Hickford's Room

While prepping for our "Lure of London" concerts, we have learned about a trendy venue for public concerts in Baroque London known as "Hickford's Room." Not much is known about the venue's founder—John Hickford—except that he was a dancing-master. The hall was initially known as the Great Dancing Room and was located on James Street in Haymarket. As it was one of only two rooms in London's West End large enough for concerts, musicians approached Hickford to use the space, and he soon developed a reputation as a concert organizer. At that point, it became known as Mr. Hickford's Great Room and Mr. Hickford's Room.

Hickfords 1

By 1739, the series was so successful, Hickford moved to Brewer Street near Golden Square to be in "fashionable part of town." That room was about 50 feet in length and 30 feet wide, but was said to have had "excellent" proportions. The ceiling was coved, and the mouldings and cornices were of elegant, simple design.There were 20 concerts in each season, running from December to April. A season ticket (or "subscription") cost 4 guineas which was the equivalent of about 44 days of pay for a skilled tradesman. Non-ticket holders paid half a guinea per concert, if space was available. Four of the featured composers on our “Lure of London” concerts other were known to have performed there: the cellist Giacobbe Basevi Cervetto, the oboist/flutist Giuseppe Sammartini, violinist Carlo Tessarini, and violinist Francesco Geminiani, who also ran the series for a few years. The series ran for many decades and was one of THE public places to perform.

Hickfords 2

Step back in time with us to hear works by the latest and greatest arrivals from Italy to the Baroque London scene - but in the convenience of historical performance spaces nearby in Wayland and Boston! For more info and tickets for our Lure of London concerts: https://oldpostroad.org/concert_series

OPR Old Soputh


Celebrating Women Composers this season


The opening program of our 31st season “Harmony at Home” celebrated two talented women composers who have been unjustly neglected: Fanny Mendelssohn (the older sister of Felix), and Sophia Corri Dussek (wife of Jan Ladislav Dussek). We performed two little-known instrumental duos from among their oeuvre together with piano trios by Felix Mendelssohn and Jan Ladislav Dussek offering a window on domestic music-making in the early 19th century. 

Fanny was an excellent pianist and composer who showed prodigious musical ability from an early age. She was very supportive of her brother Felix’s composing (he was four years younger), offering him constructive criticism and guidance. Prevailing attitudes about women of the day, however, discouraged her from pursuing a professional career in music. Her father wrote to her in 1820, “Music will perhaps become his [Felix’s] profession, but for you it can and must be only an ornament.” 

The siblings shared a deep passion for music, and Felix sought to support Fanny by arranging to have some of her works published under his name. An embarrassing moment came about when Felix visited Queen Victoria, who announced she would be singing her favorite of his songs, “Italien.” Felix was forced to admit that the work was actually by his sister Fanny! 

Fanny’s husband, the painter Wilhelm Hensel, was supportive of her composing. Her works were performed alongside her brother’s at the family’s house concerts in Berlin (Sonntageskonzerte). Her only known public performance took place in 1838 when Fanny played Felix’s Piano Concerto No. 1. As it was, she was not identified as the performer on the program - rather it listed the work was performed by a relative.

By contrast, Sophia Corri’s family encouraged her musical career. From a very young age, she studied voice with her father, Domenico Corri, an Italian composer, impresario, and music publisher who immigrated to London from Italy (via several years in Edinburgh). In addition to becoming an acclaimed soprano, she also became an accomplished harpist, pianist, and composer.

Sophia made her London debut in 1791 on the notable Salomon concerts with Haydn directing from the harpsichord. She became a frequent featured soprano on that series. She also was soprano soloist for the first performance of Mozart’s Requiem given in London.

In 1792, at the tender age of 16, she met her husband-to-be, the renowned traveling piano virtuoso Jan Ladislav Dussek who had recently arrived in London. The two of course met through their common musical circles—in addition to singing, she had already been performing on both piano and harp. After only a year, the two married, and shortly thereafter, Dussek entered into a publishing partnership with Sophia’s father.

Their marital partnership became rocky after only a few years. Sophia made a failed attempt to leave London with another man, and when the Corri-Dussek business faltered (and debtors were knocking at the door), Dussek fled to Hamburg to avoid prison. By that point, the couple had just given birth to their only daughter, Olivia.

After Dussek died in 1812, Sophia was able to remarry. She settled in Paddington with her husband the viola player John Alvis Moralt and established a music school. She continued to perform and compose, most especially for the harp and piano. To this day, her compositions for harp remain a vital part of harp repertoire.



