A Morning at London’s Bach-Abel Concerts


Thursday, March 5, 2020, 11AM

The Victoria Conservatory of Music's Alix Goolden Performance Hall


Paul Luchkow, baroque violin
Sam Stadlen, viola da gamba
Michael Jarvis, harpsichord


The Bach-Abel concerts were England’s first subscription concerts, organized between 1765 and 1782 by J.C. Bach and C.F. Abel. Featuring almost exclusively instrumental music, a great number of symphonies, overtures, concertos, airs from the opera as well as chamber music by Bach, Abel, Haydn and their contemporaries received their English premieres at the Wednesday performances. From 1765-1768 the concerts were organized by Mrs. Theresa Cornelys, a retired Venetian operatic soprano, impresario, and courtesan who owned a highly fashionable concert hall at Carlisle House in Soho Square “the most magnificent place of entertainment in Europe.” In 1768 the concerts were transferred to larger premises at Almack’s Assembly Rooms at St. James’. In 1774 they returned to Soho Square for one season, then moved to the newly-constructed lavish concert hall in Hanover Square.'

From the diary of Edward Piggot:

April the 16th 1776, Lord Fauconbery sent me a ticket for Bach and Abel’s Concert at the assembly room in Hanover Square. The performers were the two above mentioned, the second played a solo exceeding well; In all about 22 musicians; this concert is reckoned the best in the world, everything executed with the greatest taste and exactness; a very fine room; very elegantly painted; it was almost full, everybody dressed; between the acts they go in another room underneath where you have tea; it is by subscription; it begins at about 8 and ends at 10. Everything is very elegant.

Doors open at 10:30am.


Ticket holders are invited to complimentary coffee hour (10am) in Wood Hall.



Antonín Kammell (1730-c. 1785)  

Sonata in D major, op. 1, no. 1


John Christian Bach (1735-1782)

Sonata in A major, op. 16, no. 4

[Rondo] Pastorale. Non tanto allego

James Lates (c.1740-1777)

Trio in G major, op. 5, no. 5

Rondo. Allegro

Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787)

Pieces in D minor for solo gamba


Tommaso Giordani (1738-1806)

Sonata In D major, op. 30, no. 2

Allegro spiritoso
Larghetto e sostenuto
[Rondo] Allegretto e spiritoso

A=415; Thomas Young “First temperament”, pub. 1799


Antonín Kammell (1730-c. 1785) was born in Běleč, a village outside Prague, he arrived in London in 1765 and was part of JC Bach and Abel’s social circle. On 6th May 1768, not long after his arrival, his music was featured in one of the Bach-Abel concerts at Almack’s Assembly Rooms. He seems to have been close to Bach (the two apparently performed frequently together), and possibly even studied with him. Thereafter, his name featured heavily in the Bach-Abel programmes and his quartets were published along with those of Bach and Abel. Kammell must have been well acquainted with the range and technique of the viol for, in a letter to his patron, Count Weldstein on 20th October 1766, he mentions six solos (now lost) ‘for the Viola da gamba, which start in a very decorative way’. Since Abel himself often played viola parts, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that he may have done so as well with Kammell’s trios as many of Kammell’s early works, including his Notturnos and Trios for two violins and continuo, feature a very low 2nd violin part. Low enough, in fact, to allow them to be performed on the viol. The Trio featured here, Op. 1 No. 1, is typical of Kammell’s writing. It is quintessentially galant and demonstrates the composer’s talent for melody. While the 2nd violin part lies occasionally high, its range suits the gamba well and the few chordal passages are easily accomplished.

John Christian Bach (1735-1782) eclipsed by the achievements of Mozart, Haydn and other late Classical composers, and all but forgotten in the 19th-century, Bach was one of the most respected musicians of his time. The 18th child of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the youngest of his eleven sons, he studied with Johann Sebastian until the elder Bach’s death in 1750. He subsequently moved in and worked with his half brother Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach who was twenty-one years his senior. After living in Italy where he studied with Martini and was Organist of Milan Cathedral, Bach moved to London in 1762 to première three operas at the King’s Theatre on 19 February 1763. Quickly establishing his reputation in the City as the composer par excellence, he became one of the most fashionable and in-demand composers, becoming music master to Queen Charlotte. Now known as John Bach or "the London Bach", he performed symphonies and concertos at London’s premier concert venue in the heart of fashionable Mayfair: the Hanover Square Rooms. He began an extraordinary life-long friendship with the young Mozart when Mozart and his father visited London. Mozart, who by many accounts could be prickly and disparaging towards other musicians always spoke of Bach in the very highest terms. By the late 1770s, both Bach’s popularity and finances were in decline. By the time of Bach's death on New Year's Day 1782, he had become so indebted (due to his steward embezzling his money), that Queen Charlotte covered the expenses of the estate and provided a life pension for Bach's widow. He was buried in the graveyard of St. Pancras Old Church, London.

