was Robert Orme, historian of the East India Company.These two were also recipients of money in Anson's will. Kammel's connection with Thomas Anson was rediscovered by Michaela Freemanova. Her article based on a collection of his letters in an archive in Prague was published in Early Music in May 2003 (3) By good fortune, the year before, Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill's published "Music and Theatre in Handel's World, the family papers of James Harris 1732-1780" (4), which includes several references to Thomas Anson's musical life and his music making at his new house at St James's Square. Burrows and Dunhill's book also revealed for the first time the connections between Thomas and James Harris, MP, philosopher of the Greek Revival and musical enthusiast.
In Thomas's last years, his very active 70s, music can be seen to have been of great importance. It is reasonable to assume it had been one of his interests throughout his life. A grandhouse, like 15 St James Square, wasn't just a private home, or a showcase for architecture and art, but a place for performances, dinners and conversation inspired by its classical style. It would need music to bring it to life. Antonin Kammel was the man who provided the music in the lavishly decorated rooms. The fact that he visited Shugborough, according to the poem by Bagot, and received not just a mourning ring but a substantial gift in Thomas's will, suggests that he was a friend and not just a professional employee. Kammel referred to Anson as "my dear good old friend." (5)
Thomas's will is brief and very straightforward will. It begins without any pious language, unlike many wills of the century.
"I make this my last will and testament which I wou'd wish to have understood to the plainest and most obvious meaning of the words being unacquainted with forms." (6)
This seems odd coming from a trained man of law. Is it ironical? Or does it support the view that he never practised? Or is it simply that as a barrister such things were not part of his experience?
The bulk of the estate (including extensive property elsewhere in Staffordshire and also Norfolk) was left to his nephew, George Adams. As it would have been obvious that Thomas would not have had any offspring George Adams would have been treated as the heir to the estate for many years - certainly since the death or Lord Anson in 1764.
Thomas's two unmarried sisters were allowed to move any furniture they liked to Oakedge Hill, their house (with landscaping by William Emes) on the slopes of Cannock Chase) with annuities to his other surviving sisters. He also left money to a small but fascinating group of friends, four of whom who would receive annuities, and one, Robert Orme, who would receive a lump sum.
There were annuities of Â£100 (Â£10,000 today) to James "Athenian" Stuart and "Mr Stillingfleet", the botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet. Annuities of Â£50 (Â£5,000 today) went to Mr Kammel and to "Mr Kent", who was the agricultural reformer Nathaniel Kent (1737-1810) whose career began as Thomas's manager of his estates in Norfolk, which had been bought from Lord Leicester. A single payment of Â£500 (Â£50,000) went to Mr Orme, "in token of his long friendship".
Apart from staff the only other named beneficiary was Sir William Bagot who was left "all my collection of medals". This led to a fairly acrimonious dispute between Bagot and George Adams, (who took the name Anson), about whether this really meant all of them - ironically considering Thomas's request that the words should be taken in their plainest sense.
Benjamin Stillingfleet (1702- 15th December 1771 - he died between Thomas's will and his death in 1773) is sometimes said to have been the original bluestocking - which may seem surprising as the term is usually used of women. He was a regular visitor to Mrs Montagu's parties, in which card playing was replaced by conversation. Stilingfleet was a great conversationalist, and the author of a poem on "The Art of conversation." Though some writers disagree it does appear that the term bluestocking was in use from the 1750s and that this began because the always hard-up Stillingfleet tended to wear cheap blue worsted stockings rather than formal evening dress.
Mrs Montagu refers to Stillingfleet's blue stockings in a letter, in which they seem to be a sign of sobriety which he had, at the time of writing, thrown off:
"I assure you our philosopher is so much a man of pleasure, he has left off his old friends and his blue stockings and is at operas and other gay assemblies every night". (7)
Mrs Montagu may not have taken Stillingfleet seriously. He comes over as a crotchety but amusing character, popular at her own assemblies and those of Mrs Vesey. He was a valetudinarian, always talking about his health and the health problems of his friends. Apart from this his range of interests and his quite adventurous travels make him seem quite a close counterpart of Thomas Anson.
Though he was principally a botanist Stillingfleet was also a musician, a performer, amateur composer and theorist. While touring Europe, during which he wrote some of the first descriptions of the Alps to reflect the new enthusiasm for landscape, he organised amateur performances with his travelling companions, providing the music himself. William Coxe, who edited Stillingfleet's works, wrote that he after returning to England he
"increased his knowledge and love of music. In the midst of his botanical and classical pursuits, he dedicated a part of his time to the practice of this delightful art, being a tolerable proficient on the Violencello." (8)
Though he published no music of his own he did write librettos for other composers, largely unused, though he had an artistic success in 1760 with an adaptation of Paradise Lost for John Christopher Smith, who had been Handel's amanuensis.
