John R. Parker.

A musical biograhy: or Sketches of the lives and writings of eminent musical ... online

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cast between those employed by the bass and tenor, natu-
rally followed, while the discontinuance of h^avy divisions,
and the substitution of speaking, and beautiful melodies,
such as we find throughout the Creation — ^In Callcott's
Ange^ of Life — and in Horsely's Tempest, completed the
enlargement of the base singer from the imposing con-
straints of the former system. Nor has the pure and gen-
uine eloquence of music, that just and forcible expression
which is the result of the happiest adaptation of sound to
sentiment, been abandoned or lost in the change. England
owes to the present generation of native composers, a com-
bination of grandeur with grace, not to be matched, we
think, in the works of any other race of writers for bases,
scarcely excepting the author of the Creation himself.

Mr. Bartleman was a member of the chapel royal and
other choirs, a scientific and erudite musician, an4, as a
base singer, has raised the art of expression to a highe^r

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pitch than any of his'predecessors. He revived the miisic
of Purcell, and supported the school of Handel — ^indeed the
ancient schools generally^ with a degree of energy, purity,
and effect, for which the musical world may now look in
vain. With this imaginative and energetic singer, the tra-
ditionary manner of such thmgs as Purcell's "Let the dread
engines," " The Frost scene in king Arthur," and " Saul
and the Witch of Endor," will, we apprehend, be entirely
lost. His voice had power and richness, yet these were
joined with a lightness that is seldom met with in singing.
He was perhaps, the first Englishman who endeavored to
revive the mechanical effects, before this time considered
inalienable, from bases ; and to form this part with spirit,
fancy, finish, and a certain portion of elegance ; and he
was perhaps as successful in the addition of these attributes
to the native majesty and volume of tone,that are the foun-
dation of base-singing, as any man ever was or ever will be.
His style was strictly English, both in the formation of his
tone, and in his elocution, which was highly animated, and
full of effective transitions. The test of his pecuHar Excel-
lence appears to be, that no one has succeeded in imitating
his manner ; nor, indeed, has he^ left behind him any suc-
cessor sufficiently strong to buckle on his armour.

In private life, Mr. Bartleman was refined and well in-
formed, lively in conversation, and enthusiastically fond of
his ai't. He moved in a most respectable sphere iu so-

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The former of these personages was a good Composer,
and possessed a thorough knowledge of the science togeth-
er with a xvide range of acquaintance with the composi-
tion of foreign writers for the stage. He was a com-
poser always natural, nervous, and generally polished,
rarely however, rising to any high pitch of elegance or
originality. There is said to be more merit contained in
his concerted pieces than in his single pieces. His glees and
chorusses are some of them beautiful and elaborate. The
adaptation of the melodies of Italian composers to the
words of new operas had been more general before this
time than is suspected, but he enlarged the privilege, not
indeed surreptitiously or covertly, but openly and fairly.
This circumstance detracts very much from his originality,
while we do not think it adds greatly to his reputation for
taste. ♦

Signora Storage was a great accession to the English
stage. She received an early instruction, had a masculine
imderstanding, and was well trained to advance the. grand
objects of her brother's learning and taste, to the transfer-
ence of the spirit of the Italian opera, and particu-
larly of the comic opera to the English boards. She was
a captivating actress, and possessed 'execution as a
singer ; nor was it possible, to have foimd a woman so ef-
fective in the various tasks allotted her. The selections of
this time, for the oratorios, were principally from the works
of Handel, who writing for genuine basses, that is to say,
for voices of great depth, weight, and volume, employed a
style essentially different from what has since elevated the

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Kputation of certain singers, enlarged the sphere, and even
changed what appears to have been the most natural man-
ner of composing for that sort of voice. The style of Han-
del, as exemplified in this species of music, is sublime and

Signora SroRAqE was married to Dr. Fisher, with Vvhom
she lived but for a short time, when a divorce took place.
It is said she was strongly attached to Mr. Braham, who
was instrumental in improving her manner and style of per-
formance, and to whom she bequeathed at her demise a
considerable legacy. •


