Composer to the Regency

This Blog has often addressed the burgeoning need for access to the arts during the Regency period. Muzio Clementi (1752 – 1832) was the man who brought the music to the age.

The father of the piano

Born in Italy, as a young man he came to England at the behest of his patron, Sir Peter Beckford, to develop his musical talent and entertain the Lord Mayor’s country household. His public performances as a pianist and organist were quite the treat for a provincial audience far removed from London. It was perhaps inevitable that Dorset would not hold him forever, and upon his release from obligations to Sir Peter, he was on his way to the Metropolis, and fame.

He was to become the musician to the Regency.

Late Georgian England was already attracting many accomplished composers from the Continent, including Joseph Haydn and Mozart. Upon his arrival in London, Clementi began composing, and his talent aroused great interest among the ton, and notice among the great masters.

Mozart: ‘Clementi is a charlatan, like all Italians.’ Clementi: ‘Until (Mozart) I had never heard anyone play with such spirit and grace.’

His talent took him to the Continent as well. Among his first performances was the famous competition between himself and Mozart, before the Imperial court of Austria. But unlike poor Salieri, Clementi held his own against the better-remembered Mozart, astonishing the emperor and those in attendance. Indeed, the man later known as Amadeus gave the ultimate compliment to his rival, using Clementi’s beginning motif to his Sonata in B-flat Major, No. 2 in the famous overture to The Magic Flute.

Back in England, Clementi’s influence was considerable, finding its way into music rooms and parlors, figuring largely in lessons on the pianoforte. His compositions were considered most challenging, being intricate and often difficult to play, despite their ‘simplicity, brilliancy and originality.’

“The celebrated John Christian Bach (son of John Sebastian Bach’s second marriage) spoke of (Clementi’s Opera 2) in the highest terms; but although one of the most able players of the time, he would not attempt its performance….his works ‘could only be performed by the author or the devil himself.’ ”

— Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, vol 2, 1820

Composing and performing were not particularly lucrative. Clementi supplemented his income by publishing the works of other composers, in addition to his own. He used his connections with notable musicians to gain exclusive rights to publish their compositions, fulfilling increasing demand for sheet music, both for piano and flute.

Beethoven made his nephew play these exclusively. My piano teacher employed the same philosophy with me.

From his publishing company’s Appendix to their Catalog of 1816:

Clementi & Co., having established a Correspondence with several of the most respectable Continental Publishers, they have entered into such arrangements as will enable them to supply their friends and the public, at a short notice, with Correct Editions of the most esteemed Productions of the Foreign Musical Press.

Having a robust musical library was just as important as having a large and varied collection of books. Scattered sheets of music, however messy, was a mark of distinction for any household.

Clementi was the exclusive publisher of Beethoven’s compositions sold in Britain.

Clementi also had a piano factory, building instruments that incorporated his designs to improve their performance. Innovations in case construction allowed a pianoforte to retain its pitch and tone longer, so that tuning was not so frequently required. Clementi also patented a process that allowed strings to be attached directly to the soundboard, lengthening tone and increasing resonance.

‘..old-fashioned square parlor…the proper air of confusion by a grand piano-forte and a harp..’ Persuasion, by Jane Austen
photo via bestbrodipianos.co.uk

Unfortunately the manufacturing plant was destroyed by fire in 1807, from a stove flue that ignited surrounding woodwork. The engines for putting out the fire arrived fairly quickly, but were unable to stop the destruction because, as the Athenaeum of 1807 reports,’no water could be procured for nearly an hour after.’

His obituary summarizes his remarkable career with special tribute paid to Clementi’s humanity, his kindness to others*, his capacity for feeling. Noted with sadness is the composer’s suffering over the death of his first wife in childbirth, and his son’s premature demise from a pistol’s accidental discharge.

At his funeral:

“The cheerful noon-sun shone through the cathedral windows when the procession began to move…it was the illumination most befitting so clear and natural a spirit as Clementi.”

— Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 102, Part 1 (1832)

In Austen’s novel Persuasion, Captain Harville and Anne discuss ‘the richness of the present age.” It is perhaps no small surprise that the father of the piano should have inhabited the Age of the Regency, and adorned its music.