In his later years Stillingfleet turned his attentions back to music with his "Principles and Power of Harmony" published anonymously in 1771. This which was based on a translation of Guiseppe Tartini's "Trattato di musica", originally published in Padua in 1754. This was a scientific study of the mathematical basis of harmony and Stillingfleet's own commentary helped explain Tartini's theories which tended to waver into the strange and mystical. The book was well received by Dr Burney, the leading historian of music at the time. He wrote of the book, published anonymously:
"â€¦it was written by no half scholar or shallow musician; but one possessed of all the requisites for such a task." (9)
Mrs Montagu wrote to him praising his "Principles and Powers of Harmony" in words which were too obviously based on Dr Burney's review. Stillingfleet replied on 24th October 1771:
"â€¦had the encomiums on my late book been the results of your own opinion i should have been apt to think that partiality had biassed your judgment; but the testimonies you use leave me no room to entertain such a suspicion." (10)
As the authors of "Paradise Lost in short" point out he almost immediately changes the subject and goes on to discuss a mutual friend's bilious complaint. He was also a friend, presumably through Anson, of James Stuart, who mentions him several times in his letters, in one, in 1764, trying to persuade him to visit Shugborough, presumably for his health. He was at Shugborough for two months or more in 1769.
Tartini, as translated by Stillingfleet, believes that the simplest music can be the most effective:
"Every nation," he adds, "has its popular songs, many of which are of antient tradition, many newly composed, and adopted by common consent. In general, they are extremely simple; nay, the most simple are generally the greatest favourites......That the people listen with greater pleasure to one of these songs, than to the most exquisite song modulated through all the maze of harmony, is an observation as easy to make, as it is significant when verified...Nature has more power than Art."(11)
Stillingfleet, who reveals his high regard for Ancient Greece at every opportunity, adds that the lost music of Greece was believed to be simple and
"uncommonly touching, and capable of producing any effect almost within the limits of possibility."
And that the expressive style of Italian opera was in the same spirit:
"Those feelings of nature, which, as Tartini observes, are and must be common to us and the Greeks, have of late years put the Italian masters upon working the parts less in their opera music ; and have produced those thrumming bases, as they are called by our harmonists, by way of ridicule."
Such expressive and natural music is obviously more in harmony with this Greek Revival ideal than music which is based too much on abstract theory, counterpoint and fugue.
"I believe most men, if they dared to speak their own feelings, would talk the language of Tartini; but the dread of being thought to have a vulgar taste, puts them under restraints, and makes them undergo the fatigue of silently listening, with a dozing kind of attention, as if they were well bred, and ashamed to interrupt others, to what they are told is fine ; but which they cannot, with all their endeavours, be brought to think agreeable ; whereas, many of our old simple songs steal our affections, in spite of all our prejudices, and even when we are almost ashamed to be touched by such low and vulgar things ; but high-bred taste, like high-born pride, is sometimes forced to listen to the humble dictates of Nature, and enjoy a pleasure it does not openly avow."
The other musical legatee, Anton Kammel, had been a pupil of Tartini.
Kammel was born in Belec, Central Bohemia in 1730. His father was a forester and it was as an agent selling wood for ship's masts supplied by his employer Count Vincent Ferrerus Waldstein that he came to England in 1765. It seems likely that his real motive was to launch his musical career. His mast business was a disaster; the masts were not big enough to match the British navy standards, but his letters to Waldstein show that his career was successful, though unfortunately affected by ill health. (12)
Kammel had studied philosophy and law in Bohemia before becoming a student of Tartini, the leading violin teacher of the day, in Padua. Tartini had written the basis of Benjamin Stillingfleet's last publication, and he had also been the teacher of Maddelena Lombardini, another of the musicians who played at 15 St James' Square.
Kammel's letters, written in a mixture of languages including English, give the impression of a rather vain man, very concerned indeed that his art should be well rewarded, but his education suggests that he may have been a person of very wide knowledge and interests.
He arrived in London in March 1765, writing to Count Waldstein that it was the largest town he had ever seen and that "one even feels like entering some other world". Kammel travelled from The Hague with the Italian cellist and composer Francesco Zappa, then working for Lord Buckingham. Zappa was, indeed, the ancestor of zany rock genius Frank Zappa, who financed a recording of Francesco's work. Kammel "lived thriftily" with Zappa on his arrival in London.
The channel crossing was appallingly stormy, everyone having to work the water-pumps, and in the end all the luggage was "swimming in water". Kammel wrote that he arrived in London
"like a poor sinner taken to the gallows, one jacket, one shirt, one handkerchief and one hope."
Smart, even fabulously showy, clothes were essential for a solo musician who wanted to make the right glamorous impression. Kammel immediately had two new suits and six new shirts made "to be able to keep up the status of your Excellency as my most honourable Lord and Master."
A few months later, in August, Kammel was developing his wardrobe:
"â€¦.just in the last 8 days I have paid in London 87 guineas to the tailor, shoemaker and other peopleâ€¦here a virtuoso must be very clean, concerning his clothes and everything."
