Music, Maestros and Real Men: Dean Street (Soho)


Music in eighteenth century England was largely performed and taught by foreigners. There were Italian virtuosi, French dance masters, German music teachers, Dutch composers – all of them economically motivated immigrants. The fact that music was dominated by foreigners had much to do with the regard in which the art form was held in society. From Tudor times to the early seventeenth century, a spirit of Renaissance humanism had prevailed in English cultivated circles with regard to music. Henry VIII was a dedicated patron of the arts and of music in particular. He attracted many musicians from the Continent to his court and was a keen performer himself. His thinking was in line with Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (translated into English as Book of the Courtier in 1561 by Thomas Hoby and reprinted in London as late as 1724) where a gentleman’s participation in music was appreciated and encouraged. Written over a period of two decades, Castiglione had published his etiquette guide (what makes a perfect courtier?) in 1528 in the form of a set of fictional conversations taking place over the course of four evenings at the court of the Duke of Urbino. Music is frequently mentioned as being an integral part of aristocratic life.

By 1693, John Locke completely reversed that judgment in his influential essay ‘Some Thoughts Concerning Education’. Locke gives music the lowest place amongst all those ‘things that ever came into the List of Accomplishments’. He rejects the pursuit or performance of music as a waste of a young man’s time. Puritans had traditionally attacked music as an affront to morality. In The Anatomie of Abuses (1583) Philip Stubbes considers music as a major danger to the manners and morals of his time: ‘I say of Musicke … that it is very il for yung heds, for a certeine kind of nice, smoothe sweetnes in alluring the auditorie to nicesness, effeminancie, pusillanimity, & lothsomnes of life’. Music and the playhouse were a threat in the Puritan mind because, as it was argued, they cannot be enjoyed without ‘evil communications’. Music was considered a species of effeminacy. A puritanical element always remained part of the argument of those who were critical about the role of music in society.

In eighteenth century English society music increasingly functioned as a passive entertainment performed mostly by Continental professionals. England did not produce any outstanding composers during that era. Music being non-productive, it was considered a misuse of a man’s valuable time. The attitude is reflected in the pages of The Spectator where Addison (no. 18, March 1710/11) described music as an ‘agreeable entertainment; but if it would take the entire possession of our ears, if it would make us incapable of hearing sense, if it would exclude arts that have much more tendency to the refinement of human nature; I must confess I would allow it no better quarter than Plato has done, who banishes it out of his commonwealth’. Music’s social role, on the other hand, was valued in that it helped women fill their time. Music kept wives and daughters in the empty space assigned to them and hence contributed to the maintenance of domestic stability. The visual representation of music clearly shows a gender differentiation in instrumental application. Among the portrayal of girls with musical attributes the use of the tambourine is a popular image. This was considered a feminine instrument producing a gentle, non-aggressive sound. Boys on the other hand were depicted with infantry drums (Shakespeare’s ‘spirit-stirring drum’) which set aggressive rhythms preparing the youngster for a life of strife, power and conflict.


London’s musical waste land was soon occupied by immigrants who made a substantial contribution in developing the noble art in Britain, including in the domain of music publishing. Music in London became a proper cosmopolitan affair. Francesco Cianchettini was born in Rome in 1765/6. He was in London by 1799 when he married singer and pianist Bohemia-born Veronika Dussek, sister of the virtuoso pianist J.L. Dussek. He joined forces with the talented Italian cello player Sperati and published a series of twenty-seven symphonies in score editions each month between 1807 and 1809, using the imprint ‘London: Printed for Cianchettini & Sperati Publishers and Importers of Classical Music, no. 5 Princes Street, Cavendish Square’. Apart from eighteen symphonies by Joseph Haydn and six pieces by Mozart, Beethoven’s first three symphonies were published here as score editions for the first time in a score type that would not be common on the Continent until the 1820s. The first edition in voices, published in 1804 by a Vienna publisher, served as master. Beethoven did not know about this edition and did not receive any remuneration. Neither was it Beethoven who dedicated the composition to Prince Regent George but the publishers. Francesco’s son Pio Cianchettini, composer and pianist, was born in London 1799. At the age of five, he appeared at the Opera House as an infant prodigy. A year later, Pio travelled with his father through Holland, Germany and France, where he was trumpeted as the ‘English’ Mozart. Britain has always been quick to assume ownership of the triumphs of its immigrant residents.

Vincent Novello was the son of an immigrant Italian father of Piedmontese origins who had arrived in England in August 1771. Giuseppe Novello was a pastry cook and set up his own confectioner’s business having taken a lease of a small property at no. 240 Oxford Street. Vincent was born at this address. He became one of the leading contributors to the development of British musical life and education in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a boy, Novello was a chorister at the Sardinian Chapel in Duke Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where he learnt to play the organ. From 1796 to 1822 he became in succession organist of the Sardinian, Spanish (Manchester Square) and Portuguese (South Street, Grosvenor Square) chapels, and from 1840 to 1843 of St Mary’s Chapel, Moorfields. He acquainted himself with a large body of the (early) sacred repertory. At the time, this music was rarely performed and available only in manuscript. In an effort to disseminate it more widely, Novello published a ‘Collection of Sacred Music as Performed at the Royal Portuguese Chapel in London’ (1811). He was soon publishing other edited collections of sacred music. From these beginnings he established himself as a music publisher.


Novello was one of the (thirty) founding members of the Philharmonic Society in February 1813. London at the time did not have a permanent orchestra nor an organised series of chamber music concerts. The aim was to promote the performance of instrumental music in the capital. Concerts were held in the Argyll Rooms until it burned down in 1830. The first concert, on 8 March 1813, reflects the European involvement in the project. It was presided over by Bonn-born composer, violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who became one of London’s prominent musicians. Highly rated virtuoso Muzio Clementi was at the piano and child prodigy Nicolas Mori (born on 24 January 1796/7 in London, the son of an Italian wig maker) was the lead violinist. They performed symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven.

Novello’s great contribution lay in the introduction to England of unknown compositions by the great masters, such as the Masses of Haydn and Mozart, and the works of Palestrina. He was one of the pioneers of the Choral Harmonists Society (that was founded in January 1833 and lasted until 1851). This society involved amateur musicians in the performance of large choral works such as masses, madrigals and oratorios. Vincent’s son Joseph Alfred Novello had started his career as a bass singer, but became a regular music publisher in 1829. He was the creator of the business as we know it today. He established the publishing house at no. 69 Dean Street, Soho (no. 70 was added later to the company). The firm did not begin to publish contemporary music in a systematic way until the 1850s and 1860s. Edward Elgar signed to Novello and many others followed him, including Gustav Holst and Herbert Howells. The business is still going strong.