Lecture Recital in Salt Lake City

NFA trio

In early August, Artistic Directors Suzanne Stumpf and Daniel Ryan traveled to Salt Lake City to give a lecture-recital at The National Flute Association conference. The performance and presentation, entitled “Baroque Rediscoveries from the Old and New Worlds” centered about their research recovering “lost” chamber music for flute and to discuss their publications OPR Editions that make this music available to a wider public. They are joined by flutist and longtime colleague María Diez Canedo from Mexico. Music included works by the Pla brothers, Tessarini, Lampe, and others, scored for 2 flutes and harpsichord.

The presentation was very well-received, with the audience asking excellent questions afterwards. Many of our OPR Editions of the rediscovered works were purchased by attendees.

Review of Stars in Their Eyes

Musicians of the Old Post Road shoot for the ‘Stars’

By John Zeugner, Telegram & Gazette Reviewer

It’s no secret that classical music, like everything truthful, rational, beautiful and compassionate, has been losing ground lately. And there are lots of attempted cures: live orchestral accompaniment to intensely popular films; flash crowd-sourced concerts; highly flexible small chamber orchestras (A Far Cry, The Knights); new off-beat venues (nightclubs, waterfront penthouses) for contemporary compositions; steep discounts for under age audiences; and the apparent winner — themed programs that subsume composers under bold titles that suggest potential audiences will find a way into something more than music.

Case in point: “Stars in Their Eyes,” Thursday night’s concert at the Worcester Historical Museum by Musicians of the Old Post Road. One could also point to Worcester Chamber Music Society’s recent concerts boldly titled: “Love and Vengeance”; “Vampires and Crocodiles”; “Censored Identity.” What’s in a name? Maybe a wider audience.

SITE’s bold-titled theme encompassed the surprising proposition that fairly obscure 18th century scientists with astronomical interests also wrote music. SITE took an added step and provided an interesting mini lecture before the concert by Harvard astronomer, James Moran, with details about William Herschel, the most celebrated astronomer of his time for his discovery of the planet Uranus. Herschel was a German émigré to Bath, England, where he was that legendary town’s band director and resident composer until his telescope production and successful data mining of the night sky overflooded and buried his musical career. Moran also supplied information about our own father of rocketry, Robert Goddard.

Only hyper cognoscenti have ever heard of scientist-composers Johann Christopher Schmidt, John Marsh, Johan Daniel Berlin or Carl Frederich Baumgarten. The ever energetic Musicians of the Old Post Road had dug out some of those scientists’ neglected scores, and, characteristically, gave them superbly polished performances. Schmidt’s Chaconne from his Les Quatre Saisons certainly had elements of Vivaldi’s better known version, especially in the supple traverso/flute work of Suzanne Stumpf and her guest partner Rachel Carpentier. Their sweet sound in this piece and also in Baumgarten’s enlarged quartet in the concert’s second half spiraled above and through deft string accompaniment by violinists Sarah Darling, and Jesse Irons, Marcia Cassidy viola and cellist Daniel Ryan. As always Michael Bahmann’s gifted harpsichord playing provided solid underpinning.

For this reviewer, Herschel’s “Symphonia di Camera in F Minor” was the most arresting music of the evening. There was a darker, denser tone to his three movements which seem far less derivative. Marsh’s String Quartet seemed a pale mimic of Haydn’s more spritely and beguiling efforts. Herschel’s work, on the other hand, commanded attention and had almost romantic era anticipations in its suppressed energy and churning but sturdy individual lines. A SITE 2.0 might entirely focus on Herschel.

There was one traditional gesture toward well-knowness: the concert ended with three selections from Rameau’s opera “Castor et Pollux,” and featured guest soprano Kristen Watson resplendent in a black sleeveless gown and striking mirror-grey long scarf. Her delivery in the second “Ariette” movement was sumptuous and stunning as she sang out “Shine, shine, new stars” neatly tying up SITE’s theme.


1719 Dresden "Festival of the Planets"

2019 marks the 300th anniversary of the Dresden Festival of the Planets. In 1719, the Dresden court reached its climax of cultural display for the marriage of the Crown Prince Friedrich Augustus to Maria Josepha, daughter of the Emperor Joseph I of Austria. This weeks-long spectacle centered on musical works created to celebrate the six planets known at that time.

Among the many court activities was the performance on September 23rd of Kapellmeister Johann Christoph Schmidt’s French divertissement, Les quatres saisons, part of the Festival of Venus. An open air stage was constructed for this performance in the Grossen Garten, and it is said to have been danced by more than 100 members of the court.