Kammel's letters talk a great deal about his earnings and expenditure. Aleading musician could earn a lot of money but depended entirely on his own skill and on making the right connections. As he wrote in July 1766:
"I made much money here already through my old violin, (and) also lost a lot of it, as I must pay for everything very dearly..."
Fortunately he immediately made the acquaintance of Johann Christian Bach, the leading figure in music in London after the death of Handel in 1759, a music teacher to the Queen, and the promoter, with Carl Frederick Abel, of the most important series of public concerts. Bach must have recognised Kammel as a violinist of high quality. On April 10th 1770 James Harris attended a private concert at Sir Robert Throckmorton's which was led by Johann Christian Bach accompanied by Abel (on the viola da gamba, his principal solo instrument for which he composed many pieces, or on the cello), Johann Fischer on oboe (the busiest and best oboist in London) and Kammel on violin. (13) This suggests that Bach thought Kammel a worthy and reliable performer and Bach seems to have regularly employed him in his other performances, orchestral instrumental or operatic.
Kammel had been given the names of various society contacts by Count Waldstein, and his musical connections will have led him to the people in London and in the country who would be interested in private music making. His first public concert was in March 1766:
"with such applause which I had not expected. Giardini and others were beaten, my work goes well."
Over the next five years he developed a successful career as a performer in public and private concerts, including work in country seats, spending time with the family of Horatio Mann in Rutland. He dedicated his Opus 1 set of trios, already composed before his arrival, to Lady Lucy Mann in 1766 He also performed in Bath, giving a concert with oboist Johann Fischer and Thomas Linley Senior, the director of music at the spa.
Other concerts took him as far afield as Edinburgh, or as he confusingly called it "Edenbourg in Irland". At the Edinburgh concert he performed a large scale work called a Pantomime - exactly what form it took is hard to define. It may be the piece that writes rather extravagantly about: when he says it:
"amazed everybody, all the Ladies and Lords and Gentlemen say that they haven't heard anything similar in their lives. 52 solos for the Violin, which, to tell the truth, are very beautiful, and 6 for the Viola da gamba, which start in a very decorative way."
Kammel saw his music as a way of charming ladies especially:
"When I play the Adagio one could hear the ladies sigh."
"â€¦young and old ladies and Missesâ€¦.all of them in love, and I made them even more loving through my old violin."
This emotional effect of performing is very reminiscent of the performances of Count St Germain twenty years earlier, and is keeping with the expressive style Tartini advocated.
Kammel is an attractive and interesting minor composer rather than a forgotten master, but his career sits at a time of change in musical style and fashion and he does have a claim to fame in the beginnings of classical style that has gone unnoticed.
His music is exclusively instrumental. He wrote solo sonatas for violin, duets, trios and quartets and some orchestral works, just two published violin concertos and two sets of overtures or symphonies. These would have been created for himself to perform and, presumably, also intended for his patrons, who received dedications, to play themselves. Fortunately all of Kammel's known music was published and copies of most of his known works are accessible in the British Library, Library of Congress and in many other collections.
Kammel's music is in the early classical, or rococo, style. It is melodious and elegant, recognisably in the same vein as earliest Mozart and Johann Christian Bach. It follows the ideals of simplicity and expression that Tartini taught.
It is difficult to match changing musical styles and fashions to the changing styles in architecture or literature but, perhaps simply by coincidence, the new "classical" style in music did appear at the same time as the Greek Revival in the visual arts. A key work in the change of musical taste was Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice". Gluck wanted to go back to the ideals of Greek theatre, removing the pure showiness of the fashionable opera and making everything subservient to drama.
"Orfeo ed Euridice" was first performed in 1762. The first London performance of Gluck's opera, in a version revised to suit London taste by J C Bach, was in April 1770, a few days before the concert at Sir Robert Throckmorton's in which Kammel performed with Bach. Kammel and the musicians who performed at Thomas Anson's London house are likely to have been involved.
As well as the emphasis on seriousness of expression there were contemporary changes in musical technique. The "Classical style" which appears in the 1760s tends to have simpler textures, more emphasis on form and structure for dramatic effect and an escape from the bass-line which dominated harmony in baroque music. Though this might have been partly due to a classical aesthetic it also helped produce music which depended less on the expert soloist and made more sense when played by amateurs. This was a new social influence on music. (14)
The instrumental form that most clearly demonstrates the new classical style is the String Quartet. Baroque chamber music would be underlayed by the continuo bass, a bass line with harmony filled in by a keyboard instrument. The String quartet, of 2 violins, viola and cello, abandoned the keyboard's harmonic infilling and began to make the four instruments more equal.
The string quartet was an ideal medium for private music making, but quite early on quartets did begin to be performed in public.
"Concert Life in Eighteenth-century Britain" by Susan Wollenberg and Simon McVeigh analyses public performances of string quartets in London. The authors write that "the date of the first known performance of a string quartet on the London concert stage was 27th April 1769". Their table of performances by date reveals that this was, in fact, a quartet by Kammel. (15)
He was very much in the forefront as the next quartet listed is one by Pugnani in 1773. Quartets by Haydn, the greatest developer of the form, were not performed in public in London until 1778. "String Quartets: A Research and Information Guide" by Mara Parker (2005) has an entry for Kammel, referring to a 1981 article in "Haydn studies" by Zdenka Pilkova, which supports the suggestion that his significance may have been underestimated or overlooked:
"Antonin Kammel, a Bohemian contemporary of Haydn who contributed to the formation of the classical style, has largely been ignored. The works of Haydn and Kammel from the 1760s and 1770s share many common stylistic and structural features. At times Kammel's works were known under Haydn's name." (16)
The 1769 performance would have been of one of the set of six quartets published in 1770 as Op. 4. Two other sets of six quartets followed in 1774 and 1775.
Though Kammel may not have been as important a figure in his art as James Stuart was in his, he was, like most of Thomas Anson's friends, at the cutting edge of new style and ideas, though his works straddle both classical and baroque style, with several still retaining the baroque "Thorough bass". It is worth remembering that Thomas Anson was in his seventies at the time his new house was ready for music and it is remarkable that he was still interested in the very latest ideas, in art and science, right until his death in 1773.
The publication dates of Kammel's works appear to be a year or two later than the presumed date of composition.
The Quartets op. 4 are dedicated to George Pitt, Esq.
Pitt (1721-1803) was MP for Dorset and, from 1776. Baron Rivers of Stratfieldsaye, the house that later became the home of the Duke of Wellington. Kammel's address in 1769, given on one of his concert advertisements, was "at George Pitt Esqr In Half-Moon Street Piccadilly" and his will in 1778 also gives his address as Half Moon Street. This was his own house, bought in 1771. Pitt was certainly his longest serving supporter, even in later years when Kammel's career had been seriously affected by illness. He had even written to Count Waldstein hoping that Lord Rivers would travel with him to Carlsbad where he could meet his old employer.
The fragmentary evidence suggests that Pitt was heavily involved with music. He was briefly a director of the Italian Opera in the King's Theatre for the 1770-1 season, even though at this time he had been appointed ambassador-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary to Madrid. It seems to have been quite common for ambassadors never to visit the places in which they were supposed to act as representatives of their country. His period of involvement with the opera may have included the J C Bach version of Gluck's Orfeo. Horace Walpole's letters give an intriguing hint of Pitt's musical interest a few years earlier, writing to the Countess of Aylesbury on July 20th 1761:
"The new Queen is very musicalâ€¦â€¦George Pitt, in imitation of the Adonises in Tanzai's retinue, has asked to be her Majesty's grand harper. Dieu s'cait quette raclerie il y aura! All the guitars are untuned; and if Miss Conway has a mind to be in fashion at her return, she must take some David or other to teach her the new twing twang, twing twing twang." (17)
This seems to imply a fashion for the harp had replaced a fashion for guitars. Could it be that George Pitt was a harpist himself?
In 1771 Elizabeth Harris wrote to her son that:
"Mr G Pitt was just arriv'd from Blanford races with no less than seven excellent musicians which he consign'd to Mr Harris." (18)
Pitt provided musicians for some events from the band of his Dorset Militia.
Benjamin Stillingfleet, who spent much of his time living in his friend's houses, stayed with both George Pitt and Thomas Anson in 1769.
Stillingfleet wrote to Thomas Pennant, another botanist and nephew of Thomas Anson's old friend James Mytton, on 20th October 1769, mentioning that he had been staying in Berkshire, and then Dorset before coming to Shugborough. He wrote:
"as you are so kind a to inquire after my health I must inform you that it is rather better than of late, and that I did look after plants while in Dorsetshire something more than I have done for years. I was moved to this by Mr Pitt's curiosity in relation to the subject and by the fine weather which suffered me to be a good deal out of doors." (19)
It is reasonable to assume that he had been staying with George Pitt at Stratfield Saye, which is in Berkshire, close to the border of Hampshire. Stillingfleet was always short of money (hence his supposed blue worsted stocking rather than black silk) and spent a lot of time in the houses of his friends. He was at Shugborough for at least two months that year.
Kammel was also at Stratfield Saye that winter. The birth of a daughter, Lucy was registered at the nearby Hartley Wespall on December 11th and she was christened at Stratfield Saye on 31st December 1769, suggesting that Kammel and his wife were staying there over Christmas and New Year and that she had been born at Pitt's house. Lucy did not survive long enough to be mentioned in his will.
Anton Kammel dedicated his next work, 6 duets for two violins op. 5 to Thomas Anson Eq.
