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Composer of (Song 1): S.2.22 Le concert
Composer of (Song 2):
Hamilton [née Barlow], Lady Catherine
(Colby, Pembrokeshire, c1738-Portici, Aug 27, 1782).
Catherine Barlow was the daughter of John Barlow, a Member of Parliament and a landowner in Pembrokeshire, and Anne Skrine, his second wife. In 1758 Catherine Barlow married the Hon. William Hamilton (then a Captain of the Guards). Catherine was at that time an heiress: her family was a branch of the Barlows of Slebech; another resided at Lawrenny Hall. Both shared a deep love of music. Their only child, a daughter, was born to them in 1759 (and died at age sixteen). Hamilton studied violin with Felice Giardini after the latter’s arrival in London around 1750. He entered Parliament in 1761 and when he heard that the ambassador to the court of Naples, Sir James Gray, was soon to be promoted to Madrid, Hamilton expressed an interest in the position and was duly appointed in 1764. His official title was the “Envoy Extraordinary to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies,” a position he held at Naples from 1764 to 1800. He was knighted in 1772.
At Naples, William’s duties left him time to pursue his interests in archaeology, antiquarianism, vulcanology, and music. His wife’s income from her Welsh estate, £5000 a year, enabled them to live comfortably and also to establish art collections (which in turn formed the nucleus of what was to become the Department of Antiquities in the British Museum). The climate at Naples was beneficial to Catherine’s disposition, and her musical talents flourished.
By all accounts the Hamiltons were elegant, refined, and gentile hosts. They were generous, kind, and welcoming. A guest in 1767 remarked that “Monsieur et madame Hamilton sont le couple le plus heureux que j’aie connu. Tous deux encore jeunes, avec le coeur droit, l’esprit enrichi de connoissances, ayant les même goûts, et s’aimant réciproquement, m’offrirent le tableau d’une vie patriarchale. [Mr and Mrs Hamilton are the most happy couple I have known. Both were young, with the right hearts, spirits enriched by knowledge, had the same tastes, and mutually loved each other; they offered me the picture of a patriarchal life.]”
Catherine Hamilton was renowned as an accomplished and admired performer on the harpsichord and pianoforte. Duclos remarked that “mademoiselle Hamilton touchoit le clavecin avec une supériorité reconnue dans une ville qui l’emporte, pour la musique, sur le reste de l’Italie [Mrs Hamilton plays the harpsichord with a superiority acknowledged in a city that leads the rest of Italy, as far as music is concerned].” She owned an English square piano, probably by Zumpe, and a “einen kostbaren flügl aus Engelland vom Tschudi [sic], mit 2 manual und die Register mit einem Pedal um solche mit dem fuß abzuziehen [an expensive instrument, made in England by Schudi, which has two manuals and a pedal, so that the two manuals can be disconnected by the action of the foot].” In 1781 William Beckford tried out a keyboard instrument (a Hammerflügel) ordered by her from the famed Augsburg maker Johann Andreas Stein. Michael Kelly remembered that she was considered the finest pianoforte player in Italy at the time.
Knowledgeable musicians such as Leopold Mozart and Charles Burney testified to her remarkable powers of expression. Mozart related how Catherine “ungemein rührend das Clavier spielt, und eine sehr angenehme Person ist. Sie zitterte, da sie vor dem Wolfg: spielen sollte [plays the keyboard with exceptional feeling and is a most pleasant person. She trembled at the prospect of having to play for Wolfgang].” Burney wrote that “Mrs. Hamilton is herself a much better performer on that instrument [i.e. the harpsichord] than […] any one I heard [in Naples]. She has great neatness, and more expression and meaning in her playing, than is often found among lady-players; for ladies, it must be owned, though frequently neat in execution, seldom aim at expression.”
William Beckford’s correspondence is full of references to Catherine Hamilton’s art and even to her now lost compositions, of which only two can be presently identified (a solitary minuet in C. F. Weideman’s Entradas and Minuets for Balls at Court and a single chanson in Laborde’s Choix de Chansons).
When Catherine Hamilton died of a “violent fever of the putrid kind” in August 1782 her body was returned to Britain for burial in the Barlow vault at the old Slebech parish church. Hamilton was plunged into grief and wrote to his niece Mary: “I must for ever sensibly feel the loss of the most amiable the most gentle and virtuous companion that ever man was blessed with.” His second wife was the English model and actress Lady Emma Hamilton, best remembered as the muse of George Romney and the mistress of Lord Nelson.
Beckford, William. The Life and Letters of William Beckford of Fonthill. Ed. Lewis Melville. London: William Heinemann, 1910.
Burney, Charles. The Present State of Music in France and Italy. London: Becket & Co, 1771.
Cramer, Carl Friedrich ed. Obituary in Magazin der Musik 1 (1783): 341–2.
Kelly, Michael. Reminiscences (London, 1826) ed. Robert Fiske. London: Oxford University Press, 1975.
Deutsch, Otto Erich. “The First Lady Hamilton.” Notes and Queries 197 (1952): 540–43, 560–65
 Charles Pinot Duclos, Oeuvres Completes de Duclos (Paris, 1806), 119-120.
 Leopold Mozart to his wife, Naples 19 May 1770.
 Charles, Burney, The Present State of Music in France and Italy (London: Becket & Co, 1771), 321-322.
 David Constantine, Fields of Fire: a life of Sir William Hamilton, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001), 114–15.
Roles (Getty AAT Term): composers (people in music)
Roles Getty AAT URI: 300025671
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