Our 2018-19 season finale program “Stars in Their Eyes,” features music by 18th-century scientist-musicians and other works inspired by stargazing. We have chosen to include Schmidt's wonderful chaconne from his Les quatres saisons on this concert that concludes our season exploring the impact of the Enlightenment on 18th-century music and culture.

Astronomer and Musician Caroline Herschel

The musician/astronomer Caroline Lucretia Herschel was a younger sister to William Herschel, one of the featured scientist-composers for our “Stars in Their Eyes” program. Like her older brother, she was also an accomplished musician, playing harpsichord and performing as a vocal soloist for the oratorio concerts her brother organized in Bath.

Born in Hanover, Caroline was struck by typhus at the age of ten, which stunted her growth—she never grew taller than 4 feet, 3 inches. After her father’s death, she journeyed to England in 1772 to join William who had been sent there earlier by their father for refuge. She managed William’s household affairs, participated in his music-making activities, and eventually began assisting him with his work in astronomy as that interest came to the fore and began to dominate his career path.

Although she worked with William throughout her own career as an astronomer, eventually she developed more independence in her research pursuits and is credited with the discovery of several comets. She was the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist and was the first woman to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomy Society (1828). The King of Prussia presented her with a Gold Medal for Science on her 96th birthday (1846). She lived to be 97 years old.

Filling out the bigger picture

by Suzanne Stumpf

In looking back at the art of past centuries today, we all know who the most worthy composers were, right? Names such as Mozart and Beethoven always float to the surface.

And of course they were incredible geniuses who made phenomenal works of beauty and creativity. But they did not operate in a vacuum - and therein lies the rub. Each of our beloved masters worked within a community or communities of other cutting-edge musicians who were each pioneering the way forward with their own unique voices, imbued with daring, new ideas. Without a doubt, this atmosphere collectively challenged and inspired everyone’s development.
What we have learned from exploring repertoire by composers who are less known, little-known, or unknown today is that there is a wealth of creativity taking place at any given time, and the experience of any particular Age is deeply enriched by exploring more of those voices than just the ones who remain in today’s cultural vernacular.
It is challenging for us as musicians to meet these little-known voices because our training has versed us so well in the language of the recognized geniuses. The same challenge can exist for audiences as well. However, through our thirty years or so of opening ourselves to understanding the broader cultural-musical context of our beloved “stars,” we have endeavored to become more facile in comprehending and interpreting the dramatic invention of “new-to-us” voices and to learn their individual tools and shticks. Although we may be initially tempted to siphon them through the lens of the language of our famous heroes, in that scenario they will always fall short, and worse....we will miss the point!

It has become part of our mission to not only identify these sidelined composers and to discover their interesting works, but even more importantly to endeavor to understand and convey their language and their pioneering efforts as convincingly as possible for today’s audiences. Although without question there is a reason for the recognition of our popular composers, there are treasures by the colleagues who surrounded them that have been unjustly forgotten or lost by mere happenstance. Finding and presenting the bigger picture can only enrich everyone’s enjoyment.

William Herschel: Composer and Astronomer

On our Stars in Their Eyes concerts on May 2 & 4, we introduce audiences to musician-scientists of the 18th-century who were impacting both fields. One of the most intriguing of these musicians -scientists was William Herschel (1738-1822), who is considered to be the “father of modern astronomy.“ Herschel’s first career was as a musician —he was an oboist, violinist, harpsichordist, organist, and composer. Born in Hanover in 1738, his father sent him to England for refuge where he was quickly employed as a talented violinist. He eventually settled in Bath where he became Director of Public Concerts and the organist at the Octagon Chapel in the fashionable spa-city.

A gentleman of high intellect, his interests led him to readings about astronomy, trigonometry, and mechanics. He took lessons from a local mirror builder and began making his own reflecting telescopes. His increasingly sophisticated work led him to the discovery of Uranus in 1781. He was a pioneer of astronomical spectrophotometry. With his younger sister Caroline, the pair made numerous important advancements in the field of astronomy. Herschel was an superb composer of symphonies and his Symphonia di Camera in F minor is featured in this program.

Feeling grateful!!

Feeling grateful!! Thanks to all who attended our recent "Mozart's Viennese Circle" concerts. Both the Parish Hall at Emmanuel in Boston and the First Parish in Wayland were packed! We so appreciated everyone's enthusiasm and the lively discussions about our "quartet" of composers at the receptions. Onward now to our season closer, "Stars in the Eyes," exploring repertoire by cutting-edge 18th-century scientist-musicians and rarely-heard Baroque music inspired by gazing at the sky!