Composer and diarist John Marsh probably heard these duos in August 1769:
"There was also a Mr Woodington who was staying there who play'd a capital fiddle for an amateur who supported Mr Lethin & with whom he also played a duet of Kammell's."(20)
The dating of the Op 5 duets is unknown but the Op 4 quartets, published in 1770, probably included the one performed in public in 1769. The duets were already in circulation in print when James Marsh heard them in 1769. Assuming the opus numbers are in the order of composition it is likely that the duets date from early 1769 at the latest. If so it is possible that Kammel and Anson's musical association and friendship began some time before the start of Anson's London concerts at St James Square. Perhaps these duets were written to be played at Shugborough in the summer.
John Parnell enjoyed music at Shugborough in May or June 1769. He wrote in his journal:
"There has been this day, Thursday, a most agreeable meeting of the neighbouring gentry, Snead Clifford, Piggot etc who all play or sing and dance together here afterwards and have music again on the evening..."(21)
This seems to have been a whole day of music making with Sneyds, Cliffords and Bagots. This suggests that music was a very important part of life at Shugborough as well as at St James' Square. This would have been only a month or two after the public performance of Kammell's quartet. Could Kammel have been one of the musicians that Parnell heard? It is perfectly possible that Kammel had accompanied Thomas on his journey back to the country at the end of London season. Bagot's poem, mentioning Kammel, Stuart and Robert Orme, welcomes them back to Shugborough at the end of the season three years later in 1772. It is likely that this was the last of a series of annual visits to the country for the group of friends.
A few years later Marsh played Kammel duets with a Colonel Stoppard. He was "much pleased" with them. Later he wrote a duet in imitation of Kammel. In 1776 Marsh was disappointed by Kammel's performance at the Salisbury Festival of St Cecilia "he by no means as a professor seems to rank above mediocrity" - though this was probably due to the composer's serious rheumatic illness. Marsh clearly knew him later personally as he visited a friend who was staying at Kammel's London house in 1779.
What was probably the first complete public performance of Kammel's Duets op. 5 took place at Stafford Library on September 8th 2007. The performers, Nigel and Kathryn Stubbs, as well as John Dunn and Kerry Milan who had played three of the duets at Shugborough in March 2007, were very impressed with the quality of the works. They are very tuneful and elegantly crafted, making very satisfying and substantial works for just two violins.
Kammel's works were published in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and The Hague. The opus numbers are likely to have been given by the publishers and in some cases are duplicated or even triplicated. Only a few works were published before Thomas Anson's death in 1773:
Kammel's early publications, with publication dates and dedications where known:
Op. 1 Six trios. Dedicated to Lady Lucy Mann. Published 1766.
These had been composed before his arrival in London.
Op. 3 Six sonatas for two violins and bass. Dedicated to Count Waldstein. Published by John Welcker in 1769.
Op. 4 Six quartets. Dedicated to George Pitt Esq. Published c1770.
Op. 5 Six duets. Dedicated to Thomas Anson Esq. Published by Welcker c1768
Op. 6 Six notturnos. Dedicated to Lady Young of Delaford. Published c1770 (Elizabeth, Lady Young (1729-1801) was the wife of Sir William Young (1724/5-1788), governor of Dominica. There is a portrait of the family by Zoffany in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool from about this date which shows Sir William playing cello and the others singing and playing instruments. Sir William and Lady Young held private concerts in London. They were friends of James Harris, who attended seven of their concerts in 1770.(22) It seems likely from the dedications to Lady Young, Sir William Young (Notturnos op. 19) that Kammel performed at their concerts. Lady Young's father was Brook Taylor, a mathematician and Newton supporter as well as an enthusiastic musician. Her son-in-law, Richard Ottley was dedicatee of Kammel's op. 8)
Kammel published very few orchestral works. There is a set of six overtures which op, 10 dedicated to the Duke of Devonshire and a set of six symphonies op.18 published in 1782. The overtures are also, in effect, symphonies in the style of Johann Christian Bach, which are very close to the form of mid eighteenth century opera overtures, lasting only 10 minutes or so. By 1775 Haydn and Mozart were writing symphonies on a much larger scale - and in a style that seems wildly modern and avant-garde compared to the elegant symphonies of the early classical period. Kammel's only other orchestral works are a violin concerto op. 11 published in Paris in 1772 and a set of six symphonies published as one of two opus 18s in Paris in 1782.
Lady Shelburne, the wife of the Prime Minister William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, described a lavish event at 15 St James Square in April 1769 (not 1768 as given wrongly on the English Heritage website and elsewhere - the Harris papers and contemporary references confirm the date):
"Thursday Morning, April 13th. We breakfasted at Mr. Anson's, who gave a breakfast and concert to Mrs. Montagu, to which she very obligingly invited us. We called upon her and went together, and saw a very fine house, built and ornamented by Mr. Stuart. The company were Count Bruhl, Lord Egremont, Mr. and Mrs. Harris and their daughter, Mrs. Vesey, Mrs. Dunbar, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Scott, a M. de Vibre, M. de MaltÃªte a President de Parlement, who came over expressly to see a Riot, but was deterred from going to Brentford by the French Ambassador, and condemned to pass this memorable morning in the calmer scene of Mr. Anson's house and entertainment." (23)
The riot mentioned was over the political scandals of seditious MP John Wilkes.
