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A treasure trove of music by Handel and his contemporaries from the Georgian carnival of entertainments that was Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.
Apart from Tyers’s commission of the remarkable statue of Handel from Roubiliac in 1737:
‘his Effigies should preside there, where his Harmony has so often charm’d even the greatest Crouds into the profoundest Calm and most decent Behaviour’ (the Daily Post 1738).
The other direct hint we have of Handel actually working there comes from a written account by an unknown French tourist, now in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC (M.B.49.1220-1221). This tourist recalls a visit to the Gardens early in the 1738 season, when he saw that ‘M. Hindel celebre compositeur dirige ce concert et fournit les pieces.’ (Mr Handel, famous composer, directs this concert and provides the music—translation by David Coke, note 32 p.147 Vauxhall Gardens, A History, Yale). It is possible that this may just have been a rehearsal that the tourist saw, or indeed he may have misunderstood what somebody told him because April was outside the normal opening period of Vauxhall. Despite this and the lack of any financial evidence at all for Handel working at Vauxhall on any consistent basis at this time, we can take it that Handel took a very strong interest in the Vauxhall concerts, and that he probably was, at the very least, advising Tyers (like Hogarth), and maybe mentoring the leader of the band.
Handel at Vauxhall Volume One contains music by Handel and his English contemporaries. It reconstructs the first act in a typical evening’s concert at Vauxhall Gardens during the 1740s when the programme became more standardized, usually with a set of 16 pieces a night including an opening piece, organ concerto, wind music, instrumental pieces and dances and vocal music including solo and group songs which Jonathan Tyers reputedly introduced for the first time on the advice of Dr.Arne. The music, which was significantly by English composers, was performed by a small band with players doubling up on instruments and singers with very different types of voices.
Even after the opening of the nearby Westminster Bridge in 1750, people normally arrived at Vauxhall by boat as it was an integral part of the evening’s fun. They would listen to glorious and often patriotic music near the bandstands and promenade in the illuminated gardens. The only real description of the music at Vauxhall and its effect on the audience appears in Section 12 of a French periodical, the Mercure de France of November 1750, which published a poem written in French by an English author, probably John Lockman, who was a translator, and always on the look-out for new ways to publicise Vauxhall. This wonderful response to the Vauxhall concert gives us an idea of the balance it achieved and the way it aroused the emotions of its audience.
What magical delights!
What sounds! What melodies!
Does Zephyr carry on his wings
The concerts of the Elysian Fields?
Sometimes I mark the pace
With a bright and lively minuet;
Through a gentle ferment
I feel my overwhelming urge
To dance secretly revived;
My measure follows the bow.
Sometimes the war-like trumpet,
With its lustiest tones,
Brings to mind bloody battles
And murderous victory.
Muffled sounds! Tragic cadences!
Weeping and piercing cries!
Stately and funereal symphony!
I sense the powerful appeal
Of your mournful harmony.
The kettle- drum and the bassoon
Awaken in my receptive soul
The horror, the dismay,
The languor, the compassion,
Then follows from the plaintive flute
The touching and sorrowful sound.
So, by an uncommon diversity,
Each new passion
Follows the other from moment to moment,
And from this surprising medley
An intense emotion is born.
At these affecting Concerts,
The hunting horns, the oboes,
Are succeeded by the country songs
Of contented woodsmen,
Who in their tranquil retreats
Play their sweet Shawms,
Which sound just like reed-pipes
And the shepherdesses from their villages,
Dance to their little songs
Beneath the beech-trees and elms.
The Sinfonia from Handel’s Acis and Galatea (HWV49) opens the programme and sets the scene recreating a magical evening at the gardens. Acis and Galatea was written in 1718 for James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon and later Duke of Chandos to be performed at Cannons, his unfinished country residence in Middlesex. This original and extremely popular English version had various incarnations including a reworking as an Italian serenata. Later revisions reverted again to the all-English Cannons version including one in 1739 with added violas and carillon and a final revision in 1742 when Handel worked in Dublin and again used different instrumental forces, this time without a carillon. (Further recordings in this series include more detailed notes on Handel in Ireland).
