10 September 1941 – 24 September 2014
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Preface to Hawkins' history of the AAM
August 1, 2007

In 1998, to mark their 25th anniversary, the modern-day Academy of Ancient Music published a facsimile edition of Hawkins’ An account of the institution and progress of the Academy of Ancient Music, which was first published in 1770, and tells part of the story of the eighteenth-century ensemble from whom they take their name.

Here is Christopher’s preface to that volume.

This is the history of a club, written by the man for whom his friend Samuel Johnson coined the word ‘unclubbable’. John Hawkins (Sir John from 1772) was not a naturally lovable character, any more than Johnson was naturally musical; few of his acquaintances could summon up many words of praise for his manner, and his professional enemies (of whom the rival music historian Charles Burney was the most pungent) verged on the apoplectic. Although Hawkins was both his friend and executor, the best Johnson himself could manage was : ‘As to Sir John, why really I believe him to be an honest man at the bottom: but to be sure he is penurious, and he is mean, and it must be owned that he has a degree of brutality, and a tendency to savageness, that cannot easily be defended’. True to this description, Hawkins seems to have undertaken his executorial duties with a zeal that is almost callous: hardly was the Doctor dead but ‘during the time the surgeon was engaged in opening his body, Sir John Hawkins, Knight, was in the adjoining room seeing to the weighing of the Doctor’s teapot, in the presence of a silversmith, whom Sir John, as an executor, had called in to purchase it’ (reported by the gossipy John Thomas Smith of the British Museum in A Book for a Rainy Day: or Recollections of the events of the last sixty-six years. published in 1845). Other contemporaries mentioned ‘malignancy’, described him as ‘mean and grovelling’ and ‘detestable’, while Burney, who organised a covert campaign against Hawkins’ General History of Music (and in favour of his own publication which was appearing simultaneously in 1776), dubbed him the ‘Knight of the Freezing Quarto’.

These two histories, the first of their kind, examined the most pressing question of the day: the identification of excellence in musical style, and the study of how music had arrived at its present state. To Burney, the modern style was the peak to which the art had long been struggling, and Italian opera its proudest ensign. Hawkins, on the other hand, declared a preference for ‘the old school’, the contrapuntalists of the 17th century, their madrigals, motets and masses, and found contemporary music ‘most unnatural and absurd... noise without harmony’. Burney travelled Europe to discover foreign views and repertoire (which he recorded with elegance and wit), while Hawkins trawled though the libraries and collections of England with erudition and discernment but, sadly, no sense of humour and with a lawyer’s dignity of style (he was later described as ‘the best magistrate in the Kingdom’). But Hawkins, despite Johnson’s critique, was far from anti-social; he was one of the first and longest-lasting members of the Johnson circle, he was elected to the Ivy Lane Club, he hobnobbed with Garrick, Reynolds, Goldsmith and Horace Walpole and sang with the Madrigal Society. For his first literary effort he collected details first-hand from Handel sufficient to write a biography of Steffani, and followed it (as an enthusiastic fly-fisherman) with a new edition of Walton’s Compleat Angler. As a public-spirited lawyer, he presented several pamphlets on legal cases, offered ‘Observations on the State of the Highways and on the Laws for amending and keeping them in repair’, but could still sneer at the contemporary increase in social conscience — ‘We live in an age when humanity is in fashion’.

His prime interest and constant love, however, was the study of music, and his preferences and the musical club that shared them (the infant Academy of Ancient Music) were described by his daughter Lætitia-Matilda in her rambling Anecdotes, Biographical Sketches and Memoirs of 1822.

