The Georgian era was, in many senses, a public era, in which leisure activities amongst the wealthier segments of society were often social. One aspect of this was the growth of a mass of clubs and societies in towns and cities everywhere. Norwich, being one of the largest provincial cities, was no exception. Forget the ones with dubious or downright salacious proceedings, such as the various Hellfire Clubs, gambling clubs and the like. Many were set up with far more high-minded purposes.
Norwich had possessed a “Music Meeting” at “Mr Freemoult’s long room” since at least 1724, open both to members (presumably amateur players) and “Clubbers” (those who went to listen). Orchestras were also featured attractions at two of the city’s Pleasure Gardens, Quantrell’s and Bunn’s Rural Pavilion. Indeed, by the second half of the century, the city’s musical life resembled that of London, if on a smaller scale, with professional orchestras, competing venues and programmes including music by most of the major composers of the day. While many of the singers were still amateurs, some professionals from London did make the journey to appear in special concerts.
Norwich’s theatres, like The White Swan and The New Theatre (later the Theatre Royal) also had orchestras. When it opened in 1758, The White Swan advertised itself as having “a compleat and regular Band of Musick”, which meant it was composed of professionals and was large enough to play pieces by Sammartini, Stamitz and Pasquali. Like session players today, it’s likely that various professional musicians played in a whole series of bands and orchestras as need arose.
The Anacreontic Society
One of the leading venues for music was the Anacreontic Society of Norwich, founded some time just before 1785 and based on a popular gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians in London. Its members named their club after the Greek court poet Anacreon, who lived in the 6th century B.C. and was known as “the convivial bard of Greece”. As elsewhere, their singers were amateurs, but the orchestral players and instrumental soloists were professionals, probably from the orchestras at the Theatre Royal and elsewhere. How large their orchestra was we cannot tell, but it was clearly sufficient to perform a Haydn symphony, as seen below.
Here’s an example of one of their evenings, as reported in the Norfolk Chronicle for Saturday 17 December 1785.
On Wednesday the Anacreontic Society held their seventh meeting, and though it wore a sable aspect, on account of the general mourning, yet the evening was passed with much festivity. The concert, which was throughout excellent, commenced with a grand symphony of Haydn, which was one of the finest we ever remember to have heard; the middle movement in particular is, perhaps, the richest combination of air and harmony that the art can boast of, the modulation of the whole is striking and highly original. Young Cramer executed a charming concerto for the piano forte by Mozart, which has also much merit as a composition—it abounds with fine melody, and the accompanyments are written with great judgment, and produce a fine effect. This young performer possesses abilities of a superior kind; he not only plays with amazing brilliancy of finger, and with all the fascinating graces of expression, but his cadences evince a considerable knowledge of music as a science. . . Mr. Eley, a German, and the leader of the Duke of York’s band, performed a concerto on the clarinet. . . . Pieltain played a French-horn concerto, with all the power and expression that the instrument can admit of. . . . Cramer’s violin never spoke more feelingly than in the piece by Handel, and his own concerto evinced the absolute dominion he has attained over the finger board. . . .