Thomas Linley Junior (1756-1778): A Listening Guide
by Tony Scotland
Thomas Linley started composing before he was twelve, under the tutelage of William Boyce, but he died in a tragic boating accident shortly after his twenty-second birthday, so his active composing life spanned little more than a decade. In that short time he produced a surprisingly large number of works for his father’s concerts at home in Bath, for the Theatres Royal in Drury Lane and Covent Garden, and for Three Choirs Festivals.
Only the following works have survived (in manuscript, at various university libraries, and notably at the British Library): a violin sonata of c. 1768; a violin concerto of c. 1773; an anthem, Let God Arise, 1773; a comic opera (with his brother-in-law, Richard Brinsley Sheridan), The Duenna, 1775; A Lyric Ode on the Fairies, Aerial Beings and Witches of Shakespeare (also known as The Shakespeare Ode), 1776; incidental music for Sheridan’s production of The Tempest, 1777; an oratorio, The Song of Moses, 1777; a comic opera, The Cady of Bagdad, 1778. Twenty years after his death his mother published a collection of works by Thomas Linley father and son. This included about thirteen cantatas, madrigals, glees, elegies and songs by Tom.
There are known to have been six other violin sonatas and nineteen other violin concertos, along with many other works, which were either lost by his grieving family after his death or destroyed in the fire at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1809. His father and Sheridan had bought the theatre from David Garrick in 1776, where Tom Linley, then twenty, had been leader of the orchestra and resident soloist, and much of his music was known to have been stored in the archives there.
For nearly two hundred years after his death Linley and his music were largely forgotten, though his Storm Chorus from The Tempest was frequently revived. Then in the mid-1960s a young Cambridge musicologist, Gwilym Beechey, initiated new interest with his doctoral thesis, Thomas Linley, Junior: his Life, Work and Times (University of Cambridge, 1965), which provided the basis of further essays in The Musical Quarterly in 1968 and in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians in 2001. Dr Beechey was amazed by the amount of music Linley produced in such a short time, and by its astonishingly high and consistent merit. It was clear, he wrote, that Linley ‘was a gifted melodist with a strong harmonic sense … considerable contrapuntal facility and a remarkable gift as an imaginative orchestrator’.
The very first recording of any of Tom Linley’s music seems to have been a song performed by April Cantelo and the English Chamber Orchestra, conductor Raymond Leppard, in 1961. But the richest period of Linley recordings came in the 1990s, when the English conductor and musicologist Peter Holman, recorded the bulk of the surviving repertoire with The Parley of Instruments Baroque Orchestra, using editions by himself and William Davies (author of the first critical edition of The Cady of Bagdad), on the independent British classical label Hyperion and its subsidiary Helios. These authoritative and brilliant recordings should form the basis of any collection of Tom Linley’s music. As a taster, try the ‘Adagio’ second movement of the Violin Concerto in F and the opening chorus of The Tempest music, ‘Arise, ye Spirits of the Storm’ (described by the musicologist Roger Fiske as ‘one of the most remarkable achievements in English music’).
A Lyric Ode on the Fairies, Aerial Beings and Witches of Shakespeare, The Parley of Instruments, Baroque Orchestra, director Paul Nicholson (review), recorded by Hyperion in 1992 and first released in 1993. Another recording of the Shakespeare Ode is available from The Musicians of the Globe, director Philip Pickett (Philips Classics, 446–689–2, 1998).
Music for The Tempest, Overture to The Duenna and three cantatas, In Yonder Grove, Ye Nymphs of Albion’s Beauty-blooming Isle and Daughter of Heav’n, Fair Art Thou! with the soprano Julia Gooding, the oboist Paul Goodwin and The Parley of Instruments, director Paul Nicholson, on ‘Cantatas & Theatre Music’ (review), recorded by Hyperion in 1994 and first released 1995. Two arias from The Tempest (‘Come Unto These Yellow Sands’ and ‘Faithful Ariel’) are available on the US label Navona Records, in ‘The Shakespeare Concerts Series, Vol. 5: Full Fathom Five’, with the mezzo-soprano Andrea Chenoweth, the oboist Stephen Hammer and the Arcadia Players, conductor Ian Watson (Navona Records, NV5996, 2015); the two Linley tracks were recorded in 2013. A further aria from Tom Linley’s Tempest music, ‘O Bid Your Faithful Ariel Fly’, can be found on the Eloquence label, in ‘Eighteenth-Century Shakespearean Songs’ (together with a setting by the youngest Linley sibling, William, of ‘Now the Hungry Lion Roars’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), with the soprano April Cantelo, and the English Chamber Orchestra, conductor Raymond Leppard (Eloquence, ELQ4824765, Decca 4824765, 1961). On YouTube there is an exciting Russian video (poorly copied) of the chorus, ‘Arise, ye Spirits of the Storm’ from the incidental music to The Tempest, performed by the Moscow period-instrument chamber orchestra Pratum Integrum and the vocal ensemble Intrada, conducted by Ekaterina Antonenko. Also on YouTube, the harpsichordist David Bolton plays an eighteenth-century transcription of the three-movement Overture to The Duenna.
The Song of Moses and Let God arise, with the sopranos Julia Gooding and Sophie Daneman, the alto Robin Blaize, the tenor Andrew King and the bass Andrew Dale Forbes, The Parley of Instruments and the Holst Singers, conducted by Peter Holman (review), originally recorded by Hyperion in 1997 and first released 1998.
The song, ‘To Heal the Wound a Bee had made’, with the tenor Rufus Müller and the ensemble Invocation is on ‘Enchanting Harmonist – A soirée with the Linleys of Bath’ (Hyperion, CDA66698, 1993).
Violin Concerto in F major with Elizabeth Wallfisch and The Parley of Instruments, director Peter Holman, on ‘English Classical Violin Concertos’ (Helios, CDH55260, 2008), first recorded and released by Hyperion in 1996. Another recording is available on the label Oehms Classics, with Mirjam Contzen and the Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie conducted by Reinhard Goebel, ‘Mozart in Italien’ (Oehms Classics, OC 753, 2010). And YouTube offers a performance recorded in 2021 by the young violinist Lucilla Rose Mariotti Banwell with the Orchestra Nuove Assonanze directed by Alan Freiles Magnatta.
Violin Sonata in A major with Elizabeth Wallfisch and the Locatelli Trio on ‘English 18th-century Violin Sonatas’ (Hyperion, CDA66583, 1992).