* He was known to have sponsored a subscription fund for the widow of fellow composer John Gildon, so that she could live in comfort, and even start a business. Ackermann’s Repository (vol 10, July 1813)

 

 

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Regency-Era Electrical Resuscitation

Jane Austen’s Character Falls at Lyme Regis

During the Regency era, electrical shock was beginning to be used at various times to revive persons knocked unconscious from blows to the head. I’m not sure this would have benefited Louisa Musgrove, but it brings up interesting notions about the advances of resuscitation in the late Georgian era.

“…but no, he reasoned and talked in vain, she smiled and said, “I am determined I will:” he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless!” — Persuasion, Jane Austen

Persuasion’s Anne Elliot is my favorite of all Jane Austen’s characters–mostly because she is quite useful in an emergency. When calm is required, she remains practical and wholly free from the hysterical outbursts that characterize her sister’s behavior. Such excellent qualities are demonstrated not only when her young nephew suffers a fall from a tree, but after Louisa Musgrove’s dreadful fall, as she is knocked out cold.

Dr. James Curry notes that falls often stun the victim into a state of apparent lifelessness. The heart stops and does not restart until the brain is roused sufficiently so as to direct it to begin beating again. Many times this occurs without intervention; however, stimulation must be employed when the victim does not rouse on her own:

Stimulants of every kind have this tendency in a greater or less degree, but none so much as Electricity.”

Observations on Apparent Death from Drowning, Hanging, Suffocation: &c. by James Curry, MD (1815)

Dr. Curry cites two examples of children rendered unconscious from falls down steps. Fortunately, in both cases, neighbors with the right apparatus were able to apply electricity to the chests of each boy, with the happy result of reviving both. Apparently assembling a machine to generate mild electric shocks was something that could be done with readily available materials, but only by knowledgeable persons:

“..jar of twenty-four inches, or thirty inches coated surface, and the discharging electrometer placed about one-third or one-half of an inch from the knob of the jar, or from the prime conductor; accordingly as it is applied from one to the other, in the machine used.”

Dr. Curry goes on to relate that from this machine discharging rods may be connected (and he goes into some detail about their assembly) which when applied to the body can be made to pass electricity through it.

The effect of reading Persuasion is much the same–electrifying the heart with such simple stimulation.

Collecting fossils at Lyme Regis, a subject visited previously in this blog, regarding those Paleontologists to the Regency – photo by John Cummings via Wikicommons

 

The Smock-Race of a Regency Easter

“Some years ago I saw a female race’;

the prize, a shift–a Holland shift, I ween:

Ten Damsels, nearly all in naked grace,

Rush’d for the precious Prize along the Green.

— The Works of Peter Pindar, 1812

It’s almost Easter and Popular Pastimes (1816) advises one can readily find a smock-race in “country places” this time of the year.

Word Wenches has an excellent description of the custom here. This post is a little like adding some color to the custom.

The smock race was merely one of several spectacles at spring festivals and fairs. James Birchall (England Under the Revolution and the House of Hanover 1688 to 1820, 1876) relates that smock races were held in Pall Mall through the eighteenth century, along with other amusements like “prize fights, bull-baiting and the Cock-pit, and (goodness me!) an execution at Tyburn.”

I suspect that spring, for a country lass, was not only an excellent time to acquire a new frock, it was imperative. The weather was warming, making one’s winter smock sadly out of fashion as well as unsuitable for the changing season’s temperature. The condition of last year’s summer smock, by virtue of the fact it saw a great deal more outside activity than winter’s raiment, was beyond help, being hopelessly stained and mended many times over.

Not every female had the luxury of heedless excursions in the rain. The want of sense. A surfeit of sensibility.

Easter was a holiday (along with Whitsun and Ascension Day) which provided time off from one’s labor to see about the getting of a new smock. The smock race coincided with such holidays–by design, no doubt.

The smock race featured a well-made prize. The smock (or chemise) was generally executed from fine Holland cloth, which may have been more practical than fine India muslin, but for me has the melancholy connection with the shutting up of houses and retrenching. So it was brightened up with ribbons and special poppy-colored bows attached to the frock, called coquelicot.

Darling Anne Elliot was not unacquainted with Holland cloth and retrenchment.

Hoisted on a standard for display,  the smock lured young females to indulge in unladylike pursuits, like running full-tilt in full view of interested onlookers. There seemed to be no lack of participants, so the garment must have been a seductive prize, indeed.

The custom acquired a notorious reputation when some races required competitive attire to be limited to an, er, smock.