This may have been a kind of house warming. The house had been completed in 1766 but Stuart was a slow worker and it may be that it was only then, in April 1769, that the house was fully decorated and ready to be shown off. Mrs Montagu was not only the leading light of the Bluestocking circle but also another important patron of James Stuart. She had commissioned him to decorate her house at 23 Hill Street, which already had Chinoiserie rooms by Robert Adam, in 1765. In 1767 she wrote that Stuart had painted "some of the sweetest Zephirs and Zephirettes in my bedchamber that ever I beheld'. Stuart was a notoriously slow worker and still at work at Hill Street in 1772.
Though this event was in Mrs Montagu's honour, and there would have been other guests not known to Lady Shelburne, it is wonderful that on this occasion the key figures of this story come together. Kammel would have been leading the orchestra. This must be about the time he was composing his op. 4 duets for Thomas. Such an event, showing off Stuart's work, could hardly have happened without the presence of James "Athenian" Stuart himself. Also present was Elizabeth Carter, given the courtesy title of "Mrs" though unmarried, by this time the famous translator of Epictetus and a key figure, with Mrs Montagu and Mrs Vesey, amongst the bluestockings. No doubt Benjamin Stillingfleet would have been there - not a man to miss a free meal. And there also were the philosopher musician James Harris and his family.
Harris's family archive is a rich source of information on the musical life of the 18th century, including the music at St James' Square.
Louisa Harris wrote to her brother James Harris Jnr (original in French) on 13th April 1769 the day of the Breakfast concert for Mrs Montagu:
"Today my father, mother and Gertrude are all at a concert at Mr Anson's, and this evening Gertrude is to go to Almacks with lady Mar Hume, but as far me, having neither a ticket for Almack's nor an invitation to Mr Anson's concert I am spending my time pleasantly writing to you." (24)
(Almacks was the location of J C Bach's concerts.)
On 18th April 1769 James Harris wrote to James Harris Jnr:
"Lord Spencer's and Mr Anson's houses by Stuart, Lord Shelburne's by Adams are models of Grecian taste, not unworthy of the age of Pericles"
The Harris correspondence includes references to at least five different concerts, the first is the breakfast and concert for Mrs Montagu in April 1769, the others mentioned were in March and April 1772 and two in March 1773 only a few weeks before the 78 year old Thomas Anson died.
It is reasonable to deduce that Anson's concerts took place at the end of the season, in early Spring, each year and that the pattern was the same in each year between 1769 and 1773.
On the 27th March 1772 Elizabeth Harris wrote to James Harris Jnr:
"Yesterday morning we were all at that most elegant house of Mr Anson's to a breakfast and concert after, ever thing suited the elegance of the house. When breakfast was ended the room were open for people to walk about and admire - after that the concert, for which he had collected the best hands in town - Madame Sirman, Grasi, Fischer, Crosdale, Ponto, Kamell etc. Got home in time enough to snap a short dinner before the opera."
These names are indeed the leading musicians of the moment - and note the "etc".
Maddelena Lombardini Sirman was a Venetian violinist and composer who had recently arrived in London. Like Kammel she was a student of Tartini and an early composer of string quartets as well as concertos. Her quartets are small scale but particularly expressive. She had an important connection with Tartini as he wrote her a long letter or essay on the art of violin playing which was published and translated into English by Dr Charles Burney. It is intriguing that Kammel, Sirmen and Benjamin Stillingfleet each had connections with Tartini and his literary or theoretical work.
Madame Grassi was one of the leading singers, later married to Johann Christian Bach. Johann Fischer, Giovanni Punto and John Crosdill were the leading oboist, horn player and cellist of the period.
These musicians seem to have been regular performers under Johann Christian Bach's direction. James Harris heard a concert by Madame Grassi, Johann Christian Bach on keyboard, Fischer, Punto, Crosdill and Kammel together at the Blandford Races in July 1773.
Elizabeth Harris mentions no keyboard player in her letter but there is likely to have been one amongst the "etc". Could J C Bach have been there? Surely she would have mentioned him, unless he was so ubiquitous it would seem unnecessary - and yet all these other performers were of Bach's close circle - his favoured virtuosi.
What music would this very starry group have been playing at 15 St James Square on 27th March 1772?
Madame Sirmen, though she later had a career as a singer, would have been a guest artist and she may have been able to perform one of her own new concertos, published in 1772, with a reduced orchestral accompaniment. There may have been instrumental pieces by Kammel - or by Bach - but the presence of Madame Grassi suggests that the concert would have primarily been of vocal music.
Though it is only speculation it is possible, and an almost irresistible guess, that the concert on 27th March would have featured extracts from J C Bach's new serenata (a short, and light hearted opera) "Endimione".
