Firstly, a very happy 2014 to all MusiCB3 readers…
…our “To celebrate, to commemmorate” series will be kept busy this year as we delve into some of the figures whose anniversaries come up: I’m sure C.P.E. Bach, Gluck and Richard Strauss will all receive our attention in due course, but I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the more unusual musical events that have birthdays coming up. Here are three of my favourites:
What better place to start then with the Star-Spangled banner, 200 years old this year? That great American patriotic song with lyrics by Francis Scott Key inspired by the flag and adopted as the US national anthem in 1931, but, did you know that the tune, now so familiar to us all, composed originally by John Stafford Smith, started life as another kind of “anthem” entirely? That of the Anacreontic Society, a London-based gentlemen’s music club founded in 1766? (Anacreon was a Greek poet, famed for his praise of wine, women and song). The UL has a copy [item no. 49 in MR290.a 75.454] of this “sung by Mr. Incledon“, the Russell Watson of his day and a favourite at the Black Bear Music Club. The Society’s key role in London concert life is described by Simon McVeigh in his splendid essay “Trial by dining club”, chapter six of Music and performance culture in nineteenth century Britain edited by Bennett Zon (Ashgate, 2012) [M495.c.201.5].
Also celebrating his 200th birthday is Adolphe Sax, inventor of the Saxophone. Belgian by birth and the son of a musical instrument maker, Sax played both flute and clarinet and began to experiment with new instrument designs at an early age. Following a move to Paris in 1841, Sax began work on the family of valved bugles which would become known as Saxhorns, so successful was the improved mechanism he designed. The eponymous Saxophone, a family of single-reed instruments he developed in the 1840s, was patented in 1846 and made his reputation. Berlioz was a great fan and was the first to write for the Saxophone, featuring it in his 1844 arrangement of Chant Sacré. He also wrote an article for the 12 June 1842 issue of the Journal des debats about Sax’s instruments. Since then, it has taken its place at the heart of jazz.
Finally, I’d like to pay tribute to that indefatigable documentor of musical life, Charles Burney, who died on 21 April 1814. The General History of Music, his greatest achievement, was published in four volumes between 1776 and 1789 and is still of significant value today offering the reader a fascinating view not only of Burney’s own musical preferences and enthusiasms, but also a reflection of contemporary fashionable taste. He travelled extensively in Europe as part of the preparations for this work, meeting the great musicians of the time and – something all good researchers do as a matter of course today – consulting original sources. He was also a composer with a number of works for harpsichord and anthems to his name. In 1769 he was commissioned to compose the music for the installation of Augustus Henry FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton as Chancellor here at Cambridge. Unfortunately, there was something of a disagreement over who paid for the performers: Burney resigned and Dr. John Randall, then Professor of Music, took over.
So, those are my three choices: do let us know what yours would be.