Thursday 16 December 2021

A hitherto unknown sea song celebrating Nelson's victory at Cape St Vincent discovered in one of Lady Hamilton's songbooks at the Museum of London

Museum of London librarian Lluis Tembleque Teres with one of Emma Hamilton's songbooks (Photo John Chase/Museum of London)
Museum of London librarian Lluis Tembleque Teres with one of Emma Hamilton's songbooks
(Photo John Chase/Museum of London)

Last year the Museum of London librarian Lluis Tembleque Teres was exploring a set of songbooks owned by Emma Hamilton (best known as Nelson's lover). Amongst the songs found in the books was a sea song, originally sung after the battle of Cape St Vincent (1797) and transcribed by Nelson after hearing it chanted by his crew. The lyrics were already known, thanks to a letter from Nelson to William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry, but the new discovery gives us the music for the song and a new chorus that the Duke added; a personal friend of Emma Hamilton, his authorship of the piece is recorded in Emma’s own hand. Lluis Tembleque Teres talks about the discovery on YouTube.

The songbooks are manuscript collections which were compiled by Emma Hamilton (1765-1815) both in Italy (where she lived in Naples when she was the wife of Sir William Hamilton) and in London. One volume is a score for Haydn's Creation, the other two contain over twenty pieces including one sea shanty, another cantata and two hymns which are dedicated to Lord Nelson’s naval victories at Cape St. Vincent (1797), Aboukir Bay (aka Battle of the Nile, 1798) and Copenhagen (1801), 

These four were all hitherto unknown and each piece was written by a personal friend of Emma and it is likely that each gave their scores to her as a gift. As well as the sea song, there is another song written by Michael Kelly (best known for singing Don Curzio and Don Basilio in the premiere of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro) in April 1801, within hours of the news of Britain’s victory over the Danish fleet reaching London. Its performance at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane was reported by the press of the time. There is also an 1805 cantata by composer Giacomo Gotifredo Ferrari (1763-1842), with lyrics by the poet Peter Pindar, which was commissioned by Emma Hamilton to celebrate Nelson’s victory at Aboukir Bay (1798). Ferrari was an Italian composer largely based in England and France and four of his operas and two of his ballets were premiered at the King's Theatre in London between 1799 and 1817.

Now there is the chance to hear the music as earlier this week students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama performed music from the songbooks, including four hitherto unknown songs, and this will be available to watch in full as an online event from Tuesday 21st December 2021 

Full details from the Museum of London website, and you can also book for the online event.

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