Benefit night at the Black Bear Inn

Programme for Charles Hague's benefit concert on 12 February 1793.

Programme for Charles Hague’s benefit concert on 12 February 1793.

Regular readers of this blog will have seen our previous posts on the Black Bear Inn Music Club. This post  continues the closer look at the benefit nights held for regular performers such as violinist John Scarborough, flautist George Nicholls and leader of the band (and Professor of Music) Charles Hague.

On these occasions well-known musicians from London would often join the band at the Black Bear and so swell the audience, thus maximising income for the beneficiary. We see, for example Charles Ashley the ‘cellist and one of the first members of the Philharmonic Society is to perform in a Boccherini quintet at Mr. Field’s benefit concert on 20th April 1809, Robert Lindley, regarded as the finest cellist of his generation also made an appearance this time for Charles Hague’s benefit on 14 Nov 1805, and the hugely popular tenor Charles Incledon sang at Hague’s benefit concert on 26 February 1798.

The music is the usual mix of instrumental and vocal pieces, but perhaps rather more adventurous than the gentler fare, with plenty of Handel, on offer at “ordinary” nights.
This time I’ve chosen the benefit given for Charles Hague on 12th February 1793 as it illustrates some of the imponderables of these concerts and because the UL has contemporary editions of much of the music played. We begin with a Haydn “overture” (i.e. a symphony). Which one, we cannot know [and here is our first frustration], but perhaps one of those Haydn had recently composed for Salomon such as no. 95 or 96.

A Shakespeare setting by the organist and composer RJS Stevens follows: his 1782 setting of Ye spotted snakes. Chiefly remembered as a composer of glees, this is one of his best known and was accompanied on this occasion by his Sigh no more, ladies in the second half. Who sang? Sadly, we don’t know [our second frustration]. You may also be interested to learn that his manuscript recollections are held in the University Library with a typescript at the Pendelbury, extracts from which, edited by Mark Argent were published by Macmillan in 1992.

William Boyce by John Russell, 1776. Held at the National Portrait Gallery. CC-BY-NC-ND

William Boyce by John Russell, 1776. Held at the National Portrait Gallery.

Geminiani’s arrangement of Corelli’s concerto grosso op.5 no. 9 followed which would certainly have featured Hague and probably Scarborough, Marshall, Wagstaff and Barford as Black Bear regulars. (Morris Barford kept a music shop in Union Street which used to run where Peas Hill now is).

It was Solomon, composed in 1743, which brought William Boyce his first major success. Here Hague (who sang as well as played the violin) performs the duet Together let us range with a relative, possibly his wife, Harriott. The family celebration continues with a “Grand Pianoforte Concerto”[whose, we don’t know – frustration number three] performed by, I assume, the same Harriott. It cannot have been his daughter, also Harriott a talented youngster who probably did perform at the concerts in the early 1800s, as she would have been minus two at the time (unless my maths is completely up the creek). [frustration number four, although a forensic check of parish records should help]

After the interval we continue with an overture by Italian violinist Luigi Borghi, who led the second violins in the Professional Concerts in London and played quartets regularly with Cramer. Perhaps it was one of the six overtures in four parts he wrote in 1787. Or was it? We must not forget Giovanni Battista Borghi, composer of many operas as a possible candidate, although I think it’s much more likely to be Luigi [frustration number five]. You are beginning to appreciate how the Black Bear programmes are littered with these little minefields.

Frustration number six presents itself with the next item: coyly labelled “violin concerto” and the point in the programme at which the spotlight fell well and truly onto Hague as beneficiary. We have no way of knowing what he chose to play (there were no reviews in the local press) and it is interesting to note that in many instances where a solo concerto is offered, we are given no indication of the work to be performed.

Rule Britannia! From "Alfred" by Thomas Arne. Walsh's 1757 publication of the score.

Rule Britannia! From “Alfred” by Thomas Arne. Walsh’s 1757 publication of the score.

Surer ground then [thank goodness], for the penultimate item: Rule Britannia! A piece which has since become a symbol of British identity. Illustrated is Walsh’s 1757 publication of Arne’s score, held at the University Library.

And to finish, some Handel, as constant as the Northern Star in Black Bear programmes. This time, the rather sombre Overture and Dead March from Saul, performed by the assembled company. The UL has a copy of Samuel Arnold’s 1792 publication from his edition of Handel’s works.



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1 Response to Benefit night at the Black Bear Inn

  1. Pingback: Cambridge Professors of Music, 1684 – 1821 | MusiCB3 Blog

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