Was bom in Cassel in 1750, and it is stated on the au-
thority of a foreign correspondent of Dr. Burney, that her
early years were devoted to the study of the violin, which
as a child she played in England, but quitted that instru-
ment and became a singer by the advice of the English
ladies who disliked a " female fiddler ; it may possibly
have happem^d, that to this prejudice we owe the delight
experienced from the various excellencies of the most sub-
lune singer the worid ever saw. Nor was the objection of
the English ladies, the only prejudice Miss Schmellinq
had to encounter, for, on her arrival at Berlin, at the age of
24, Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, who afiected as
high a skill in music as in war, could scarcely be prevailed
upon to hear her, his majesty declaring that he should as
soon expect pleasure from the neighing of hishorse,as from

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German singet. One song, however, convinced him of
her ability, which he immediately put to th^ severest
trial, by selecting the most difficult airs in his collection,
and which Miss Schmelling executed at sight, as^perfectly
as if she had practised each of these compositions all
her hfe. Her earliest singing master was an old man of
the name of Paradisi, and at fourteen she sung before her
majesty with the greatest success. From 1767 to 1783 she
passed through Germany and Switzerland, she visited Na-
ples at a period subsequent to her appearance i^ England,
ifthough it is related that Madame Mara's first impressions
led her to, songs of agiUty, yet her intonation was fixed by
the incessant application to plain notes . We know from
her own assurance that to confirm the true foundation of
all good singing, by the purest enunciation and the most
precise intonation of the scale, was the study of her life,
and the part of her voicing, upon which she most valued
herself. The late Dr. Arnold told the writer of this arti-
cle, that as he had, by way of experiment, seen Mara
dance and assume the most violent gesticulations while go-
ing up and down the scale, yet such was her power of chest,
that the tone was as undisturbed and free, as if she had
stood in the customary quiet position of the orchestra.

The Italians say, that " of the hundred requisites to
make a singer, he who has a fine voice has ninety-nine."
Madame Mara had certainly the ninety-nine tn one. Her
voice was in compass from G. to £. in altissimo, and all
its notes were alike even and strong ; but if it may be per-
mitted to supply the hundredth, she had that also in a su-
per-eminent degree in the grandest and most sublime con-
ception. At the early age of 24, when she was at Berlin,
in the immaturity of her judgment and her voice, the best
critics admitted her to have exceeded Cuzzoni, Faustina,
and indeed all those who have preceded her. Our age has


^y Google

MARA. 131

since seen Billington and Catalini, and we still belieye that
in majesty and truth of expression (that term comprehend-
ing all the most exalted gifts and requisites of vocal sci-
ence) the Mara retains her superiority. From her we
deduce all that has been learned or perhaps can be learned
concerning the great style of singing. The meniory of her
performance of Handel's sublime work, ^^ / know that my
Redeemer livethj^^ is immortalized, together with the air it-
self. Often as we have since heard it, we have never wit-
nessed even an approach to the simple majesty of Mara ;
it is to this air alone that she owes her highest pre-emi-
nence, and they who not having heard her would picture to
themselves a just portraiture of her performance, must im-
age a singer who is fully equal to the truest expression of
the inspired words and the scarcely less inspired music of
this loftiest of all possible compositions.

But Mara was the child of sensibility ; every thing that
she did was directed to the heart ; her tone, in itself pure,
sweet, rich, and powerful, took all its various colorings
from the passion of the words ; and she was not less true
to nature and feeling in ^^llie Soldier iir'^dy^ and in the
moife exquisite, ^^ Hope told a flattering to^," than in '^ /
know that my Redeemer liveth,^^ Her tone was perhi4;>s nei-
ther so sweet nor so clear as Billington's, nor so rich and
powerful as Catalina's, but it was the most touching lan-
guage of the soul. It was on the mastery of the feelings of
her audience that Mara set her claims to fame. She left
surprise to others, and was wisely content with an appar-
ently (but not really) humbler style ; and she thus chose
the part of genuine greatness.

The elocution of Mara must be taken rather as universal
than as national ; for although she passed some time in
England when a child, and retained some knowledge of the

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language, bt^r prquimciatioii was coati^iualiy marred by a
foreign accent an<i those mutilations of our worcU which
are inseparable from the consta^^t me of foreign lanjguages
during a long residence abroad.* Notwithstanding thi&
draw-back, the iiopre^sion she inade^even upon uneducated
persons, ahvays extrepaely alive to the ridiculous effects of
mis-pronunciation, and upon the unskilled in music, was
•irrefiistiblo. The fire, dignity, and tenderness of her vocal
appeal could never be misunderstood \ it spok^ the lan-
guage of all nations, for it spoke to th^ feelings of the bus-
man heart.