Hush ye pretty warbling choir! is from the first Act of Acis and Galatea when a semi-divine nymph, Galatea, is in love with the shepherd Acis and tries to gently hush the birds that ignite her passion for him.
In 1737 the new organ had been installed at Vauxhall and later on had new mechanisms added to it including a much admired ‘symphony of singing-birds’ and a carillon, which were possibly heard for the very first time in a widely reported programme of 7 May, 1739. This was an occasion in which the Prince of Wales visited the Gardens and Hush ye pretty was played on the carillon, accompanied by the ‘artificial birds. As far as we know, no English organ has survived with an integral carillon or birdsong machine, like in this organ at Vauxhall, so for this recording we recreated the sound with the addition of a bird whistler.
The Organ building was constructed in the sub-Palladian manner as a square structure behind the Orchestra building, which together formed the most innovative and extraordinary installation by Tyers at Vauxhall. This Organ building contained three levels with the pipes and possibly the main organ console on the first floor while the belfry contained louvred semicircular openings in all four facades projecting the sound to the far distances of the gardens. Circumstantial evidence suggests that there was a ‘long movement’ installed in the adjacent Orchestra bandstand, so there is a suggestion that an organ keyboard of some sort could have been alongside the other musicians of the band, making ensemble playing easier for the organist rather than being yards away in the actual Organ building. This great organ was possibly built by Richard Bridge with the assistance from John Byfield the Elder and was unveiled in 1737 to a large and fashionable audience. The organ music included an overture, ‘that had a delightful effect in the various parts of the Garden’ and allowed the band to be heard throughout the garden. Therefore the organ did the job of several musicians and was economically a sound investment for Tyers allowing the ‘in house’ composers to showcase their latest compositions. The band itself at Vauxhall was led by violinist Richard Collett and presumably directed from the harpsichord.
James Worgan (1715-1753) and Thomas Gladwin (c1710-1799) were both organists at Vauxhall during the 1730s and John Worgan (1724-1790) succeeded his brother as organist in 1751, as well as being director of the music for a year and an ‘in house’ composer. Both Worgan brothers were responsible for making the organ an indispensable part of Vauxhall’s music, and combined with the band, it typified the sound of the pleasure gardens from 1737 onwards. Handel and the Worgan brothers were all accomplished improvisers and keyboard players and Handel is widely attributed as remarking about John Worgan. ‘…he plays my music very well at Vauxhall’. Organ concertos were very much a part of an evening concert and the programme continues with an Organ Improvisation, in the style of John Worgan and Handel, leading into Handel’s Organ Concerto Op 4 No 2 in B flat major (HWV290). Handel’s organ concertos Op 4, HWV289–294, refer to the six organ concertos for chamber organ and orchestra composed by Handel in London between 1735 and 1736 and published in 1738 by John Walsh.
Colin and Phoebe ‘A Pastoral’ (‘Be still O ye winds and attentive ye Swains’) was written by Thomas Augustine Arne (1710-1778) and was printed by William Smith in London in 1745 in a collection of his works entitled Lyric Harmony Consisting of Eighteen Entire New Ballads…As perform’d at VauxHall Gardens…Opera Quarta with text by Edward Moore. This first Vauxhall songbook, Lyric Harmony was announced and publicised in advance in the General Advertiser and offered by subscription which was unusual for Garden songs. Subscribers benefitted by getting the book at 5 shillings instead of the sale price of 6 shillings and were to receive the very first ‘impression’.
Colin and Phoebe was such a popular pastoral love song that it really helped to establish Arne’s reputation at Vauxhall Gardens. Music historian Charles Burney reported about its popularity and the inclusion of vocal music in the summer programme of 1745:
‘On this occasion the orchestra was enlarged, and Mr Arne’s ballads, dialogues, duets and trios, were performed here with great applause, and circulated all over the kingdom. During this first summer, his little dialogue of Colin and Phoebe, written by the late Mr. Moore, author of Fables for the Female Sex, was constantly encored every night for more than three months, successively’.