"Endimione" is a beautiful work and something of a forgotten masterpiece - though that could be said of many of J C Bach's works. Bach had presented his adaptation of Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice" in 1770 and this new work of 1772 may be seen as a reaction to Gluck's influence, as a simply structured mythological story. Fortunately this delightful serenata has been published and recorded, conducted by Bruno Weil who calls it "a wonderful work, so full of humour it could almost be a comedy" and "the music is so damn good", and it could be mistaken for early Mozart. (25)
The first performance of "Endimione" was at the King's Theatre (Burrows and Dunhill say the Little Theatre at the Haymarket, the concert advertisement says "The Theatre Royal") on April 6th 1772, only a week after Thomas Anson's concert. The work features several arias with solo instruments accompanying. The first performance was for the benefit of flautist J B Wendling, but the original advertisement mentions that Mr Fisher (Johann Fischer) and Mr Ponta (Giovanni Punto) as well as Mr Wendling would accompany songs.
Was Thomas's concert a preview of part of "Endimione"? There is a mystery about why Bach wrote such a work at this time. Who commissioned it? Was there a connection with George Pitt, though his involvement with the King's Theatre seems to have ended a year earlier? Even more wild but delightful speculation might suggest that Thomas Anson might have played a part in the Serenata's commission. At the very least it is a work that can be enjoyed as a perfect example of the kind of music that belongs to the same world as 15 St James Square and the Greek Revival.
On 14th April 1772 Elizabeth Harris writes:
"To morrow no music; Thursday again at Mr Ansons"
Curiously James Boswell's correspondence reveals that Boswell met Thomas Anson on this same day at Mrs Montagu's. The evening was in honour of Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli (1725-1807), a Corsican patriot and leader. Lord Lyttelton was also there, as well as the Archbishop of York. Boswell had a long standing interest in Corsica and Paoli. Boswell's book about Corsica, "An Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that Island", mentions Thomas Anson's "muffoli" or Corsican sheep. Anson had on his estate, wrote "a rich assemblage of what is curious in nature as well as elegant in art." (26)
Boswell does not seem to have met Anson before 1772 but he was told about the muffoli by John Dick, Thomas Anson's agent for his classical purchases. Dick had sent the muffoli to Anson himself. In a deleted passage Boswell wrote that Anson kept one muffoli "as a Pet and was very fond of, for it was very diverting."
Curiously Dr Johnson does seem to have visited Shugborough in the 1760s as he wrote a satirical Latin epitaph on the Tower of the Winds. Boswell criticised Johnson for being rude about his host, whom he took to be Admiral Anson. This is hard to explain according to the dating of the monument. Boswell's confusion possibly supports the supposition that he had not met Thomas before this 1772 dinner.
Only ten days after the Thursday concert that Elizabeth Harris planned to attend Sir William Bagot wrote his poem welcoming Anson, Stuart, Kammel and Orme to Shugborough. Considering the relative modesty of the house at that time this must have been the whole of the house party, and they should be considered a close circle of friends.
In spite of his age this was not the last of Thomas's musical seasons.
On 5th March 1773 James Harris's daughter writes to her brother (originally in French):
"We were at a breakfast and a concert this morning at Mr Anson's. Everything bespeaks good taste; the house is charming and exquisitely appointed, the music is by the best hands in England: in fact it was a total delight."
On the 23rd March 1773 Elizabeth Harris writes:
"Friday at a breakfast and concert at Mr Anson's at which all the fine world were assembled and all elegant to a degree."
This was, presumably the last concert. Thomas was 77 or 78 and died a week later on the 30th March.
On June 23rd Anton Kammel wrote to Count Waldstein:
'My dear good old friend Mr Anson, the brother of the Admiral who defeated so much the Spaniards, died two months ago. I do not like to lose good friends, his death contributed a lot towards my illness, in his testament he left me 50 gineas yearly for the time of my life, my friend George Pitt, when he saw me so distressed after Anson's death, he also gave me by the law 50 gineas yearly, now I have 100 gineas yearly to spend as I wish..' (27)
It may be significant that Kammel published a burst of works after Anson's death, the publications all dated by Grove's Dictionary to c1775. Kammel had appealed to Count Waldstein for funds to publish his early trios. It is very likely that the dedicatees of the early works supported their publication. Could it be that Kammel's income left to him by Thomas Anson, and doubled by George Pitt, was used to finance the publication of these works?
Op. 7 Six quartets. Dedicated to Countess Spencer. Published c1775
Lady Spencer was another important patron of James Athenian Stuart, who had worked on lavish interiors for Spencer House before he had built 15 St James Square. There was, and is, a music room at Spencer House where this music might well have been heard. Lady Spencer was also the patron of William Jones, son of the mathematician William Jones who was closely involved with the Ansons and Yorkes much earlier. Jones was a talented poet and became a very important expert in everything to do with Indian culture.