. Her acquaintance with the science of music was consid-
erable, ami her facility in. reading notes astonishing. The
anecdote related above will prove bow completely all mu-
fiic was alike easy to her comprehension. Perhaps she is
indebted to her iiddle for. a faculty at that time not very
common.. Wo huve observed tbat all players on stringed
instruments ^ujoy the power of reading and writing music
beyond most otliers : they derive it from the apprehension
of the cpmin<; note or distance which jnust necessarily rc-
jsjide in the nnu(J, and direct the finger to its formation. The
two branches of art are thus acquired by the violinist in
conjunction, and to her knowledge of the violin we attri*-
bute Madame M45i^'s early superiority in reading difficult
pa&sages, ^ Maha's execution was certainly very great ; and
though it differs materially from the agility of the present
fashion,it m^ be considered as more true, neat, and legiti-
mate^ inai^much as it was less quaint and extravagant, and
deviated less from the main purpose of vocal ^^t — express
sian. Mrs. Biilington once made this remark to us in con-
versation, and at the same time, with a modesty becoming
ber great .a<?quii^ments, voluntarily declared that she con-

* A Pole can easily acquire and pronounce all languages, bnt
no foreigner can pronounce the Polish tongue.

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MARA. 13^

bidered MaIiaV cxcftuti^m to be superior to hev otrii, iiJ gen-
uine effect, tho'jgb not in extetti, compasji, r^idiiy, and
complication. Maha's d/risiions ah\'ays seenM to convey
a meaning, such as tre h^B before described under tb^
ntime oi eocal declamation) in onr criticism on Mr* V^ng:hi»
an : thej were vocal, not instrmnental ; they had li^
and shade afid variety of tone 5 the^ relaxed from, or in-
creased upon the time, according to the sentiment of which
they always appeared to partake ; these attributes were
also particularly remarkable, in her open, true, and liquid
shake, which'was certainly full/of expression. Neither in
her ornaments, learned and graceful as they were, nor in
her cadencies, did she ever lose sight of the appropriate
characteristics of the sense and melody. She was by turns
majestic, tender, pathetic, and elegant, but always the one
or the other — not a note was breathed in vain. — She j\i»tly
held every species of orjjamental execution to be subordi-
nate to the grand end of uniting the effects of sound and
sense in their operations upon the ferehngs of her hearers,
True to this prmciple, if any one commended the agility
of A singer, Mara would ask " Can she sing six plain
notes ?"

We place Madame Mara at the very topmost summit of
her precession, because in majesty and simplicity, in grace,
tenderness, and pathos, in the loftiest attributes of art, in
the elements, of the great style, she far transcended all Iier
competitors in the list of fame. — She gave to Handel's com-
positions their natural igrandeup aad e^ct, which is in
our minds the very highest degree of praise that we can
bestow. Handel is -heavy, say the mivsical fashion-mon-
gers of tiie day. This objection has been alroady largely
discussed in our former pages. MiHon would be heavy
beyottd endurance from the mout^ of a teader of talenta

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above mediocrity. The fact is, that to wield such anm,
demands the strength of giants. Mara possessed this heav-
en gifted strength. It was in the performance of Handel
that her finer mind fixed its expression, and called to its
aid all the powers of her voice, and all the acquisitions of
her science.

Here she still holds her seat in unblenched majesty, and
still wears ** without co-riyal

All her dignities."


The paternal appellation of Mrs. Billington was
Weichsell, and her mother,who was a singer of, some emi-
nence died while her offspring, Mr. C. Weichsell,the cele-
brated violinist, and Mrs. B. were joung. These children
were trained to music at the earliest possible age, and even
performed on the pianoforte and violin for the benefit of
Mrs. W. at the Ha^market Theatre, at six years old at a
time of life when they might have been well thought inca-
pable of any acquirements deserving pubHc notice. Her
first master was Schroeter, an excellent teacher of the pi-
ano forte, and her father superintended her musical educa-
tion with a degree of severity, that could scarcely be justi-
fied even by the proficiency of the pupil. Few persons
have attained the perfection that Miss Weichsell reached
upon this instrument. At fourteen she came before the
public as a singer at Oxford, and at sixteen married Mr.
Billington, then a performer on ihe double bass, who car-
ried her immediately to Dublin, where she commenced her
theatrical career in the opea of Orpheus and Eurydice.