This was performed at Vauxhall by soprano Mrs Cecilia Arne (née Young), tenor Mr Thomas Lowe and very possibly the bass Mr Henry Theodore Reinhold. All three sung regularly at Vauxhall and were highly esteemed performers; according to Burney, Cecilia Arne had a ‘good natural voice and fine shake’ and ‘her style of singing was infinitely superior to that of any other English woman of her time’ and Thomas Lowe had ‘the finest tenor voice’.
Thomas Arne himself directed the music at Vauxhall from 1745 and was also the principal ‘in house’ composer at Vauxhall where he also lived. He was notably a difficult man in both his public and private life and as his Catholicism prevented him from taking a church or court appointment, he composed for the entertainment of London. He became a leading English theatrical and vocal composer from the 1730s bringing a new structure and discipline to the music; his nationalistic and natural melodic style suited the public that resorted to the pleasure gardens. His nuances of dynamics and articulation indicate an ‘affecting’ style and the ‘forte’ and ‘tutti’ endings were probably so marked to raise a public cheer and to sustain the sound whilst performing at the Gardens in the open air.
In a typical evening’s concert, a mixture of styles of music was important, juxtaposing popular songs and dances with more solemn, serious music and martial airs reflecting the contrast between Apollo (sophisticated, lyre playing) and Marsyas (rustic pipes), a popular subject of discussion at the time and one that Tyers employed as a decoration on one of his silver season tickets. The Dead March precedes the Elegy on the Death of Saul and Jonathan in Act III from Handel’s oratorio Saul (HWV53) of 1738.
As Tyer’s had ingeniously converted his own house’s ball-room into a raised pavilion with a private dining room and open loggia for Prince Frederick, Vauxhall’s ground—landlord, the Prince of Wales became a regular and popular attendee at these Vauxhall concerts bringing with him his youthful energy and a large following of fashionable society. The Dead March was performed for Prince Frederick on 7th May 1739 and regularly thereafter, with brass, winds and strings, and organ becoming an archetype of Vauxhall music. It was later played annually on the anniversary of the death of Jonathan Tyers, 26th June as well as at several state funerals.
Many Vauxhall songs were written for the gardens and were introduced by Tyers who employed the singers and many were reprinted in subsequent collections or song sheets. Tyers himself subscribed to George Bickham’s Musical Entertainer a beautifully illustrated and expensive songbook (1737-1739), showing something of his interest in this kind of music.
The Advice set by Mr Handel, is from the Muses Delight (1754) another collection of popular songs which contains some simplified versions of the original pieces and prints only the melodies and bass lines with no figuring or instrumental lines. The music from this song is from the close of Handel’s opera Ezio (HWV29), of 1732, ‘Stringo al fine il mio contento’ which develops into the final chorus but this time set as a solo song with cheerful light text in English.
Contrasting with this, is The Melancholy Nymph (The Faithful Maid, ‘Twas when the seas were roaring) (HWV228.19) set by Handel; the melancholic element was a fashionable style of Vauxhall Garden song as well as the romantic ballad style, nationalistic and lighter songs. Written in 1715 it was first performed at Drury Lane Theatre and probably sung in John Gay’s Comic Tragick Pastoral Farce or What D’ye Call it, (Act II) and in Gay’s Beggar’s Opera. It can be found in several sources including Bickham’s Musical Entertainer, Vol 1 of Walsh’s The Merry Musician, Calliope or English Harmony and The Muses Delight.
The Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo, No 1 in A major from a set of six is by John Hebden (c1712-65). Originally from Yorkshire, he moved to London and played principal cello and second bassoon in the Vauxhall band in the 1740’s and 1750’s and also played in performances of Messiah for Handel at the Foundling Hospital. He was also a cellist in Thomas Arne’s orchestra at Vauxhall, Drury Lane and Covent Garden and in 1758 was appointed musician-in-ordinary (bassoon) to George II.
Despite working at Vauxhall, Hebden did not publish any songs or keyboard solos which might have added to his income but instead produced his highly disciplined six solos for flute and basso continuo (London, c1745) and concertos (London, c1749) which combine Italianate majesty with highly beautiful smooth slow movements reflecting his English heritage with nuances of Yorkshire country dances.
A mezzotint by J. Faber after P.Mercier, 1741 with a verse by John Lockman is part of the Gerald Coke Handel Collection at the Foundling Museum stating:
The finest Voice that e’er sooth’d mortal Ear If, lost, thy Accents are so sweetly clear T’were needless to regret the melting Sound Since, near thy rival Bow, the like is found’.
The duet As steals the morn upon the night closes the first half of this programme and is from Handel’s pastoral ode L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (HWV55), of 1740 to which Tyers subscribed. The oratorio-style libretto from John Milton’s poem (c1632), L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, was prepared by James Harris (1709-1780) and further developed by Charles Jennens (1707-1773).
The Arcadian idylls described in John Milton’s L’Allegro and Il Penseroso inspired Tyers’s vision for Vauxhall with arched walks, sweet music, revelry and feast. There was originally a statue of Milton in the gardens at the northern end of the Cross walk apparently displaying Milton as Il Penseroso seated on a rock, eyes gazing upwards and ‘in an Attitude listening to soft Music’, perhaps instilled in him by his father, who was a composer. Facing Milton from the other end of the walk was a statue of Apollo, the patron of music and poetry and sun god showing the balance of understated virtue with brighter sensual pleasure. This statue of Milton was intended to complement the statue of Handel—the latter considered the great composer of English music, and the former, one of the greatest figures of English literature.
Without Handel, the music of eighteenth century London would have been very different; his enormous value was summed up in John Potter’s 1762 Observations on the Present State of Music:
‘English music may with justness be called Handel’s music and every musician, the son of Handel;…He has join’d the fullness and majesty of the German music, the delicacy and elegance of the Italian, to the solidity of the English; constituting in the end a magnificence of stile superior to any other nation’.
Handel at Vauxhall Volume Two will be available in the near future from Signum Records and again contains more glorious music by Handel and his English contemporaries at Vauxhall Gardens.
Bridget Cunningham © 2015
The gardens became internationally famous, spawning many imitators not only in London and the British Isles, but throughout the World, from Charleston in the USA to Dunedin in New Zealand. Vauxhall Gardens featured in the drama and fiction of its time, ensuring its literary immortality, and it is still used by romantic novelists today, as it was in the 18th century, as a shorthand for sexual adventure and intrigue.
Vauxhall though, was never a simple pleasure park. It began under the Stuarts as a common tavern garden, but with the Georgians it was turned into a real force for good in the transformation and modernisation of London, helping to make it the most elegant and polite capital city in Europe. Part of the reason for this cultural impact was the artistic patronage of its remarkable proprietor, Jonathan Tyers (1702-1767), who played such an important role in the development of English art and music in the 18th century. Under his management, Vauxhall became a hot-bed of artistic creativity right at the centre of the cultural and social life of London, where a success would advance a career, and a failure hardly mattered. William Hogarth helped Tyers to turn it into the first great public gallery for contemporary British art, and George Frideric Handel found there the ideal outlet for his secular music, in particular his grand ceremonial pieces, performed there to an entirely new audience, amongst whom his fame would quickly spread.