My father’s musical taste confirmed itself almost exclusively to the compositions of what is now termed the old school: he had known all the great composers in that style, from his earliest youth; and Geminiani and his contemporaries being dead, I found him, when, if I may be allowed the ludicrous expression, I took him up, in intimacy with Cooke and Boyce, Dr. Howard, and the corps that formed the Crown-and-Anchor concert in its primitive simplicity. For the prosperity of this choice concert, he was particularly anxious; and when it was declining under the influence of what he thought a worse taste, he wrote an elegant pamphlet in its favour, in hopes of prolonging its existence; but its death-blow had already been given it. It had been held in the then sufficiently capacious and humbly-decorated best room of the tavern, and ladies tolerated as auditors, only by submitting to sit in a small passage-room, made warm and comfortable, but certainly no show-shop for themselves or their finery; — this restriction to a confined spot was not felt grievous by those who loved such music and only came to hear. As it was an amateur-society, the husbands and fathers of many of them were in the orchestra; and for many years no discontent was expressed: — but at length gentlemen who mistook their love for hearing a tune for a taste for music, began to grumble at the exclusion of those of their families who perhaps fostered this taste; and thinking it unfair that persons with at least equal pretensions, should not enjoy privileges allowed to themselves, they stickled for an extension of indulgence. One public night, as it was called, was therefore proposed as an annual festival in the spring, when the ladies should be admitted to the great room and accommodated; — this was an accepted compromise, and the concert flourished. Its fame now extended itself: that wonderful musical genius, Joah Bates, became a member and no idle one; Lord Sandwich added his name, and was very punctual in his attendance with his kettle-drums. Lord Mornington followed, and if I am not mistaken, Lord Rochford, then secretary of state. These persons joined in paying that professional respect which Dr. Cooke, who was librarian and one of the most active of the members, always attracted: — convivial suppers were established; late hours were introduced; and the good-natured Doctor, to whose organs a negative was very difficult of pronunciation, — when asked by enthusiastic amateurs for copies of manuscripts, too readily answered in his usual manner, ‘O! yes, yes, my boys will copy it out.’ Having been once prevailed on to do what there was no law or rule against his doing, he was soon taunted into similar compliances. My father saw it, and prophesied the event, but with the fate generally attendant on prophecies of what is unpleasant. A rival concert, where ladies were admitted and female singers hired to perform, was set up at the Freemasons’ Tavern; and that lasted till arrangements could be made for what is now called ‘The Ancient-Music Concert,’ — the parent-concert having been then some years deceased. — With it died my father’s concern in what had at one time so deeply interested him; he looked on the new institution with a jealous dislike, which made the mention of it a matter of delicate forbearance in his family. [Vol. I, pp. 225-227]

Such, then, was the rise and fall of the Academy of Antient Music. Many versions of its history have arisen, and much confusion between its activities and those of the Concert of Ancient Music, and other symbiotic organisations. Lætitia’s explanation sheds new light on both the development and the disintegration of ‘that parent society to which the most gratifying of all the concerts of the metropolis owes its existence’, and accurately paints the transition in London musical life from what was essentially a private gentlemen’s club (‘convivial suppers’, ‘late hours’) to an openly commercial musical entertainment run by and with professionals for the delight of both sexes. Her father’s pamphlet, describing what he knew of the history of the Academy and defending its (and his own) preferences for ‘the best music of the best times’, was a vain attempt to rally support for the ‘primitive’ (i.e. original) institution: ‘To prevent the dissolution of this primitive establishment Sir J. H. printed and liberally distributed what he entitled An Account of the Academy of Antient Music.’ Since it was a private publication and distributed in person, no author was mentioned on the title-page; but there was never any intention (or indeed, hope) of anonymity.

Hawkins was aware of an initial problem with the Academy, ‘the prejudices which its very name...may excite’, and expects no support from those ‘who think no music can be good which is not new’. His objections to this modern music are less coherent — it is mostly written in a major key and on a ‘monotonic bass’.

Other opponents of the Academy attacked it for an antiquarianism which in fact its programmes did not demonstrate: sacred music from the sixteenth century (a regular feature of all their concerts) and English madrigals were balanced by Purcell, Handel and Pergolesi. But even in 1734 the unknown author of Harmony in an Uproar, a satire addressed to Handel, could ridicule them as still shrinking from his music:

As for that indefatigable Society, the Gropers into Antique Musick, and Hummers of Madrigals, they swoon at the Sight of any Piece modern, particularly of your Composition, excepting the performances of their venerable President [Dr. Pepusch], whose Works bear such vast Resemblance to the regular Gravity of the Antients, that when dress’d up in Cobwebs, and powdered with Dust, the Philharmonick Spiders could dwell on them, and in them, to Eternity.

