The Tempest - incidental music; Arise! Ye spirits of the storm (feat. The Parley of Instruments & Paul Nicholson)
The death in a boating accident of Thomas Linley, the younger, at the age of 22 deprived English music of one of the most promising talents not just of the day, but in its entire history.
He was born into a musical family – his father and teacher Thomas was a composer and a successful promoter of concerts in fashionable Bath who would later become director of the Drury Lane Theatre in London, and his older sister was an acclaimed soprano who only gave up singing publicly after her elopement with the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1772 – and by the age of 7 he was performing a violin concerto at a concert in Bristol.
Later, while still a boy, he studied with William Boyce, and after appearing on stage in London as a singer, dancer and violinist at the age of 11, was in 1768 sent to study the violin for three years with Pietro Nardini in Florence, where he also met and briefly befriended his exact contemporary Mozart. On returning to England he continued to perform in concerts in London and Bath until his appointment as leader of the orchestra at Drury Lane brought a permanent move to the capital in 1773. His tragic drowning came while on holiday with his family in Lincolnshire five years later.
Not surprisingly, Linley’s output is small, though he is said to have composed at least 20 violin concertos and seven violin sonatas, only one each of which survive. For the stage he wrote music for Sheridan’s The Duenna (1775) and for his adaptation of The Tempest, as well as a comic opera of his own, The Cady of Bagdad (1777).
It is in his music for soloists, chorus and orchestra, however, that his considerable ability and imagination are best displayed. The anthem Let God arise, written for the 1773 Worcester Festival, gives notice of a Handelian skill for vital and accomplished choral writing, and to that early assurance (not least in counterpoint) is added an impressive facility in the modern, continental galant style in the subsequent Shakespearean Lyric Ode (1776) and short oratorio The Song of Moses (1777).
Linley’s early death, together with that of two other cruelly curtailed talents of the day – Stephen Storace and George Frederick Pinto – was a major loss to English music at a time when it could ill afford it.
Profile © Lindsay Kemp