For a long time, we have been authoritatively persuaded that the music performed at Vauxhall Gardens in the 18th century is hardly worth our notice—mere background noise to the main entertainments of the gardens. In an unfortunately memorable phrase, Dr Johnson tells us that the music there was “not too refined for the general ear”, and for a long time, the phrase ‘pleasure garden music’ has evoked the 18th century equivalent of ‘easy listening’. To those who have been misled by Dr Johnson and others, this CD will come as a revelation, maybe even a shock. Vauxhall’s music was the best and most original that England had to offer, not just as regards composition, but also in terms of its performance, executed by some of the outstanding musicians of the time. Much of it was written specifically for performance at the pleasure gardens, and almost all of it was very new; some, indeed, would certainly have been too sophisticated ‘for the general ear’, while some of the rest would have had a broad appeal. Despite the rival attractions of the artworks, the food, the displays, and the company, it was always music that was the centre of attention at Vauxhall Gardens, at least from the mid 1730s until the second decade of the 19th century, when other more spectacular attractions began to monopolise public wonder. Jonathan Tyers, the developer and sole proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens from 1729 until his death, consistently invested heavily in music, not only in the fees and salaries of performers and composers, but also in the design and erection of high quality specialist permanent buildings; these were some of the first such buildings in Europe, intended to present the performers to the greatest advantage for their new audience, many of whom would never have been exposed to music of this quality before.
What is clear is that part of the fascination of Vauxhall was the experience of listening to music in the open air, with the opportunity of trying all sorts of different places to listen from; this was quite new to an audience more used to sitting in a relatively fixed position in a concert room or theatre. Music heard while drinking in a supper-box or strolling in a distant point of the garden would have produced entirely different experiences from that of standing in front of the Orchestra itself, or on the balcony around the organ. On her visit to Vauxhall, Fanny Burney’s heroine Evelina is impressed by the al fresco music, despite her ungracious companions:
‘There was a concert, in the course of which, a hautbois concerto was so charmingly played, that I could have thought myself upon enchanted ground, had I had spirits more gentle to associate with. The Hautboy in the open air is heavenly’.
Vauxhall was an outdoor entertainment, which came into its own after dark under artificial lighting. This novel convivial diversion was open every day from May to September, usually from 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening until the early hours of the morning. For the charge of just one shilling, the equivalent cost of admission to a major art exhibition today, Tyers’s visitors, drawn from a huge cross-section of the public, could, for the first time, freely enjoy top quality music alongside original contemporary architecture decorated with some of the best available contemporary visual art. If they wanted, they could also purchase some very expensive refreshments, but this was entirely voluntary, even though it was the sale of food and drink that produced the bulk of Tyers’s profits.
We know from Samuel Pepys and others that seventeenth century Vauxhall, then known as the New Spring Gardens, had been little more than a popular country ale-house and place of assignation, approached by boat across the river Thames. It had a large garden of avenues, flowerbeds and private arbours. The refreshments were basic and often supplemented by visitors’ own provisions. The entertainments, such as they were, were generated by strolling performers or by the visitors themselves. This was not yet a classic pleasure garden, but the great appeal of the place was that the sexes could meet freely there, without the constraints that circumscribed the tricky process of socialising among young men and women in polite society; dozens of the visitors on any one evening would certainly be working girls from the streets of London, looking out for new clients. Pepys himself, though married at the time, would regularly take lady-friends to the gardens for some amorous dalliance after dark.
When Jonathan Tyers took over the New Spring Gardens, Vauxhall, in 1729, he could see that it was ripe for a complete transformation; he had ambitious ideas for the place, and a mission to impose apparent moral order and civility on this suburban tavern. As part of his plan to re-brand and civilise the site, Jonathan Tyers dropped the old name in favour of the simpler ‘Vauxhall Gardens’, by which it soon became internationally known. Having great vision and being inspired by many things including the concept of John Milton’s L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, Tyers went on to commission architects, painters and sculptors to decorate and furnish the gardens, and he employed professional musicians to entertain his guests. Among the works of art was the remarkable series of fifty or more modern genre paintings designed by Francis Hayman, a close colleague of William Hogarth, to decorate the supper-boxes which surrounded the Grove, the central gathering place of the gardens, and the remarkable life-sized marble statue of Handel, the presiding musical genius of Tyers’s Vauxhall, designed and created by Louis François Roubiliac. To Tyers, though, the art and music at Vauxhall were never just decoration or entertainment—as far as he was concerned all the arts were morally redemptive, the civilising influence in a chaotic world, so his investment in the arts was as much idealistic as commercial.