The members of the Academy had, two years before Hawkins’ pamphlet, produced their own manifesto in the course of an internal scandal (Bononcini was discovered to have passed off a madrigal by Lotti as his own); the work of the Academy, they asserted in a series of letters to Lotti, was the ‘searching after, examining, and hearing performed the Works of the Masters, who flourished before and about the Age of Palestrina: however, not neglecting those who in our Time have become famous’. There was no belief in that idea of constant progress to which Burney was so partial, nor the supremacy of all things Italian; their repertoire regularly included works by Tallis and Byrd and (they pointed out to Lotti in Venice) ‘when you cast your eye upon those Pieces, you will clearly perceive that true and solid Musick is not in its Infancy with us, and that, whatever some on your Side of the Alps may imagine to the Contrary, the Muses have of old time taken up their Abode in England’.

The Academy had begun in 1726 as a form of private club, largely supported by the ‘singing-men’ of St Paul’s, Westminster and the Chapel Royal, and with the title ‘Academy of Vocal Music’. Sampson Estwick, who attended its very first session, described ‘A Musick Meeting being held at ye Crown Tavern near St Clement’s Mr Galliard at ye head of it , & cheifly for Grave ancient vocell Musick. Wee begann it wth ye following Song of Lucas de Marenzio Jan 7—1725/6.’1 (The madrigal was ‘Dolorosi martir’from 1580; Morley, Stradella and Steffani were also named).

The title was changed from ‘Vocal’ to ‘Ancient’ (we might today prefer ‘classical’) in 1731, and Johann Christoph Pepusch, who had been a member for some years, was given charge of both repertoire and performers. The number of instrumental players increased, at first to accompany the extracts from Purcell’s theatre music (Timon of Athens and The Indian Queen were favourites) and later the sequence of Handel’s music, which began with the ground-breaking performance of Esther in 1732 that Hawkins describes, and later took in Israel in Egypt, Messiah, the Funeral Music for Queen Caroline and settings of the Te Deum.

From Hawkins’ account it is clear that Pepusch also saw the Academy as having an educational obligation in the training of young musicians; William Boyce, Samuel Howard, James Nares, John Travers and the compliant Benjamin Cooke all came from this stable. Essential to the plan was the establishment of a substantial library, and several major collections now in the British Library originated with members of the Academy. Considerable parts of Pepusch’s famous library (which included The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book) were left to the Academy; Henry Needler, famous for having lead the first performance of Corelli’s concertos in England— when the company were so entranced that (according to Hawkins) they played the entire set of twelve concerti ‘without rising from their seats’ — left a series of 27 volumes of manuscript music (16th century Italian to Handel), while Benjamin Cooke, who became organist of Westminster Abbey, is represented by 33 volumes with a range of repertoire from the Fayrfax Manuscript through John Bull, and Corelli to J. S. Bach (including parts of The Art of Fugue) and Scarlatti.

Some idea of both the breadth and the shift in repertoire that the Academy accommodated during more than sixty seasons can be drawn from the following contrasting programmes:

ACADEMY OF ANCIENT MUSIC, On Thursday December 19, 1734.

Motet for five Voices ‘Ascendens Christus' (Vittoria)
Madrigal for five Voices ‘Perche di Pioggia il Ciel’ (Marenzio)
Motet for five Voices ‘Illumina oculos meos’ (Palestrina)
Anthem to the Virgin Mary for five Voices with Instruments (Lorenzani)

Motet for five Voices ‘Beatus Vir’ (Dr. Pepusch)
Madrigal for five Voices ‘Cease now thy Mourning’ (John Farmer)
Motet for five Voices ‘Elegerunt Apostoli’ (Palestrina)
Psalm [Laudate Pueri] for four Voices with Instruments (Colonna)

Motet for four Voices ‘Senex Puerum portabat’ (By an unknown Composer, in Dr. Pepusch’s Library)
Madrigal for four Voices ‘Where art thou’ (Morley)
Motet for five Voices ‘Angelus Domini descendit' (Palestrina)
The Judgment of Solomon, In the Manner of an Oratorio (Carissimi)
Canon for three Voices ‘Non nobis, Domine’ ([attrib.] Byrd)

THURSDAY, February the 3d, 1791

Overture. (Occasional Oratorio) (Handel)
Air. Ah! my Anna (Dido and Æneas) (Purcell)
Recit. From the mountain’s
Air. Tell me lovely shepherd Solomon (Dr. Boyce)
Glee. Return my lovely main (Dr. Hutchinson)
Air. Oft on a plat (L’Allegro) (Handel)
Dialogue. By ancient prophecies
Solo and Chorus. I come to sing (Indian Queen) (Purcell)
Air. Serbo in petto (Attwood)
Air. Luci amate
Madrigal. When all alone (Converso)
Chorus. Fall’n is the foe (Judas Macchabæus) (Handel)