Op. 8 Six solos. Dedicated to Richard Ottley Esq. Published c1775
Richard Ottley (1730-1775) was a rich Tobago plantation owner who lived in Argyll St. His second wife was the daughter of Lady Young of Delaford, dedicatee of op. 6. His son, William Young Ottley, born in 1771, became a very important art collector, owning, for example, Botticelli's Mystic Nativity.
Op. 9 Six sonatas, for piano, harpsichord or harp with accompaniment of violin and cello. Dedicated to Miss Ottley, who was probably the sister of Richard Ottley, Published c1775
Op. 10 Six overtures. Dedicated to the Duke of Devonshire. Published c1775
Op. 9 is intriguing. Early piano trios, including many of Haydn's, were written as sonatas for keyboard with optional accompaniments of the strings and Kammel distinguishes these sonatas from his trios in which the parts would be more equal. It is very interesting that Kammel published a set of pieces in "c1775" which, unusually, can be played on the harp. Thomas Pennant reported that Thomas Anson was listening to the music of the harp on his death bed, and this is proved to be true by the financial accounts of his funeral expenses in the Staffordshire Records Office. Could these sonatas have been the last music he heard? As publications dates generally follow a year or more after the composition dates it is quite possible, and if his old friend Kammel had composed music suitable for the harp it seems reasonable to guess that this would be what was played.
In fact Kammel was in serious financial difficulties, losing money in a banking disaster in and investing a great deal in American land which would be unlikely to bring in any profit. In June, when he was writing to Count Waldstein, he was suffering from "Low Spirit commonly Calld Blue Devils" (the blues, in later slang) and in the next few years his career would be blighted by rheumatic illness which took away the use of his hands and feet. Bach and George Pitt supported him throughout his later years. He died on 5th October 1784, though his place of death and burial are unknown. He was survived by his wife, a penniless beauty apparently, not the rich woman he once told Count Waldstein he would marry, and several children.
Elizabeth Harris wrote a revealing obituary for Thomas Anson in a letter to her son on 6th April 1773. This is not quoted in full in Burrows and Dunhill's book. Several such private comments exist and they must give a true record of how Thomas Anson's friends saw him.
'Mr Anson's death is a loss to many, the poor he was charitable to a degree, the artists of all sorts had his protection and partook of his generosity, and all his friends were sharers of his most elegant entertainments. His great fortune comes to Mr Adams his nephew. Both he and Mrs Adams are amiable people and deserve it.' (28)
1) Thomas Anson's will is available from the Public Records Office website. There are several copies in the Staffordshire Record Office.
2) Staffordshire Record Office. Anson Papers. D615/D(6)/7/5
3) Michaela Freemanova and Eva Mikanova: "My honourable Lord and Fatherâ€¦": 18th- century English musical life through Bohemian eyes (In Early Music, May 2003). This is the only detailed article about Antonin Kammel in English.
4) Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill: Music and Theatre in Handel's World. The family papers of James Harris 1732-1780 (OUP, 2002)
5) Freemanova and Mikanova op. cit.
6) See 1
7) Reginald Blunt, Jane Climenson: Mrs. Montagu, "Queen of the Blues": Her Letters and Friendships from 1762 to 1800 (Constable, 1923)
8) Kay Gilliland Stevenson and Margaret Seares: Paradise Lost in Short: Smith, Stillingfleet, and the Transformation of Epic (Associated University Press, 1998)
11) William Coxe: Literary life and select works of Benjamin Stillingfleet, vol. 1 (London, 1811) Available on Google Books.
12) All quotations from Anton Kammel's letters are from Freemanova and Mikanova op. cit.
13) Burrows and Dunhill op. cit.
14) For a detailed explanation see Charles Rosen: The Classical style. New edition. (Faber, 1997)
15) Susan Wollenberg and Simon McVeigh: Concert Life in Eighteenth-century Britain (Ashgate, 2004) Partial view available on Google Books.
16) Mara Parker: String Quartets: A Research and Information Guide (Routeldge, 2005) Available on Google Books.
17) The Letters of Horace Walpole: Earl of Orford: Including Numerous Letters Now First Published from the Original Manuscripts ...(Lean and Blanchard, 1842) Available on Google Books.
18) Burrows and Dunhill op. cit.
19) Warwickshire Count Record Office. CR 2017/ TP 367/14
20) Brian Robins (Ed.): The John Marsh Journals (Pendragon, 1998)
21) Transcription of extracts from John Parnell's Journal in the William Salt Library, Stafford
22) Burrows and Dunhill op. cit
24) Extracts from Harris family records are from Burrows and Dunhill op. cit.
25) Insert notes for Endimione, by Johann Christian Bach. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77525 2 (1999)
26) James Boswell, ed. By James T Boulton: An Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that Island, and memoirs of Pascal Paoli (OUP 2006) Available on Google Books.
27) Freemanova and Mikanova op. cit.
28) Hampshire Record Office 9M73/G/260/11. This letter is not printed in full in Burrows and Dunhill. I am grateful to Rosemary Burrows for suggesting I obtain the complete text.