A concert in Cambridge, 1767

In the Rowe Music Library at King’s College hangs a copy of this engraving, which shows seven local musicians performing at a concert that took place in the hall of Christ’s College on 8 June 1767. Tickets cost two shillings and sixpence.

The etching is attributed to Abraham Hume, after a drawing by Thomas Orde. Hume (1749-1838), later a Baronet, would have been eighteen years old at the time of the concert and a Fellow-Commoner at Trinity College. Orde (1746-1807), later Orde-Powlett, 1st Baron Bolton, was an undergraduate at King’s. Within a few years of graduating both men had been elected Tory MPs.

The personnel depicted are given in pencil at the foot of the engraving as: ‘Hallendale / Newell Senr. / Rennish / West / Wynn / Newell Junr. / Wood’. Exploring the backgrounds of these musicians helps to build up a picture of the Cambridge music scene 250 years ago that is impressively cosmopolitan.

The most arresting-looking individual in the picture is perhaps the severe-faced cellist in the centre, staring the viewer down through his spectacles. Although called ‘West’ in the Rowe copy, a name that has proved a dead end, another copy identifies him more fruitfully as ‘Alexis’, which suggests he is likely to be Alexis Magito, a Dutch-born musician who worked in England from the 1750s onwards. At around the time of this concert, an edition of a set of six sonatas for cello and double bass composed by Magito was published by the Cambridge music seller John Wynne, the bassist standing to the right of Magito in the picture. Wynne kept a music shop near the Senate House, ‘at the sign of the Harp and Hautboy’.

Rw.16.21, Alexis Magito, Six sonatas for the violoncello & basso, opera prima

There is no harp in Hume’s picture, but there is a hautboy, or oboe, being played by John Ranish, who stands to the left of Magito in a more than usually full-bodied wig. Ranish, named ‘Rennish’ in the Rowe copy, was probably of Eastern European stock (Christopher Hogwood suggests his name may have been Anglicised from ‘Wranisch’), and at the time of the concert had been established as an oboist and flautist in Cambridge for some time. His 1777 obituary in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal claims he ‘always supported the character of a gentleman, and was respected by all that knew him’.

The man seated at a mysterious instrument to the right of Wynne and identified in the Rowe copy as ‘Newell Junr.’ is in fact the Portuguese musician Georg Noëlli, and the mysterious instrument is the pantalon or pantaleon (or indeed ‘Panthaleone’, as the concert’s advertisement in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal has it). This was a large form of hammered dulcimer invented by the German musician Pantaleon Hebenstreit (1668-1750) and named after him by Louis XIV of France, who had been impressed by the instrument when Hebenstreit paid a visit to the court in 1705. Noëlli had studied with Hebenstreit, and in 1767 seems to have been on a tour of England: a Worcester newspaper boasts of his appearance there playing an instrument ‘eleven feet in length [with] 276 strings of different magnitudes’. Clearly the engraving does not fully communicate the sheer length of Noëlli’s pantalon.

The most distinguished musician in the picture, though, is probably Pieter Hellendaal, the violinist standing on the far left. Born in Rotterdam in 1721, he studied violin with Tartini in his youth, and in the 1750s moved to England, working in London and King’s Lynn. He settled in Cambridge in 1762, where he held musical posts at Pembroke College (then Pembroke Hall) and Peterhouse (then St Peter’s College). He died in 1799 and is buried in the shadow of Peterhouse, in the churchyard at Little St Mary’s.

Although several of the musicians pictured were composers as well as performers, Hellendaal’s music was the most widely published, both in London by a variety of publishers, and, as the title pages of editions in the Rowe Library attest, closer to home, ‘at the author’s house in Trompington Street, opposite St. Peter’s Colledge’. The Fitzwilliam Museum possesses a set of sonatas by Hellendaal in manuscript, six of which have been recorded recently by the performers in the video below, to general acclaim. If you would like to raise a glass to Hellendaal, this is a good time to do it: he was baptised on 1 April 1721, so this week may be taken to be the 300th anniversary of his birth!

Bibliography

Hanks, S.E. (1969) ‘Pantaleon’s pantalon: an 18th-century musical fashion’, The Musical Quarterly, 55(2), pp. 215-227.

Hogwood, C. (1983) ‘A note on the frontispiece: A concert in Cambridge’, in Hogwood, C. & Luckett, R. (eds.), Music in eighteenth-century England: essays in memory of Charles Cudworth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. xv-xviii.

GB

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