Not much is known about James Lates (c.1740-1777). He was a son of David Francisco Lates, a Hebrew scholar who taught modern languages at Oxford University. James studied in Italy and on his return to England was described as ‘the first Oxford Jewish composer’. The local newspaper reported his marriage on 29 October 1768 to Miss Joanna Day, ‘a Lady of exceeding good Accomplishments, with a very handsome Fortune’. He played in the Holywell Music Room orchestra, probably as principal second violin, and in other concerts in the vicinity of Oxford. He entered the service as musician to George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (interestingly enough, a close relative of George, 2nd Earl Spencer and his viola da gamba playing wife Lavinia Bingham, see below.) As Lates most likely knew of Lavinia’s and her mother-in-law, Georgiana Poyntz’s virtuosity on the gamba, and that they would have had connections with Abel in London, it is not inconceivable that these extremely charming trios would have been played on the gamba.

Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787) was born in Köthen, where his father, Christian Ferdinand Abel, had worked for years as the principal viola da gamba and cello player in the court orchestra. In 1723 Abel senior became director of the orchestra, when the previous director, Johann Sebastian Bach, moved to Leipzig. The young Abel later boarded at St. Thomas School, Leipzig, where he was taught by Bach. On Bach's recommendation in 1743 he was able to join Johann Adolph Hasse's court orchestra at Dresden where he remained for fifteen years. In 1759 Abel went to England and became chamber-musician to Queen Charlotte, in 1764. In 1762, Johann Christian Bach joined him in London, and the friendship between him and Abel led, in 1765, to the establishment of the famous Bach-Abel concerts. Abel composed symphonies, overtures, insertion arias for other composers’ operas, and chamber music, and remained in great demand as a player on various instruments. He traveled to Germany and France between 1782 and 1785, and upon his return to London, became a leading member of the Professional Concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms. He died in London on 20 June 1787. He was buried, as was Bach five years earlier, in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church.

Tommaso Giordani (1738-1806) born in Naples, was a member of a large singing musical family, (Tommaso and his dancer brother Francesco were the only non-singers; the composer Giuseppe Giordani seems to be unrelated). After travelling Europe, they were invited to London to perform at Covent Garden. The family stayed in London from 1753-1756, performing operas and burlettas, including one of Giordani’s early stage works, “La Comediante fatta Cantatrice” (1756). The family settled in Dublin from 1764, performing at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre, where Tommaso acted as Musical Director from 1764-1767, becoming one of the leading musicians in the Irish capital. During his tenure at Smock Alley, he co-produced the first opera seria to be performed in Ireland, “L’eroe Cinese” by Giuseppe Bonno (1711-1788), as well as launching his own career as an opera composer. He returned to London in the late 1760s and by 1770 was composing and directing productions for the Italian Opera at the King’s Theatre. He returned to Dublin in 1783, where he spent the remainder of his life, establishing the short-lived “English Opera House” before becoming Music Director of the Theatre Royal, Crow Street in 1788.

Giordani composed many works for the stage, both operas and insertion arias for other composers’ productions, songs for the pleasure gardens, solo songs, concertos, sonatas, trios, quartets, keyboard pieces, teaching pieces, an oratorio “Isaac” (1767), and a Te Deum (1789) upon George III’s recovery from illness. Giordani’s final opera, “The Cottage Festival”, was produced at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in 1796. Most of his operas and songs exist now only in keyboard scores, his orchestrations unfortunately having been lost, as is his oratorio and the Te Deum setting. He counted a number of the aristocracy among his many students; his most famous pupil being the pianist and composer John Field who made his professional debut in 1792 at one of Giordani’s public “Rotunda” concerts. Respected in both London and Dublin as a talented composer and inventive orchestrator, Giordani’s best works are the ones that perhaps have a hint of the operatic footlights in their melodies. He died in Dublin in 1806, and perhaps his influence lived on through his pupil John Field, and the composers Field later influenced: Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms...

