Tag Archives: Rowe Music Library

What Do We Think They Did?

In a previous blogpost in March 2021 we wrote about an eighteenth-century engraving depicting ‘A Concert in Cambridge’ that hangs on the wall in the Rowe Music Library in King’s. That blogpost identified all the individuals in the rather cosmopolitan group of musicians captured in the engraving and provided brief biographical information about each of them. We had a wonderful excuse to revisit the engraving in the autumn of 2022 when the College Librarian, Dr James Clements, took part in the filming of an episode of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? (https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m001mgp3/who-do-you-think-you-are-series-20-1-andrew-lloyd-webber) which focusses on the ancestry of the composer and musical theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of whose ancestors features in the engraving.

‘A Concert at Cambridge’, probably 1767

The musician in question is the rather stern-looking bespectacled cellist in the centre of the engraving. He is believed to be the Dutch musician Alexis Magito (1711–1773) who came from a family of showmen, acrobats and musicians who had lived in Holland since about 1675.[1] His father, Johannes Alexis, was a violin teacher and impressario, and another close relative, Pieter Magito, is thought to have been the first circus master in Holland. By the second half of the eighteenth century the word Magito had become synonymous with fairground showmen, circus entertainers and musicians. We discovered in the episode that Alexis is Andrew’s six times great-uncle, and his father Johannes his six times great-grandfather.

Born in Rotterdam in 1711, Alexis lived in Gouda for a few years in the 1730s, before going back to Rotterdam during the 1740s, and enrolling at the University of Leiden in 1746. There is plenty of evidence of his activities on the Dutch concert scene up until 1754, but by 1760 it is clear he had moved to England, perhaps to London initially. By the early 1760s there is documentary evidence that he was active on the Cambridge concert scene, alongside other figures in our 1767 concert engraving including the Dutch-born violinist Pieter Hellendaal (1721–1799) (on the far left of the engraving) and Cambridge double bassist John Wynne (1720–1788). The following newspaper concert advertisement from 1764, which features in the episode, demonstrates this:[2]

Advertisement for a ‘Grand Concert for Mr Hellendaal’ featuring Mr Alexis on the violoncello. (Cambridge Chronicle, 17 Mar 1764).

It’s clear that the career of Alexis Magito took a somewhat different musical path from that of some of his family, and he was well enough known on the British concert scene as a cellist to be referred to without his surname as only ‘Mr Alexis’. Like several of the musicians in our engraving, his skills weren’t limited to musical performance, however, as we know he also composed music as well as engraved music for publication. The cellist and musicologist Elske Tinbergen has identified four publications that were engraved by Alexis Magito, one of which is the Concerti Armonici by Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1692–1766) published in the Hague in about 1740, a copy of which is in the Library at King’s.

Title page and final page of music (inscribed ‘Gravé par Alexis Magito Fils’ or ‘Engraved by Alexis Magito the son’) of Wassenaer’s VI Concerti Armonici (deliberately misattributed to Carlo Ricciotti (1681–1756)). (Shelfmark: Radcliffe.LOC.Con.1736/3).

We noted in the earlier blog post that Magito’s six cello sonatas were printed and published by the double bassist in our engraving, John Wynne, in Cambridge in the 1760s. Like Magito, Wynne also composed music as well as having a successful music shop in Cambridge in Regent Walk (nowadays a lawn in front of Senate House). We saw in the advertisement for the ‘Grand Concert’ above that concert tickets could also be purchased at Wynne’s music shop.

Map showing location of Regent Walk (also known as University Street) in Cambridge (from Atkinson and Clark, Cambridge Described and Illustrated (London, 1893), p. 272)

In the Rowe Music Library we have a copy of Ten English songs by John Wynne published for him in London by John Johnson in 1754. Being published in London will have ensured a wider potential audience, but as the title page clearly states it was ‘printed for the author and sold by him at his House in the Regent Walk, Cambridge’.

Title page and song ‘Love and Musick’ from Ten English songs by John Wynne (London: John Johnson, 1754). (Shelfmark: Mn.12.36).

Another multi-talented figure in our group is the oboist John Frederick Ranish (1692/3–1777). Thought to have been of East-European origin, Ranish also played the flute, and published two sets of flute sonatas. The subscription list to his first set (opus 1, published circa 1735) includes the Cambridge Musical Society as well as some thirty names of individuals associated with Cambridge Colleges, indicating that he had considerable standing in the city at that time. In the Rowe Music Library we have his second set of flute sonatas (opus 2, 1744) published by John Walsh, one of the most important music engravers and publishers of the time, in London.

Title page and opening page of John Frederick Ranish, XII Solos for the German flute (London: Walsh, 1744). (Shelfmark: Mn.13.28).

Finally we turn to the figure on the far right of our engraving, listed as ‘Wood’ on the surviving copies, who appears to be singing, and is curiously not mentioned in the literature about the engraving. The research for the episode uncovered a newspaper advertisement for a concert that took place in Ely in 1770 which was ‘For Mr. Wood, Organist’, and he was clearly known to Alexis Magito who is playing the cello in the concert, and also John Wynne who sold tickets for the concert in his shop. It seems very likely the musician Wood in our engraving and in this concert is David Wood, organist at Ely Cathedral between 1768 and 1774, who became a gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1774 and passed away in 1786. The violinist in the concert, Mr Alexis Jun[ior], is thought to be Alexis Magito’s younger brother and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s five times great-grandfather Henry Alexis Magito who was born in 1732.

Concert advertisement (Cambridge Chronicle, 21 July 1770).

Working with the director Harvey Lilley, producer Laia Niubo and the team at Wall to Wall who produced this episode, and of course with Andrew Lloyd Webber and being able to play this small part in telling his genealogy story was not only great fun, but gave us another opportunity to take a second look at this engraving resulting in a better understanding of the activities of the musicians it depicts and the ways in which the engraving relates to other music holdings in King’s Library.

College Librarian James Clements with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the day of filming.



[1] The biographical information about Alexis Magito and his family comes from Elske Tinbergen, ‘The “cello” in the Low Countries: the instrument and its practical use in the 17th and 18th centuries’ (PhD Diss., University of Leiden, 2018), pp. 255-271. See http://hdl.handle.net/1887/68235

[2] The researcher for the episode who found the newspaper concert advertisements was Xin Fan.



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!

Further information about this engraving and the characters it depicts can be found at https://kcctreasures.com/2023/06/01/what-do-we-think-they-did/


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.


‘The oddest town I’ve ever seen’: Alban Berg’s visit to Cambridge

Rowe Music Library

The first thing anyone notices on entering King’s College’s Rowe Music Library are shelves upon shelves of brightly coloured scores, and it is possible to be so beguiled by them that you fail to notice anything else; but there are pictures hanging on the walls that are just as interesting in their way. This, for instance:

Cambridge, 1931

The photograph was taken in January 1931, in the rooms of the musicologist E.J. Dent, a Fellow of King’s. Dent is the dapper, Wilfrid Brambell-esque figure seated at the table; alongside him, the Polish composer Grzegorz Fitelberg and the Belgian Désiré Defauw. At the piano is Alfredo Casella; standing behind him, Charles Koechlin and the conductor Adrian Boult. And in the middle, leaning on the piano, is Alban Berg. How did this man, one of the titans of twentieth-century classical music, come to be in Cambridge?

The occasion was a meeting of the jury of the International Society for Contemporary Music, which at that time consisted of Dent and the five composers (Boult serving in an advisory capacity). Dent had been President of the ISCM since its inception in 1922, and the purpose of the meeting was to determine which works would be performed at that summer’s Festival in Oxford and London, the first to be held in Britain.

Berg’s published letters to his wife tell the story. From 12th January:

So far I’ve only the impression of a provincial place, but not a German one. Sort of super-Deutsch-Landsberg.

Dent called for me, and we went on working in the College. Altogether this is the oddest town I’ve ever seen. More about that when I get back.

Dent, who is like a kindly nanny to me, made a splendid tea in the afternoon. We worked till about seven; and now the car is fetching me and taking me home to dinner. We had a very fine lunch at Dent’s, except that the food had no taste at all. In this country a pheasant tastes exactly like a turkey or a chicken.

A couple of days later:

I’ve been working hard all day, had a fine lunch (my ‘favourite’ roast lamb), home to dinner, played the gramophone afterwards, and went to bed early. It’s become colder. But thanks to all sorts of drinks, good warm pants and woolly vests and galoshes, I’m managing quite well and never catch cold. We all get on well on the jury, talking French almost all day – although we’re from six different countries: Italy, France, Belgium, Poland, Austria, England …

By 15th January, writing on his way to London, he had had enough:

Thank the Lord, Cambridge is over … not an hour more in that dull place.

In a letter to Arnold Schoenberg a month later, Berg wrote more frankly of his experience on the jury:

Of course the professional task at hand was very depressing since I, alone against 4, sometimes 5 opponents … was able to accomplish practically nothing worthwhile, as you can see from the concert programs of the Oxford Music Festival.

Thank heavens at least Webern will be heard!

The Webern performed that summer was his Symphony, Op. 21, the score of which Berg is seen holding in the photograph. Among the other works in the programme were Vaughan Williams’ Job: A Masque for Dancing, Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Hindemith’s children’s opera Wir bauen eine Stadt, and pieces by Szymanowski, Roussel, Roger Sessions, Egon Wellesz and Constant Lambert. Much of the Festival was broadcast by the BBC, which (alongside the Radio Times, at that time a publication of the BBC) made an effort to promote it with a series of articles and radio talks related to the music being performed.

While researching this post I had the opportunity of consulting Dent’s personal papers, housed in our Archive Centre. They include correspondence from several ISCM people, including a typed letter of thanks from Defauw dated 21st May 1931, to which is added a handwritten postscript referring presumably to the forthcoming Festival, to be held in July: ‘Cher Ami, je ferai tout mon possible pour venir en juillet – j’aurai une grande joie de vous revoir’.

Also in the Dent archive are several photographs dating from the foundation of the ISCM. This annotated photo, taken in Salzburg in 1922, features several composers of note, including Webern, Wellesz, Hindemith, Arthur Bliss (later Master of the Queen’s Music), and Ethel Smyth.

Salzburg, 1922

You can explore the Dent archive further by searching the catalogue on Janus here.

Brand, J., Hailey, C. & Harris, D. (eds.). The Berg-Schoenberg Correspondence: Selected Letters (Macmillan, 1987)
Doctor, J. The BBC and Ultra-Modern Music, 1922-1936 : Shaping a Nation’s Tastes (Cambridge University Press, 1999)
Grun, B. (ed.). Alban Berg: Letters to His Wife (Faber, 1971)

[The copyright holder of the 1931 ISCM photograph is unknown. We apologise for any inadvertent omission. Please contact us if you are the copyright holder.]