The circumstances of feminine rustics being made to entertain was alternately celebrated and deplored. Favorable reviews came from those spectators that were generally squires, apprentices and sporting dandies in search of amusement. They brushed aside any disapproval, insisting the whole affair was a “very pretty and merry sight.”

Good for the lungs, what–what?

The remarkable painter George Morland, to whom we owe a great debt in the rendering of rural Georgian England, might have given us a good deal more to see of the period, but for his frequent habit of taking

“..a ride into the country to a smock-race or a grinning-match (!), a jolly dinner and a drinking-bout after it; a mad scamper home with a flounce into the mud.” — The New Wonderful Museum and Extraordinary Magazine (1805)

 

The specter of a mock-race called to mind licentiousness. It was ill-bred to indulge in it, both as a participant and observer. The lower classes were free to entertain themselves in such a manner, for that was the condition to which they were born to. For the upper classes, the smock race provided an excellent vehicle by which to pass judgment on others.

Consider, for a moment, a miss just arriving at church red-faced and wind-blown. Her appearance alone brings censure. Sitting down in the pew, she cannot but help overhear whispers behind her. The derision is almost palpable, the hushed tones impossible to ignore, speculating out loud that perhaps she looked that way because she’d just run a smock-race.

Happy Easter!

Regency Poetry: Nuances of Sensibility

Speaking of Downton Abbey, Violet’s character is so very rich, is it not? Her remarks are cleverly acid and yet illuminating as well. Certainly we know what her ladyship thinks of Byron. We probably can guess what she thinks of Regency poetry in general, with its idealism and “sensibility:”

Edith: “..am I to be the maiden aunt? Isn’t this what they do? Arrange presents for their prettier relations?”

The Dowager Countess: “Don’t be defeatist, dear, it’s terribly middle-class.”

No pining about and no nonsense.

"Oh, Anne."

“Oh, Anne.”

I like to speculate what poets my favorite Regency-set characters favor. As dear Anne from Austen’s Persuasion famously says, “We are living through a great age for poetry, I think.” In the next few posts, this blog will consider some characters from Regency fiction and what poets they might find appealing.

Which of the following would Heyer’s Kitty Charing like?

“..Shelley’s ‘silver music,’ Coleridge’s ‘wings of healing,’ Wordsworth’s ‘wild unpeopled hills’ and above all..Keats.”

from  Byron in Love: A Short Daring Life by Edna O’Brien

Hang on–wasn’t it Anne who advised caution against too much poetry? Her companion, Captain Benwick, was:

“..intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet (Walter Scott), and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other [Lord Byron]; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read poetry.”

Persuasion by Jane Austen (as presented by Janet Aikens Yount in Eighteenth Century Life, Winter 2010)

It must be recalled, however, that Anne Elliot is a masterfully drawn character. She is so nuanced in her beloved, practical way that it is a beautiful serendipity to find in her a great capacity for the “sensibility” vital to Romantic poetry. That capacity was hidden, in a:

“..heart large and expansive, this seat of deep, kind, honest and benevolent feelings–a bosom capacious of universal love, but through which there flowed a deeper stream…” — The Retrospective Review, Vol. 7 Part 1 (1823)

Still waters run deep, as they say.

The Real Regency Reader: Jane Austen

“It is difficult to think of a novelist who makes reading a more animating part of her characters’ lives than Jane Austen.”

–John Mullan, What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved (2013)

We know how Northanger Abbey’s heroine, like Cotillion’s Kitty, was much guided by knowledge gleaned from novels and therefore committed foibles as a result of such reliance. Or Fanny of Mansfield Park who had rather more learning from books than those rich Bertram girls who supposed her ‘stupid at learning.’ Already mentioned is Sir Elliot of Kellynch Hall in Persuasion whose reading was limited to the Baronetage and so, too, was his conversation. Recall in Pride and Prejudice Miss Bingley’s spectacular attempts at diverting Mr. Darcy from his book when a day earlier she had attacked our darling Lizzie for not playing cards because she loved books.

1940's Pride and Prejudice, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier

1940’s Pride and Prejudice, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier

I did not understand the significance of reading in Jane Austen’s world until it was illuminated by Professor Mullan:  being literate during the Regency means reading books. In Sense and Sensibility, Lucy Steele is illiterate not because she can’t read, but because she does not read.