Tyers re-launched his garden with a grand re-opening, called a Ridotto al Fresco, on 7 June 1732, for which the steep admission charge of one guinea was demanded, so as to keep the ‘company’ as select and fashionable as possible. Following this much publicised re-launch, which was attended by Frederick Louis, the young Prince of Wales (Vauxhall’s ground-landlord) and his retinue, and many other distinguished guests including Handel, Vauxhall became London’s most fashionable evening promenade, due in large part to the attraction of royal patronage and royal ownership, much exploited by Tyers.
Music played a vital role in Tyers’s Vauxhall. It was the element that set the tone of the gardens; it not only provided visitors with a rich topic of polite conversation and discussion, but it also encouraged people to relax and enjoy themselves, and to behave in an orderly manner during their visit.
Tyers’s early concerts were never advertised in the press except in the most general terms, and are poorly documented, but it is clear from the reports that do exist that he consistently favoured British composers and performers. Thomas Augustine Arne, who lived next door to the gardens, became the in-house composer in the 1740s, and it was his music, with that of Handel himself, that dominated the programme. An evening’s concert at Vauxhall began with an organ concerto or minuet, followed after an interval by martial music, rich in brass and, after a second interval, dance music and wind concertos. After 1745, however, the concert was given greater popular appeal by the addition of songs, which alternated with the instrumental pieces. It was at this point that the regular balanced programme took on its standard form of sixteen pieces in two acts every evening, eight instrumental and eight vocal.
After 1737, when the grand organ was installed behind the Orchestra, one of the instrumental pieces had to be an organ concerto, often composed by the in-house organist (Thomas Gladwin from 1737 until 1744, and James Worgan until 1750), and all the singers would join in a spirited ensemble piece for the finale. The new organ meant that the band at Vauxhall could be relatively small, probably no more than twelve men on any one evening. Employed for the summer months at Vauxhall, these men also played in the London theatres during the winter, when the pleasure gardens were closed. It is clear that these musicians were generally versatile, and well able to play two or three different instruments each, allowing for a huge variety of music to be played. James Worgan, for example, played organ, violoncello, and double bass, and John Hebden ‘cello and bassoon. Others were more specialised, like Valentine Snow, the distinguished trumpet-player and leading light of the important brass section. There is little doubt that the quality of the musical performance was, in fact, second to none.
The fashion was for visitors to promenade and chat during the instrumental music, and to return to the Orchestra for the performance of songs. As a result of their starring role at Vauxhall, many of the singers became celebrities in their own right. Songs, whether pastoral ballads, love songs, patriotic airs, songs based on themes of hunting, soldiering or spurious regional dialect, became a regular and popular part of the entertainment. With lyrics in English, by contemporary poets like John Lockman, Christopher Smart, or Thomas Tyers, set to music from Handel’s operas, or from the works of Thomas Arne, English singers could perform understandable and accessible words set to excellent modern melodies.
