Friday, February 7, 2020

Singers of Somerset: (1) James Garbett

.
One thing leads to another…

A week or so ago, I was investigating Miss Atkinson the mysterious Mancunian soprano. On my way through her early days, I encountered Miss Field ‘of Bath’. I remembered that Mary Field was subsequently Mrs Belville Penley and a pillar of Bath music-making, so I wandered off to Somersetshire to dally a little with Mrs Penley, and there I met a whole lot of other singing folk …

I was pretty sure they would all have been documented, as musical life in the fashionable watering-place of Bath was, in the first decades of the 19th century, thriving industry. Second, only, the London itself. But they haven’t been. Oh, there are books: quite a few of them, which deal wholly or partly with the period, starting with Mr Belville Penley’s own The Bath Stage, going on to studies of the Loder family who were so long pre-eminent in music-making in the city, and, of course, tales of the famous singers – Braham, Mrs Billington, Angelica Catalani, Mrs Salmon – who appeared there … but the Bath people themselves, those artists who appeared month after month in the Assembly Rooms Subscription Concerts … who were they? Mr Garbett, Mr Manners, Mr Magrath, Miss Bartlett, Miss Owens …

So I thought that I would spend a day or three in trying to find out a little more about this little band of Somersetshire ‘professors of music’.

James GARBETT (b c 1780; d Orange Grove, Bath 13 September 1832)

I don’t know why I decided to start with Mr Garbett. Probably because he seemed to turn up in just about every concert in and around town for more than twenty years. I have a seven-page list of (some of) his engagements between 1808 and 1832. And he even sang at a concert the very day before his death.

Mr Garbett first appears in the Bath billings and reviews as a member of the Bath Harmonic Society, the fief of Dr Henry Harrington and the Rev John Bowen. There is a whole history behind the Harmonic Society and the quarrels which resulted in its creation in about 1797. Musical societies in Bath were as much about fashion as melody, it was very much a case of ‘noblemen and gentry only need apply’, and the Dr and the (part-time) Rev, sincere gentlemen though they may have been, were as much into hobnobbing as harmonizing. And their successors … well, the Harmonic headlined an 1831 bill with the names of their president (a baronet), and stewards (1 Lord, 1 KCB, 3 esqs, 1 Colonel, 1 Capt RN, 1 Rev) …

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to discover what Mr Garbett’s social qualification was for becoming a leading Harmonic member. But I think there was actually still space, alongside the Esqs and Barts, for men (and sometimes even women) who could really sing. But I suppose he could have been related to the Rev Richard Garbett of Exeter, for it was at Exeter that I first spotted him, with Dr Harrington, in concert in June of 1808, billed as ‘of the Bath and London concerts’. James sang Stevenson’s popular ‘Faithless Emma’ and duetted ‘Fair Solyma’. 

(Postscriptum) Ah! I see. Note from 1816. I was right. If you weren't noble or gentle, but could simply sing, you could be a 'professional member'. 'The Noblemen and Gentleman of the Harmonic Society', at their 1816 beanfeast determined that 'so delighted were the Members with the exertions of the professional members that they determined to patronise Mr Garbett's approaching concert ...'



But, wait! already, in 1802 (1 April), also in Exeter a Mr Garbett can be seen at Mr Pilbrow’s Subscription concerts singing ‘Comfort Ye’/’Every Valley’ and joining in the Judas Maccabeus trio, ‘Disdainful of Danger’. Is it he? Or did the Rev Richard, or Richard the organist of St David's, or his father sing as well? Whichever it is, he is out again 17 May 1804 giving his ‘Every Valley’ and ‘Sound an Alarm’ et al at the local hotel. ‘Tickets at Mr Garbett’s, Catherine Street’. Doesn’t sound very Rev, does it? So, is Mr Garbett actually an Exeter man? There he is again, July 1805 singing for the local hospital (‘a large and genteel audience’). And in April 1807 giving ‘glees, duets and songs’ alongside a seven-year-old ‘prodigy’. It has to be he. Mr Garbett of Exeter = Mr Garbett of Bath. Did Harrington head-hunt him for the Harmonic? I think not. There he is at Warminster, already, in 1807, glee-ing with Messrs Loder, J Ashley and W Lacy … Bath men all.



Well, glee-ing and other concerted music was very largely to be his future once he settled in Bath, for that it was which was the principal diet of the gentlemen’s (and sometimes the odd lady) societies in which he would spend the rest of his life. He brought out Shields’s ‘Tell her I love her’, Braham’s ‘On this cold flinty rock’, solo or harmonized versions of ‘Faithless Emma’, Davy’s ‘Sigh not for love’, ‘Return, O God of Hosts’, ‘Lord in Thee’ on occasions, but more often than not his name was bracketed with two or three other men (and occasionally a lady) to deliver the concerted music that made up much of the vocal part of an early 19th century concert. At some stage, he harmonized with most of the singing gentlemen of the era, but the staple team was based on James Garbett, bass Edward Rolle and Andrew Loder, with such as John Cole or William Manners as a fourth, and the featured ladies of the Harmonic – Julia Bartlett, Eliza Owens, Sarah Wood – when a soprano line was needed.

His list of credits grew impressively through the 1810s: the Catalani concerts at Bath, the Bath and Somersetshire Festival (2 June 1809) topbilling Braham and Mrs Billington, the 1812 and 1813 Covent Garden oratorios (at that time under the direction of Ashley of Bath), the Edinburgh Concerts (1812), the 1813 Bath Festival with Catalani heading the bill, the Devon and Exeter Festival (31 August 1813), the Bristol Festival (14 June 1814), the West of England Festival (1 October 1814, with Mr R Garbett in the orchestra), the Halifax Festival (11 October 1815, another Ashley gig), the Camarthen Eistedfodd (July 1819), a gratis job via the Rev Bowen which earned him and his Harmonic team the honorary title of ‘Royal Bards of Cambria', regular tours of south Wales with the Harmonic professionals … the grander occasions interleaved with concerts and banquets and civic affairs, including a regular Mr Garbett’s concert.

In 1832, he was still going strong, gleeing with Loder, Croft, Millar and Manners at Mrs Palmer’s concert, at the Assembly Rooms with Croft, Millar, Aldridge, Bennett et al; at the Abergavenny Music Festival teamed with Croft and Howells, at Portland Chapel with Manners, Millar, Croft; at the Devizes Bear Club, and then, though unwell, at local politician H W Hobhouse’s dinner …


The record of Mr Garbett’s public, professional life is liberally to be found in the pages of the south of England press. His private life is barely, ever mentioned. He was unmarried. He apparently owned a house at 1 St James’s Street, but preferred to live in lodgings at Orange Grove. When his friend, Andrew Loder went bankrupt in 1827 it was Garbett whom he nominated as his ‘next friend’ to whom monies owing to him should be paid. And when James Garbett’s possessions were sold up, after his death, the list showed the taste of a gentleman of modestly classical tastes (I’m not sure about ‘Lord Rochester in disguise’ by Kneller) and featured both ‘a fine old violoncello’ and a viola, as well as a variety of card tables … 




Well, after all that … a little death notice in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette: ‘formerly of this city’. So Mr Garbett of Exeter did equal Mr Garbett of Bath. So was he rlated to Richard the boot-and-shoemaker, Richard of St David's Church, Mrs Westgate née Garbett ...?







No comments: