Sunday 10 August 2008

What if? part (2)

If we fast forward nearly 200 years from the death of Purcell then we come to the death of Thomas Linley junior in 1778. He was just 22 and an exact contemporary of Mozart's.

He came from a gifted family, his father was a harpsichordist, composer and singing teacher in Bath and Thomas junior's sisters were fine singers and actresses (Gainsborough famously painted them and the family portraits are now in the Dulwich Picture Gallery).

Thomas junior studied in Italy, with Nardini, where he met Mozart. On his return to London his father was appointed musical director of the Drury Lane Theatre. Thomas junior wrote some remarkable, fine large scale works, including the Lyric Ode on the Fairies, Aerial Beings and Witches of Shakespeare, a piano concerto and The Song of Moses. This latter was his last work and is a very accomplished oratorio which mixed large scale Handelian choruses with solos in the more current galant style.

This latter style was heavily influence by Johann Christian Bach, the English Bach. J.C. Bach was one of the composers who had continued to fill in the gap in English musical life and had been influential in his own concert series in London.

Thomas junior's writing is confident and striking for a 20 year old, though perhaps not quite as advanced as Mozart's writing at the same age. If you listen to The Song of Moses then it sounds a little out of date when compared to Haydn or Mozart. But where Linley gains is that he mixes styles, so that his Handelian choruses provide far more choral interest than Haydn or Mozart choruses from the same period. Haydn never really did crack this, even the choruses in his late oratorios are a bit unvarying. But Mozart, a Handel admirer who re-orchestrated a number of Handel's works, eventually came to his more developed late style in the Requiem.

All this provides fascinating grist to the mill as to what might have happened if poor Tom Linley had not died in a boating accident in 1778. The answer, regrettably, is probably he would have succumbed to the consumption which killed his sisters in the decade or so following his death. But we can still be curious about what might have been.

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