Overture (Ariadne) (Handel)
Recit. Thou sun of this great world (Milton’s Morning Hymn) (Galliard)
Air. Sound his praise Ditto
Air. Mad Bess (Purcell)
Air. Cease to beauty (Acis and Galatea) (Handel)
Anthem. Hear my pray’r (Kent)
Glee. The silver swan (Gibbons)
Duet. Non este ita (Judicium Salomonis) (Carissimi)
Chorus. Moses and the Children of Israel (Israel in Egypt) (Handel)

This last concert, for which John Peter Salomon was leading the orchestra, took place in the year of Mozart’s death and while Haydn was in London. Such lack of support for ‘those of our time who have become famous’— a clear dereliction of their earlier claims — will surely have set many of the public against the Academy’s activities, while others were publicly distressed at the promiscuous mixing of sacred and secular. An anonymous diatribe titled ‘The Prostitution of Lent’ appeared in the Monthly Mirror (I, 1795-6):

Imagination can scarcely conceive any thing more abominably impious, than the melange which is usually dignified with the appellation of SACRED MUSIC....At one time the audience is presented with, ‘I know that my redeemer liveth,’ and at another with the wandering transitions of a female maniac — with ‘Pious Orgies,’ and the ‘Soldier tir’d’ — ‘Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty,’ and ‘Mirth admit me of thy Crew’ — ‘Lord of Eternity,’ and ‘Hush ye pretty warbling choir’ — ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘The Prince unable;’ — thus are the public alternately amused with a celebration of Omnipotence, and a song of amorous dalliance; the attributes of the Deity, and a Bacchanalian rhapsody; Te Deum and L’Allegro; the suffering of the MESSIAH, and the ravings of mad Bess.

Clearly, contrast in content was not attractive to this critic. But a more substantial complaint was raised against the programming of a ‘Grand Miscellaneous Selection’: is undoubtably with a view to relieve the languor of the audience, that, for some years past, the managers of our oratorios have, instead of one whole work of our immortal Handel, presented detached parts or selections, with an intermixture of instrumental music, and such novelties as may attract and preserve the attention. [Anon ‘The Gleaner’ Universal Magazine, CVIII, 1801] The cry of pandering to public taste and limited attention span rings very familiar today, but in the case of the Academy it was more a case of the formula having outgrown its members. John Marsh pointed out that, ever since the division of taste into ‘the old school’ and ‘the moderns’, it had become ‘the fashion of musical amateurs to attach themselves to one of the two styles, and to reprobate the other. Elderly people in general prefer, as is natural enough, the style they have been used to, and complain of the inferiority of the present basses to those of the ancient composers, as well as the want of fugue and labored contrivance in modern pieces’. He concludes, reasonably enough, that ‘the principal supporters therefore of the ancient style being elderly people, and of course gradually dropping off, it is probable that... that species of music would have dropt altogether’. But old music was rescued by the success of the great Handel Commemoration in 1784, which, with wholehearted royal support, confirmed Handel as the national classic. As for new music, Marsh claims, only the long-awaited arrival of Haydn prevented the modern manner from ‘degenerating into a light, trivial and uniform character’.

It seems inevitable that the Academy should therefore have ceased about this time, despite the efforts of its last conductor, the great Handelian, Samuel Arnold. It gave way to the public concert series, the professional symphony orchestra, the music of the pleasure gardens and the opera house. But it had achieved a small musical revolution: it had established for the first time that music of the church and music of the theatre could be performed apart from their original settings, and by selecting and performing old music on a regular basis, it laid the foundations for a new (and English) concept of a ‘canon of classics’ which the wider public has embraced ever since. As a private club, it could not itself dictate public taste, but its activities paved the way for a concert scene containing the accepted medley of old and new that we know today.

Hawkins’ rhetoric is in no way wasted on the principles he presents with such dedication, and the present Academy of Ancient Music is happy to echo his motto.

Christopher Hogwood Cambridge, September 1998