“Lucy’s ignorance of books will be as much a torment to poor Edward, her future husband, as her cunning and self-interestedness.”

This blog has mentioned the value of book collecting during the Regency, A library of any size was a mark of distinction because it conferred upon those who had access to it an erudition valued in those days. Professor Mullan points out that Austen had no more than two years’ formal schooling but yet had access to her father’s library which was vast for a country clergyman.

One must suspect that her admiration for books and reading must reflect what Regency readers must have thought:

“I only mean what I have read about.  It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho (Penguin Classics). But you never read novels, I dare say?”

“Why not?”

“Because they are not clever enough for you — gentlemen read better books.”

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” — Mansfield Park

The Real Regency Reader

Reading was an important pastime in the Regency. With more leisure came more time. And more reading.

In Heyer’s Cotillion, the heroine has had more than enough leisure time at her guardian’s dreary country house, with nothing but her governess’s bookshelf to entertain–and educate her. She elicits the aid of the hero, who, if he can be persuaded to enter into a pretend engagement with her, will take her to London. There she might have the opportunity to bring the dilatory Mr. Westruther up to scratch.

This is the copy I have--from 1968--the hair is a little That Girl, don't you think?

This is the copy I have–from 1968–the hair is a little That Girl, don’t you think?

“No, dash it!” protested Mr. Standen. “Not if you’re engaged to me, Kit!”

She became intent on smoothing the wrinkles from her gloves. Her colour considerably heightened, she said: “No. Only–If there did happen to be some gentleman who–who wished to marry me, do you think he would be deterred by that, Freddy?”

“Be a curst rum touch if he wasn’t, ” replied Freddy unequivocally.

“Yes, but–If he had a partiality for me, and found I had become engaged to Another,” said Kitty, drawing on a knowledge of life culled from the pages of such novels as graced Miss Fishguard’s bookshelf, “he might be wrought upon by jealousy.”

“Who?” demanded Freddy, out of his depth.

“Anyone!” said Kitty.

“But there ain’t anyone!” argued Freddy.

“No,” agreed Kitty, damped. “It was just a passing thought, and not of the least consequence! I shall seek a situation.”

What you read during the Regency was generally held to be informative of your character. In the case of Jane Austen’s novels, you might recall the sensible Anne Elliott in Persuasion enjoys prose and views Mr. Benwick’s inordinate fondness for poetry with a little alarm. Her father, on the other hand, “never took up any book but the Baronetage.”

Then again, too much reliance shouldn’t be placed on a person’s reading selections as a guide to their makeup. This next series of posts is intended to illustrate how diverse a real Regency book can be, and its reader as well. For instance, a novel might deliver a moral tale better than a collection of the vicar’s sermons from Harrow-on-Gate. Also, females thought to be flighty because of their penchant for Gothic tales suddenly reveal themselves to have a will of iron.

Just ask the Honorable Frederick Standen.

Regency Brothers – Tinker, Painter, Soldier and–Arsonist

We love the Regency era novels of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion for the same reasons we like the Edwardian era dramas of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. These are stories that take place in stratified societies with rules the plot must heed like lodestones. If they stray too far they will offend the reader.

It sounds like a recipe for boredom and might well be–but for the persons that threaten to upset one’s beautiful world. Characters like George Wickham, Mrs. Clay, Mr. Parks and Tom Branson.

This post is an introduction to four brothers of the Regency, whose contributions, some dubious, enriched and horrified the Beau Monde.

Syon Park's conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Syon Park’s conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

The Martin boys were among twelve children born to William Fenwick Martin and his wife Isabella in Northumberland. The family was decidedly lower class, the father being somewhat peripatetic in both lodging and trade. He had at one time been a fencing master but also built coaches, tanned hides and kept taverns.

Such an unstable environment was perhaps unsuitable for raising children and they were sent to live at various times with relatives before both parents died in 1813.

The sons were as follows:

The Tinker:  William– the oldest. An inventor and philosopher who “tinkered” with machines and ideas.

The Painter:  John — the youngest. An artist and historical painter to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

The Soldier:  Richard — the second oldest. A quartermaster in the Guards, serving in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

The Arsonist:  Jonathan – the third oldest. Arguably the most famous of all.

They entertained the ton, existing in the beautiful world that was all around them, but forever out of reach.

Perhaps their stories will entertain you as well.

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)