Music for Harpists: Royal Amateurs, Virtuosi, and a Child Prodigy

Egan, Charles. A New Series of Instructions Arranged Expressly for the Royal Portable Irish Harp (Dublin: for the author by John Egan, circa 1822). Illustration on preliminary page

A revival of traditional Irish harp music in the early 19th century led instrument makers to design new harps suitable for amateur players.  John Egan, a harp maker active in Dublin, invented his “royal portable Irish harp” circa 1819.   Though resembling a traditional Irish harp in size, this instrument incorporated “ivory stops,” used to raise and lower pitches, allowing changes of key.  The illustration above appears in Charles Egan’s A New Series of Instructions Arranged Expressly for the Royal Portable Irish Harp (Dublin: for the author by John Egan), prefaced by a dedication to Princess Augusta dated 1822. 

Egan, Charles. A New Series of Instructions Arranged Expressly for the Royal Portable Irish Harp (Dublin: for the author by John Egan, circa 1822). Title page

Both John and Charles Egan were associated with the royal family: John was “harp maker by authority of the royal warrant” to George IV, and Charles served as “professor of harp” to Princess Augusta.  Also present in the Archive are a manuscript “Selection of Preludes & Airs for the Royal Portable Irish Harp” by Charles Egan, accompanied by a letter of dedication to Princess Augusta and an essay on Irish music, all presumably in Egan’s autograph.  The “Preludes & Airs” incorporate Irish tunes, as well as a version of “God Save the King”:

Egan, Charles. Selection of Preludes & Airs for the Royal Portable Irish Harp. “God Save the King”

Princess Augusta’s interest in the harp extended beyond the revival of Irish traditions.  A volume of harp music with Augusta’s personalized binding includes popular opera excerpts arranged for pedal harp by Charles Egan and other composers.  Many song collections in the Archive employ the harp as an accompanying instrument.  One example is this collection of English ballads dedicated to Princess Augusta’s younger sister Mary by Sir William Parsons (1746-1817), “master of His Majesty’s band of musicians”:

Parsons, William. Six English Ballads With an Accompaniment For the Harp or Piano-Forte (no publisher, 1791). Title page

The Archive also contains works of two French harp virtuosos.  Nicholas Charles Bochsa (1789-1856), served as harpist to Napoleon and Louis XVIII, 1813-1816.  Fleeing charges of forgery, he arrived in London in 1817, was appointed professor of harp at the Royal Academy of Music and served as music director of the King’s Theatre, 1826-1830.  Bochsa composed opera, orchestra, and chamber music, as well as music for solo harp.  His pedagogical works included A New and Improved Method of Instruction for the Harp:

Bochsa, Robert Nicolas Charles,. A New and Improved Method of Instruction for the Harp (London: Chappell & Co., undated). Title page

Jean-Baptiste Cardon (1760-1803), a harp virtuoso and teacher in Paris, visited London in 1785 and dedicated his harp sonatas, op. 22, to George IV, then Prince of Wales.  After the French Revolution, Cardon settled in Russia and was appointed harpist to the Russian royal family.  The Archive’s copy of Cardon’s variations on the French folksong “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman” is annotated with manuscript fingerings, probably by Princess Augusta:

Cardon, Jean-Baptiste. Ah vous dirai je maman, with variations, pour la harp par Cardon Fils. Print (London: Chappell & Co., undated). First page

The presence of several works by Joseph Tudor Hughes indicate the royal family’s interest in this child prodigy harpist.

Hughes, Joseph Tudor. The Celebrated Welch Air...to which is added The Juvenile Bards Idea (London: Welsh, undated). Cover

Joseph Tudor Hughes (born circa 1827) was one of several siblings, all musical prodigies who sang and played the harp, violin, and concertina.  Originally from Wales, the children performed in England during the 1830s and emigrated with their parents to the United States in 1838. 

Hughes, Joseph Tudor.  British Melodies, the Composition of Master Hughes, from the fourth to the ninth year of his age (London: for the proprietor, by D'Almaine, undated).  Cover

Hughes, Joseph Tudor. British Melodies, the Composition of Master Hughes, from the fourth to the ninth year of his age (London: for the proprietor, by D'Almaine, undated). Cover

Hughes, Joseph Tudor. British Melodies, the Composition of Master Hughes, from the fourth to the ninth year of his age (London: for the proprietor, by D'Almaine, undated). Illustration

The collection of compositions by Joseph Tudor Hughes shown above includes “Llewellyn’s Lament,” based on a legend of Prince Llewellyn the Great of Wales:

Hughes, Joseph Tudor. British Melodies, the Composition of Master Hughes, from the fourth to the ninth year of his age (London: for the proprietor, by D'Almaine, undated). Llewellyn’s Lament. First page

One manuscript by Hughes is present in the Archive.  Titled “The Infant’s Farewell,” the manuscript is annotated “this melody was composed by Master Hughes on the occation of leaveing his mother to come to Brighton as farewell”:

Hughes, Joseph Tudor. The Infant’s Farewell, undated

Sadly, Joseph Tudor Hughes’s life was cut short by a drowning accident in 1841.  His brother David Edward Hughes (1831-1900) became a professor of music and natural philosophy at St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown, Kentucky.  He returned to London in the 1870s, where he had a distinguished career as a scientist and inventor of telegraph and telephone technology.

One response to “Music for Harpists: Royal Amateurs, Virtuosi, and a Child Prodigy

  1. Roger H. Kizer Ball

    An excellent biography on David Edward Hughes was published in 2011. It includes the early history of the child performers (Hughes, I. (2011). Before We Went Wireless: David Edward Hughes, FRS: His Life, Inventions, and Discoveries (1829-1900). Bennington, Vt: Images from the Past.).

    Two grandsons of Margaret Hughes, the youngest member of the group, attended Yale. Edwin Grant Burrows (Yale M.A. 1933, Ph.D. 1937) was a professor of Anthropology, specializing in music at the University of Connecticut. Millar Burrows (Yale Ph.D. 1925) was the Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology, Yale Divinity School from 1935 to 1958.

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