A box of parts

Amendments to the ripieno bass in a John Marsh symphony.

Sometimes, it’s only too easy to forget what a wealth of musical material we have here at the UL. I was reminded forcibly of this the other day, when a reader expressed an interest in John Marsh‘s 7th Symphony, usually known as La Chasse. I expected to find a score at MR310.a.75.3. Instead I found a box of parts, with a story to tell.

John Marsh was born in 1752 in Dorking. Originally destined for a life at sea, he persuaded his father to let him train as a lawyer. While studying law, he also studied music, and soon became involved with the world of subscription concerts in Romsey. After qualifying as a lawyer, he moved to Salisbury, where he soon became a leading light of musical life there: composing, playing, and leading the subscription concerts. He and his family moved to Chichester in 1787, after a spell in Canterbury, and it is from this period that our instrumental parts derive, as they were evidently in regular use at Marsh’s Chichester subscription concerts.

A viola part for John Marsh’s symphonies, labelled for the Chichester Concerts

Most of the parts are printed, but there are also several additional manuscript copies often for instruments lacking printed parts. In some cases Marsh has evidently been aiming for a new effect prompting the sudden need for extra copies. For example, in one symphony, a flute doubles the second violins, while clarinet parts are introduced, and there are copious corrections and amendments to the ripieno strings – presumably the composer was aiming for a richer sound with an increased use of woodwind and more strings. Although one hand (Marsh’s?) seems to be dominant, there are many others, probably members of the Chichester orchestra copying and tidying their parts.

John Marsh was also a great writer. It was believed for some time that the manuscript of his journals was kept here at the UL, at MS.Add.7757. Charles Cudworth, the first librarian at the Music Faculty, was an admirer of Marsh. More recently however an enormous manuscript numbering over 6,000 pages turned up in the Huntington Library in California, which has now become the principal source of information on John Marsh’s life. It is believed that the UL’s version was heavily edited, probably by Marsh’s clergyman son, Edward Garrard Marsh.

Marsh’s journals have now been published in an abridged form, edited by Brian Robins, and can be found at M501.b.201.4-5. They’re a fascinating reflection on the musical and social life of the country while living through a turbulent time – the Napoleonic Wars.

Before … (MR310.a.75.3)

And after….Some digital tweakery reveals the sale of a few of Marsh’s properties.
See also entries in John Marsh’s journals – August 1807-January 1808
[p.111-118, M501.b.201.5]











One intriguing oddity in the parts is a piece of paper pasted onto the verso of a page of music, evidently used for strengthening it during a swift page turn. On closer inspection it was revealed that the side pasted next to the music contained John Marsh’s handwriting. After some scanning, digital tweaking (and helpful advice and sympathy from Kate Crane and Susi Woodhouse), the item was revealed as (most likely) a draft of a legal document involving the sale of some farms owned by Marsh in October 1807.

I , John Marsh, of the City of [Chichester…..]
And perfect mind, memory, and [understanding? …..]
And declare this to be my […..]
That is to say first I give my [……]
Called Womanswold Farm [……..Old]
Court and Church Street Farms
Also my [……] land which [rest illegible – Eagle eyed readers’ thoughts much appreciated…]

The work must have been one of the more regularly played items at the Chichester Concerts, as the music had evidently received heavy use, hence the need for some strengthening with a draft copy of a legal paper.

During his lifetime Marsh paid several visits to Cambridge, including a visit in October 1801 in which the town was illuminated by a brilliant firework display, which terrified Mrs. Marsh. It doesn’t seem to have been the cheeriest of visits, despite early news of the Treaty of Amiens, and a visit to King’s College, which Marsh praised as “superior to any building at Oxford” (he was less complimentary about the rest of Cambridge’s colleges). The visit to King’s was further enlivened by “a spirited volunt’y on the organ”. However the following day the family had to suffer a “maukish” [sic] sermon at Great St. Mary’s, and were unable to meet up with Dr. Hague, then Professor of Music at Cambridge. Marsh seems to have had unfortunate luck in East Anglia, with his baggage lost in transit to Huntingdon on a later visit, and ending up in London.

Despite this though he remained incurably optimistic, travelled widely in the United Kingdom, and as a passionate lover of the arts watched Sarah Siddons on stage, and attended Haydn’s concerts. He met J.C. Bach and was friendly with both Longman and Broderip. Longman advised him on the market for bawdy songs – Marsh was shocked! While Broderip as a friend of Haydn gave Marsh all the latest inside gossip. Marsh’s life in many ways was very ordinary, and yet, it is a shining example of the extraordinariness of ordinary life when viewed across centuries.





About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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6 Responses to A box of parts

  1. Brian Robins says:

    As the person who more than anyone is responsible for today’s knowledge of John Marsh (https://www.earlymusicworld.com/john-marsh-journals-vol-1 & https://www.earlymusicworld.com/john-marsh-journals-vol-2) I am somewhat aggrieved that there is no mention of over 30 years work in this blog.


    • mj263 says:

      Apologies for this, Brian. Frequent mention is made of the modern edition of John Marsh’s journals, which you edited (name now included), and I have now included a link back to your website in the post.
      The post largely focused on manuscript items related to Marsh at the UL, rather than a more general overview hence the unfortunate omission.
      I personally am very glad of the work that you did on the Marsh journals, as they are completely fascinating.
      Best wishes, Margaret


      • Brian Robins says:

        Thank you so much, Margaret. I’m sorry to be a bit touchy on the subject, but as an ‘outsider’ I have felt shoddily treated by academia in this country (if not abroad – a prophet is not without etc …!)


      • mj263 says:

        Not at all, Brian. It was a fair comment, glad to make amends. I can quite understand why you became so interested in John Marsh. Have just started dipping into the journals and they are wonderful.


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