A musical genius in Tottenham Court Road

This account of an amazingly talented musician (reminiscent in some of his skills of Percy Edwards) occurs in various forms in trivia collections of the 19th century. This version is from the 20 volume Percy Anecdotes published by Berger in London in 1852.

It is related of a gentleman who resided in London some years ago, that he possessed such extraordinary musical talents, that he could play upon two violins at one time, and imitate the French horn, clario- net, organ, and trumpets, in so astonishing a manner, as to make them appear a whole band, with the sound of different people singing at the same time. The pieces of music which he played were principally from Handel's oratorios. His imitative faculty was not confined to musical instruments. He could imitate a carpenter sawing and planing wood, the mail coach horn, a clap of thunder, a fly buzzing about a window, a flock of sheep with dogs after them, a sky-rocket going off, the tearing of a piece of cloth, the bagpipes, and the hurdy-gurdy. He generally finished his performance with the representation of beating a dog out of the room, which was accounted the most difficult, and, at the same time, the most natural imitation of all.

In The Entertaining Companion (1805) the same story is told with further information. It states the man is 'now living in Tottenham Court Road' and is an 'extraordinary genius in the musical  line, a person of independent fortune who has the most wonderful powers of voice of any man in the kingdom yet he is under 5 feet high…' The account concludes -'...what a pity it is, that his abilities were not given to a poor man; for such a one might have made a fortune by them.'

The famous composer who worked in a shop

Invoices bearing letterheads can often be found among boxes of ephemera at auctions, but rarely does one come across an invoice on which a letter has been appended, especially one signed by a famous Italian composer. But when that composer is also the part-owner of probably the most famous piano retailers in Georgian London, you’ve got something rather special.

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) composed around 110 piano sonatas and was greatly admired by Beethoven. In 1798 he became a partner with Collard and Collard in a company that boasted the patronage of both the Royal Family and the East India Company. With a manufactory in Tottenham Court Road and a shop at 26, Cheapside, Clementi, Collard and Collard were for many years the best know musical instrument makers in London and as such were the go-to establishment for well heeled musical amateurs throughout the Empire.

This particular invoice, which was for 'An elegant new Piano Forte of 6 Octaves…with round corners on six legs', is  addressed to 'John F Halahan, MD, Assistant Surgeon, Royal Artillery, Montreal', and is dated August 17th 1824. It reveals that the full cost, with packing case included, came to 42 guineas, but this was reduced to £31 10s for cash. Additional expenses included freight charges of a mere £1 2s 6d and insurance at £1 11s 6d. Dr Halahan had already handed over 30 guineas cash as a down payment, leaving a balance of £14 6s 6d.

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