At first sight, Tommaso Giordani’s ‘Three Sonatas for the Piano-Forte or Harpsichord with Obligato Accompaniments for the Flute or Violin, and Viola da Gamba or Tenor’, Opus 30, present something of a mystery. They were published around 1782, a period in which the gamba had all but fallen from mainstream interest and this choice of instrumentation cannot have benefitted sales of the publication (though it must be noted that Giordani published the sonatas in such a way as to permit their performance as unaccompanied keyboard pieces). Indeed, period newspaper advertisements for these sonatas omit all mention of the viola da gamba. Why then did Giordani publish these sonatas as principally for that instrument? An answer can be found in the dedication that appears on the title page which reads ‘Composed and most humbly dedicated to the Right Honorable Lady Viscountess Althorp’ This was Lady Lavinia Spencer, (née Bingham; 1762–1831); a well-educated noblewoman who married into the powerful Spencer family on 6th March 1782, and a direct ancestor of the current Earl Spencer and his sister Princess Diana (and consequently Princes William and Harry.) Since Giordani’s sonatas were published that same year and declare her full title, rather than her name in the dedication, it is tempting to speculate that they were published (if not as a simple attempt to win the approval of one of the most powerful families in England) in celebration of this marriage or even commissioned as a wedding gift. It is interesting to observe that the melody of the “Caledonian” middle movement of Sonata II bears a passing resemblance to the tune “The Lass of Peaty’s Mill”. New words to this old melody had been written by the poet Allan Ramsay [1686-1758] and published in William Thomson’s “Orpheus Caledonius” in 1725/33. If Giordani did in fact use a form of this well-known tune as his inspiration for this movement, Ramsay’s words would have fit very well as an appropriate wedding tribute, especially as George, 2nd Earl Spencer apparently fell “out of his senses” with the intelligent, talented, and attractive Lavinia. “The Lass of Peaty’s Mill, So bonny, blyth and gay, In spite of all my skill, Hath stole my heart away...” and, perhaps more tellingly, “Without the help of Art, Like Flowers which grace the Wild, She did her Sweets impart, When e’er she spoke or smil’d. Her Looks they were so mild, Free from affected Pride, She me to love beguil’d, I wished her for my Bride.

While little is known about Lavinia’s musical education, we do know that she played the gamba and like all young noblewomen was likely exposed to music making from a young age. Her father, Charles Bingham’s musical social life make it likely that he would have encouraged Lavinia to pursue music as a pastime. On her marriage into the Spencer family, the viola da gamba would certainly not have been an unfamiliar instrument to her new in-laws. Lavinia’s mother-in-law Margaret Georgiana, Countess Spencer, was a keen gamba player.

It is clear that in composing these sonatas Giordani has attempted to appeal to both players of the gamba and the viola. The result is a part that lies quite comfortably ‘under the hand’ on the viola but, in places, is fiendishly difficult on the gamba. Almost every sonata requires that the gamba player is comfortable playing in very high positions. These sonatas stand out from Giordani’s other instrumental works due to their high level of sophistication in the development of melody and the interplay of the instruments. Far from being an accompaniment to the keyboard, the gamba part (along with the violin) is a virtuosic solo voice within a texture in which the distinction between soloist and accompaniment is much less clearly delineated. Indeed, the gamba introduces themes within the texture as often as the violin, usually in conversation with the keyboard. The keyboard alternates between playing accompanimental continuo, then frequently breaks out with new melodic ideas or concerto-like figurations. There is precedent for this level of virtuosity in viol writing at the end of the Eighteenth Century in the music of Carl Friedrich Abel. It is very possible that Giordani knew Abel and became involved in his concert series with JC Bach. Certainly Giordani’s music was played in these concerts, as this fact was used by his publishers to advertise their editions. Giordani must have been acquainted also with Abel’s gamba sonatas, which occasionally require the gambist to play so high that the player’s fingers must be placed beyond the end of the fingerboard.

-- Notes by Michael Jarvis & Sam Stadlen


Single Tickets:

  Adults: $30

  Seniors/Students: $25


Festival Passes:

  Adults: $100

  Seniors/Students: $80 

Single Tickets and Festival Passes for the Pacific Baroque Festival can be purchased:


Online here (purchase now)

By phone:​ 250.386.5311 from the Box Office (Victoria Conservatory of Music)

In person (tickets available from November 23):

  • At the Box Office: 900 Johnson Street, Victoria BC (Victoria Conservatory of Music)

  • At the Cathedral Office: 930 Burdett Avenue)

  • And at the following outlets:

    • Ivy’s Bookshop: 2188 Oak Bay Ave.

    • Tanner’s Books: 2436 Beacon ave, Sidney

    • Munro’s Books: 1108 Government St.


Parking Information


The Victoria Conservatory of Music's Alix Goolden Hall is located at the corner of Quadra St. and Pandora Ave.

The VCM parking lot is reserved for staff and faculty at all times. Street parking and public lots are available within short walking distance.





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