Handel is closely identified with the early development of Tyers’s gardens, where his music was so often played, and where his likeness dominated the Grove for eight decades. Roubiliac’s life-sized marble portrait presented a strikingly original image, showing the composer completely relaxed, at work on his own. He is portrayed ‘in undress’, sitting down in his house-coat and slippers, resting his left elbow on a pile of his own music books. The composer is shown hard at work plucking Apollo’s lyre, while a putto at his feet writes the notes on a sheet of paper resting on the back of a viol; other instruments and books surround the figure. This is a bold and innovative composition for a public sculpture. Even its material was contentious—normally reserved for noble statues of royalty, or of dead military heroes in Roman costume, precious white Carrara marble is here used for the informal portrait of an ordinary living person, just a musician. In fact, however, it is not just a portrait; in its elegant informality it is a visual manifesto for the English Rococo movement, and it is also an allegory representing the virtues of hard work, and of humility—Handel does not care how people see him, even in such a public space as Vauxhall. He is presented as an engaging, approachable man in his early fifties, rather than the impersonal, elevated composer of incomprehensible Italian operas; he had also become a constant presence in a place where his likeness would be seen and remarked upon by thousands of people every season. As far as Tyers was concerned, he gained, in this statue, a useful talking point, both inside and outside the gardens, and an image that was to become a recognisable personification of his gardens. More importantly, this work gave Tyers a solid artistic credibility as an established patron, especially amongst leading artists and musicians.
What the relationship between Tyers and Handel actually was is not clearly understood. Tyers loved Handel’s music and was a constant supporter of his work, and Handel certainly saw in Vauxhall a useful business opportunity, to be encouraged and supported. Whether it went further than this is yet to be discovered, although it seems likely that a real friendship did exist. A fascinating footnote to this relationship appears in the nineteenth century in-house periodical, the Vauxhall Observer of 1823: ‘we are informed the first piece of music Handel had belonging to himself, was one of his own making, which he presented to the then Proprietor of the Gardens [Jonathan Tyers], and which is now in the possession of the present Proprietors [Thomas Bish and Frederick Gye]; it is rough in its composition, yet, as an early specimen of that great man’s skill, must always be considered a most valuable relic by the admirers of his unrivalled talents.’ This most unusual gift (now lost) would suggest the likelihood of a tie of friendship between the two men, that would lead the composer to give the younger man something so personal as one of his own early manuscripts.
The continual playing of Handel’s music at Vauxhall really is an extraordinary feature of the three or four decades of Jonathan Tyers’s management. There was a huge musical repertoire available, and musicians were used to a wide variety of work, so it must imply a positive choice by Tyers. His commission of the Handel statue appears to confirm that the choice was his, as does his support of the composer through the purchase of fifty tickets for Handel’s benefit concert on 28 March 1738 at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket—a very generous gesture on his part, both to the composer and to the recipients of those tickets, possibly Tyers’s favoured employees.
The many media ‘puffs’ which consistently promote Handel but determinedly exclude other composers suggest that Handel’s own publicity machine, just as efficient as Tyers’s, might have been allowed some involvement at Vauxhall. A typical notice is the one published by the Daily Advertiser on the unveiling of the Orchestra building at the opening of the 1735 season:
There is built in the Grove of the Spring-Gardens at Vaux-hall, an Octagon Temple, intended to serve as an Orchestra, for a Band of our finest Instrumental Performers; who will play (beginning at Five every Evening during the Summer-Season) the Compositions of Mr. Handel, and other celebrated Masters.
The few compositions specifically reported in the media as being performed at Vauxhall in the 1730s and ‘40s are all Handel’s: the Dead March from his new oratorio Saul (first performed 16 January 1739 at the King’s Theatre), his setting of God Save the King from the Coronation Anthem Zadok the Priest, and Hush ye Pretty Warbling Choir from Acis and Galatea. The first and last of these were included in the programme of 7 May, 1739, a widely reported occasion on which the Prince of Wales visited the Gardens. Handel’s God save the King was performed regularly at Vauxhall; there is a mention of it being performed there during an impressive thunderstorm on 7 September 1745. The Dead March from Saul, scored for a typical Vauxhall ensemble of trombones, timpani, flutes, strings and organ, appears regularly in press reports from 1739 onwards, demonstrating that it became something of a recognisable archetype of Vauxhall music.
