Patronage, Connoisseurship and Antiquarianism in Georgian England: The Fitzwilliam Music Collection (1763-1815)
Description: In eighteenth-century Britain, many aristocrats studied music, participated as amateurs in musical clubs, and patronized London’s burgeoning concert life. Richard Fitzwilliam, Seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion and Thorncastle (1745-1816), was one such patron and amateur. Fitzwilliam shaped his activities – participation, patronage, and collecting – in a unique way that illustrates his specialized tastes and interests. While as an amateur musician he sang in the Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Catch Club (the premiere social club dedicated to musical performance), he rose to the highest level of patronage by spearheading the Handel Commemoration Festival of 1784 and serving for many years as a Director of the Concert of Antient Music, the most prestigious concert series in Georgian Britain. His lasting legacy, however, was his bequest to Cambridge University of his extensive collection of art, books and music, as well as sufficient funds to establish the Fitzwilliam Museum. At the time of his death, Fitzwilliam’s collection of music was the best in the land, save that in the Royal Library. Thus, his collection is ideally suited for examination as proof of his activities, taste and connoisseurship. Moreover, the music in Fitzwilliam’s collection shows his participation in the contemporary musicological debate, evidenced by his advocacy for ancient music, his agreement with the views of Charles Avison and his support for the music of Domenico Scarlatti. On one side of this debate were proponents of learned, ancient music, such as Fitzwilliam and Avison, whose Essay on Musical Expression of 1752 was a milestone in musical criticism. On the other side of the discussion were advocates for the more modern, “classical” style and genres, led by historian Charles Burney.
Date: December 2011
Creator: Heiden, Mary Gifford