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Here perhaps^ for the only period of her life, she was
doomed to some mortification, in the greater applause and
respect obtained by Miss Wheeler, a singer much inferior
to herself ; and such was the effect on the ardent mind of
Mrs. BiLLiNOTON, that it had well nigh been the occasion
of her quittmg the stage in disgust. The reputation of
Miss Wheeler procured her an engagement at Covent
Grarden Theatre for three years ; Mrs. Billinoton follow-
ed her to London, and no sooner had she arrived th^ Mr.
Harris, the proprietor, and Mr. Lewis the manager, waited
upon her witlf a proposal for her to play three nights. So
short a trial she positively refused, expressing her desire to
substitute twelve nights, under the apprehension that her too
anxious solicitude to please her countrymen might defeat
her first efforts. Such, indeed was her distrust that she
considered this as a final experiment, and she had deter-
mined in the event of any failure either in the case of self
possession or of deficiency of powers and attainments to
quit the profession of an actress at once. They proceeded
to discuss the terms of her engagement*, and she desired a
salary of twelve pounds per week, to which the managers
objected as being the highest sum then given, and as the
remuneration assigned to Miss Wheeler, whose reputation
was so high and so established. The comparison was un-
fortunate, it irritated Mrs. B. and she instantly declined to
enter into any permanent contract. She consented, how-
ever, to appear for the twelve nights, and was advertised
for the part of Rosetta, in Arne's opera of " Love in a Vil-
lage." She was announced for the Wedn^day night, bui
*the name of Mrs. Billinoton, late Miss Weichsell, having
caught the attention of the King, his majesty commanded
her appearance to take place two days sooner, a circum-
stance highly flattering as it was a solitary instance and

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contrary to the custom generally observed by the Sorc-

It will readily be conceived that Mrs. BiLLmoTON^ who;^
habits of study and practice had bfeen fixed by the severest
exercise of parental authority, omitted no preparatory
exertion to ensure her success with the public, under such
high auspices. Indeed she laboured night and day, and
nothing could be more complete than her triumph over the
esteem of her audience and the rivalry of her former fa-
voured competitor. Miss Wheeler was laid on the shelf as
the Uieatrical phrase goes, and at the expration of the
twelve nights the managers again waited on Mrs. B. to re-
new her engagements on a permanent footing. They
questioned her cautiously rejecting her expectations, and
s;ie rather in jest than- earnest demanded one thousand
pounds and a benefit for the remainder of the season, with
which to her astonishment, they immediately complied, and
they afterwards voluntarily gave her a second night in re-
turn for ihe extraordinary emolument they had derived
from the exercise of her talents.

During this season although her theatrical duties were
unremitted, she never relaxed from the most sedulous gene-
ral pursuit of the knowledge and practice of her art. She
laboured incessantly, and received lessons of Mortellari, an
Italian master of celebrity, at that time in England. The
theatre had no sooner closed than she availed herself of the
interval to fly to Paris, where she enjoyed the instructions
of the great Saccbini, the composer. TTius, she continued
from the fortify and enrich her natural gifts widi
the strength and ornaments of high science, an example to*
be followed by every student who aspires to the character
. of a polished and expressive singer.

At this time Madame Mara arrived in England, unequal-

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I^ in the eminence she had attained. In 1785 the subject
of our memoir made her debut at the concert of ancient
music. Mara herself in said not to have beheld her recep-
tion quite unmoyed, and some disputes even atose respect-
ing place and pre-eminence in the seats of the orchestra, a
species of contention very unworthy the transcendant abili-
ties of these gifted individuals.

Mrs. Billington's fame continued to spread while her
never ceasing ardour and assiduity were day by enlarging
her stock of knowledge acquirement and facility. She was a
constant performer at the concerts of the metropolis, and
• she sung at the memorable Westminster Abbey performan-
ces. She remained at Coveut (garden till 1793, when she
adopted a resolution to retire from public life, which she
vainly imagined she had firmness enough to adhere to. At
the instigation of her husband and her brother she was in*-
duced to make a continental tour, with a view solely to
amusement, and to this intent she declined all letters of in-
troduction, intending to travel incognito. For some time
they succeeded and passed along without notice ; but at
Naples, the English Ambassador, Sir W. Hamilton, pene-
trated their secret and persuaded Mrs, B. and Mr. W. to per-
form in private before the King and Qjueen, at Cajserto, a
country residence. The gratification they received induced
their Majesties to request Mrs. Billington to perform at
the Great Theatre of St. Carlo, then thought to be the finest
opem establishment in the world. She accordingly in May,
1794, made her debut in Inez di CastrOy which was compos-
ed expressly for her, by the Maestro Francesco Bianchi,
who wrote an opera worthy the supereminent ability of his
primadonna. Her success was complete, for indeed her
<ielebrity had made her name Jiuown in Italy, and previous
" her quitting England the Venetian Ambassador had been

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in treaty with her to accept an engagement^ which how-
ever she broke.

Mrs. Billinoton's performance at Naples was interrupt-
ed by dt sudden and affecting event. On the second night
as Mr. BiLLiNOTON was seeking his hat, to accompany his
wife to the theatre, he fell down in a fit of appoplexy and
died in the arms of Bianchi, at the residence of the Bishop
of Winchester. Nor was this the only circmnstance that
impeded her progress. About this time an eruption of
Mount Vesuvius took place, and the superstitious bigotry
of the Neapolitans attributed the visitation to the permis-
sion granted to a Heretic to perform at St. Carlo. Serious
apprehensions were entertained by Mrs. B's. friends for the
consequences of such an impression . Her talents, however
triumphed, she renewed her performance, and no prima
donna was ever more rapturously received m the country
where the opera is best cultivated and best understood;
Paisiello,^ Paer, and Hinomel, successively wrote for her
after Bianchi.

In 1796 she went to Venice, where, after the first per-
formance, she was taken so ill that she could sing no more
during the season ; and it is among the records honoura-
ble to human nature that tiie manager generously brought
her the whole of her salary^ which jshe compensated by
playing the succeeding season without any other reward
than the pleasure of reciprocating the liberality of her em-
ployer. Conceiving that the air of Venice did not agree
with her, she quitted the place and returned. On her
journey from Venice to Rome, she was earnestly entreat-
ed to give a concert at Rome, which she at first declined ;
but a society of Cavalieri imdertook the whole of the ar- .
rangement, and she and Mr. Weichsell performed to a very
lerowded audiencev

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Between this period and the year 1798, she visited all the
principal theatres in Italy. In this year she married Mr.
Felissent, and subsequently appeared twice only at Milan.
In 1801, still retaining the name of Billington, she return
ed to her native country.

» No sooner was her arrival known than all the conduc-
tprs of the public amusements were alike eager to engage
her. The managers of Covent Garden and Drury Lane
Theatres both made her offers, and the disposal of her ser-
vices was at length referred to arbitrators, who award-
ed that she should appear at the two theatres alternately.

Mandane, in Arne's Artaxerxes, i^as the character se-
lected for her debut, and the audience was struck with rap-
ture and astonishment at her amazing powers. On this occa-
sion she introduced a song from Bianchi's Inez di Castro^
to the English words, " lost in oimoiM dotihts ;" which be-
ing composed expressly for her, exhibited at one view her
2>rodigious qualities, heightened by the delightful execution
jof her brother's obligato viohn accompaniment. Perhaps
no other singer could have sung this song 3 very certain it
is, no one has ever attempted it.

Engagements' now multiplied upon her. — She sung at the
ctt the Italian Opera in 1803, at the King's concert, at the
Hanover-square Vocal Concerts, and at a round of provin-
cial meetings from this time till 1 809, when she finally re-

Two remarkable circumstances attended during this pe-
riod of her public life. On her re-appearance at the Opera,
the Banti, then in the zenith of her excellence, played the
character of Polifonte to Mrs, Billington's Merope, in
Nasolini's opera of that name. Never was the house so
crowded as on this occasion, the stage was so covered with
ladies and g^ntlemeji that the performers had scarcely room

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Online LibraryJohn R. ParkerA musical biograhy: or Sketches of the lives and writings of eminent musical ... → online text (page 11 of 20)