The music performed at the gardens was not so different from that performed (by the same musicians) at the theatres and in the concert halls of London, but with a strong British bias. It was this relatively sophisticated but attractive repertory that was favoured by Tyers’s visitors, who, even though they did not know exactly what they were going to hear on a particular evening, would go along anyway in the knowledge that, whatever the musical programme was to be, it would be of sufficient quality and range for them to enjoy at least parts of it, or to feel flattered by the assumption that they, as what Tyers always called ‘persons of quality,’ were sophisticated enough to appreciate it.
Apart from Handel’s Hornpipe Compos’d for the Concert at Vauxhall, of 1740, it is hard to say whether any new works received their first performance at Vauxhall, but there is no reason why not—Vauxhall’s appetite for new British music was so huge that the operas and incidental music at the theatres may have been insufficient to satisfy it. Composers like John Frederick Lampe, William Boyce, John Stanley, the anglicised Germans J.C. Smith and M.C. Festing, not to mention the ‘in house’ composers such as Dr. Arne, Thomas Gladwin and the Worgan brothers, must all have derived considerable income from Tyers’s concert programmes.
At all times, the music at Vauxhall was heavily biased towards British composers (amongst whom Handel, of course, was pre-eminent), and British performers. Most people viewed Italian opera as effete, exclusive, and inclined to deprive Englishmen of their natural manliness. Indeed, there was something un-English and even unpatriotic in anything that savoured of the Jacobite movement or of the Catholic church; this included most things Italian and French, especially around the time of the 1745 uprising; so the public image of Vauxhall’s hard-working performers, composers and singers was more wholesome and generally more acceptable than that of their much criticised European counterparts, who were being paid such vast sums at the London theatres.
The outstanding musical event at Vauxhall in the first half of the 18th century, and probably the best-attended of any event for the thirty-eight years of Tyers’s management, was the rehearsal for Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, on Friday 21 April, 1749 at 11am. It was reported that between eight and twelve thousand visitors flocked to the gardens for this event, causing a memorable three-hour traffic jam on London Bridge. The tradition also maintains that a hundred musicians were engaged for the occasion. There is reason to doubt both these numbers, simply in view of practical considerations, but it is clear that a phenomenal number of people did attend and did pay the 2s.6d. admission charge. Many news reports confirm this, the most striking of which refers to the 1,025 coaches which passed the turnpike on their way to Vauxhall from the jam at London Bridge. Assuming that each coach carried an average of three people, and that these were only a fraction of those who made the journey, with others coming by water or on foot, it appears that at least six to eight thousand people did attend this one event, an extraordinary record which remained unbroken for many years.
Handel himself had not wanted to hold the rehearsal at Vauxhall, possibly because of its limitations of scale, and its location across the river. This rehearsal, six days before the final event in Green Park, was attended by the Duke of Cumberland representing the king. Even if only half of the reported 12,000 visitors actually arrived, this would still have produced £750 income for Tyers (more than one tenth of his annual profits), just for one morning’s entertainment outside his main summer season.
By the time of the Fireworks Music rehearsal in 1749, the Rotunda, the first real indoor space at Vauxhall, had been completed. This building, opened for the 1748 season, incorporated an orchestra stage and organ, where the music was played whenever the weather was unsuitable for the more usual outdoor concerts. Tyers believed that the al fresco element of Vauxhall was vital to its success—a belief that was eventually vindicated in the enduring success of Vauxhall for more than fifty years after the rival gardens Ranelagh, which had a larger indoor space, had been demolished.
Jonathan Tyers, the son of a Bermondsey tradesman, was a businessman and manager of astonishing skill, creativity and acuity; his pleasure garden at Vauxhall was one of the great success-stories of 18th century London, and is the precursor of many of our modern social entertainments. But his outstanding talent lay in knowing his own limitations, and in his ability to select just the right people to work with him to achieve his ambitious objectives. In John Lockman he found the ideal publicist; through William Hogarth, he gained access to the most interesting and original visual artists and designers; and with George Frideric Handel as his adviser and presiding musical genius, he ensured that Vauxhall’s daily concerts were some of the finest to be heard anywhere in Europe.
David E Coke © 2015