Music on the Grand Tour

Peter Medhurst

Friday 8th March 2019



Peter gave a Study Day on paintings and music last year which was so enjoyed that it was obvious we should invite him again. Peter is a musician and scholar who combines his musicianship with a deep understanding of art and it is this combination that makes his Study Days so interesting.


Following is a resume of the Study Day; a breakdown of the lectures can be found on the booking form.

A booking form is available on the website.

When it was at its peak in the 18th Century, the Grand Tour was recognised as one of the rites of passage for the young British nobility and upper classes. We know a great deal about the places visited, the reasons for travel, the mementoes brought back and the influence these travels had on the British sensibility.

Yet music has been a neglected aspect in the study of the Grand Tour and that is the subject for this Study Day. For some travellers, music played a very important part in their enjoyment of Italy and, for some, it was the principal reason for going. Some were professional musicians but there were many British tourists who indulged in whatever musical offerings Italy presented.

This Study Day takes a close look at 18th Century Italian music - the composers, the performers, the form and styles - and determines exactly what it was that drew musical British travellers time after time.

Music will include the Miserere by Allegri, excerpts from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, keyboard sonatas by Scarlatti, arias from Handel’s Italian operas and music by John Stanley, J C Bach, Corelli and Marcello.

Review of "Music on the Grand Tour 1700 - 1800 by Peter Medhurst"

by George Roby

This was a very welcome return visit by Peter Medhurst, following his excellent presentation a year ago on “Paintings inspired by music and music inspired by paintings”.  You can read  Ann Marriott's review on our website.

Preview.  Much has been written about the Grand Tour but research has generally focussed on the art experienced and brought home.  Music has been a neglected area of study yet for many musicians and travellers this was a principal reason for travel.  This Study Day takes a close look at 18th. Century Italian music making – the composers, performers, the forms and styles – and determines what it was that drew British travellers south.

The lectures.  Goethe said “We are all pilgrims who aspire to Italy” and this was true of our wealthy aristocrats.  They came for art, architecture, history and music. Most came over the Alps, so their first stop was Turin, but they did not stay long, heading  mainly for Rome and Venice.  The period Peter is covering is important musically, as in 1700 the style changed from modality to tonality, with Corelli playing an important part. Visitors were hearing the new style and musicians also went, financed by benefactors.  1685 was a very important year musically, with the birth of J S Bach, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, the latter being vital to these changes, with over 500 sonatas plus many other compositions.  Many of the visitors went to the Opera, with a mention of the young Canaletto helping his father paint sets in Turin.

Rome was a vital part of the visit, with the Vatican being a huge draw, particularly the Sistine Chapel, where the Choir, only for the elite, had its own score of Allegri's Miserere, kept under lock and key, and it is claimed that Mozart wrote it down from memory, a very impressive feat.  Naples was also very important, with many composers training there.  Letters of introduction helped in making connections. Many visitors were excellent musicians and a picture showed Lord Fortrose playing in a group that also included Mozart.  Servants also played “footman wanted, must play oboe” etc. Next came Florence, favoured by expats, many of them musical, which led to mention of the 12 Apostles, 12 harpsichords made by Zumpe.  Peter has one.  Some visitors travelled in great style, with Lord Burlington bringing 878 trunks, plus many harpsichords.

And so to Venice.  You went to Rome to be edified, Venice, with its Carnival, to let your hair down.  Vivaldi was the main composer, also teaching at the Pieta, one of the many orphanages who looked after poor children, teaching them trades and music.  Many concerts were held, including “Gallery of Women Singers in Venice”, hidden by a screen as they were girls.  Music had to be played indoors as all open spaces were covered by markets etc.  It needed to be tuneful, clear and transparent, suiting Vivaldi's style.  There was a two-way flow,with Canaletto and other painters coming to London and painting scenes of the Thames etc., with a Venetian glow. Italian Opera flourished, with Italian Societies in London, including the Dilettanti Society, who subsidised musical groups, Opera in particular.

These were immensely varied lectures, touching on composers and their music, artists and their paintings, the visitors, mainly wealthy aristocrats, some of whom supported musicians and were often skilful players themselves,  the composers and their music, the changing style of music, the varying appeal of the different Italian cities, the help given by the Venetian orphanages and finally the reverse journey, with composers and artists coming to London.  We even learnt a little of Peter's own musical life.  It was a fascinating and most enjoyable day.

George Roby.