Volume IV · Winter 1949 · Number 2
"Home, Sweet Home"
On the evening of March 6, 1923, there was sold at the Anderson Galleries in New York the holograph score of an opera by the English composer, Sir Henry Rowley Bishop, entitled Clari, or the Maid of Milan. It was one of a collection of "Books, autographs and manuscripts of extreme rarity from the library of Mrs. Luther Livingston of Cambridge, Mass."
Mr. Edward G. Miner of our Board of Trustees asked one of the well-known book men in New York what he considered the score would bring at the auction and the reply came, "Consider thirteen hundred dollars would be cheap, very desirable item." Why should the score of an opera which was not a great success when it was first performed at Covent Garden in London on May 8, 1823, and whose name is unfamiliar to most people, be so desirable? Because in it is the original of what has been called "the most famous song in the world" - "Home Sweet Home" - the text of which has been ascribed to an American, John Howard Payne.
Mr. Miner called the attention of Mr. Hiram W. Sibley to the manuscript, thinking that he would like to acquire it for the music library which he had given to the University and which had just been moved from the Prince Street campus into the newly built Eastman School of Music. For some reason, Mr. Sibley did not seem to be interested, and so Mr. Miner instructed his friend, Mr. James F. Drake, to purchase it for him.
Other bidders for the very desirable item were the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the coloratura soprano, Amelita Galli-Curci, who was then at the height of her fame and who sang the ballad with telling effect on her programs. To Mr. Miner went the prize for fifteen hundred and fifty dollars.
By the time the score had become Mr. Miner's proud possession, Mr. Sibley changed his mind and decided that after all he would like to add it to the Sibley Music Library. So Mr. Miner gracefully yielded the precious volume to him and it was placed in the library as his gift.
The manuscript is an oblong octavo volume of 437 pages, entirely in Bishop's hand. The title-page reads, "Clari or the Maid of Milan. Opera in three acts performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, May 8, 1823. Composed by Henry R. Bishop. Originale 1823."
On page 112 "Home, Sweet Home" first appears entitled merely "Song, Clari," with the caption in the upper right hand corner "adapted from a national melody and arranged by Henry R. Bishop, 1823." The fiction that the melody was adapted from a Sicilian air has persisted to this day. In 1821, Bishop was commissioned by the London firm of Goulding, d'Almaine and Potter to edit a collection of national airs entitled Melodies of Various Nations. Number 12 in volume I is given as a Sicilian air with words by Thomas H. Bayley, "To the home of my childhood in sorrow I came." It is this air which Bishop incorporated into the opera, Clari. Although the opera was not a great success, the song was, and over one hundred thousand copies were sold the first year when it was published separately. There were so many pirated editions printed in the belief that the alleged Sicilian air was non-copyright that Bishop's publishers obtained an injunction against them in the courts on the sworn testimony of Bishop that he had composed the melody himself.
Another legend that is still appearing in print is that John Howard Payne, the American, wrote the words of the song when he was penniless, living in a garret in Paris. As a matter of fact, he was a fairly successful playwright living in the French capital in comfortable quarters, part of the time with his friend Washington Irving, who collaborated with him on some of his adaptations.
Payne and Bishop had together attended a performance in Paris of a ballet pantomime entitled Clari, or the Promise of Marriage set to music by Rodolphe Kreutzer, and found it "most interesting." Kreutzer is remembered today for his exercises and caprices for the violin and for the sonata for violin and piano which Beethoven composed and dedicated to him. It was the story of this ballet that was adapted as the libretto of the opera and which Bishop set to music.
The story of the opera is a simple one. Clari, an innocent, trusting, country girl, is persuaded by a duke to elope with him to his chateau where they will be married. Once there, he showers her with gifts but puts off the marriage ceremony. Clari, finally overcome with remorse, sings the famous song in the first act of the opera. After the duke tells her bluntly that they cannot be married, Clari escapes to her paternal roof. In the third act, the repentant duke follows her to her home and offers his hand and half of his possessions. So with the father of Clari weeping and saying, "Heaven bless ye," and the merry villagers singing "Home, Sweet Home" in three-four time, the opera ends happily.
The music is mediocre but Bishop evidently thought well enough of the one particular tune to write the whole opera around it. It appears first in the overture, then is sung, as we have said before, by Clari in the first act, then it serves as the climax to an interpolated playlet. In the third act, it is sung by the peasants welcoming home the penitent Clari, and finally, at the very end, by a chorus behind the scenes.
A sequel of Clari, entitled Home, Sweet Home, or the "Ranz des Vaches," with poetry by J. Pocock, was produced at Covent Garden, March 19, 1829, and in New York, May 25, 1829. Evidently, Clari having outlived its popularity, a fresh medium for the exploitation of Bishop's immortal ballad was demanded. So said F. Corder in an article in the Musical Quarterly in 1918.
Henry Rowley Bishop, born in 1786, was a talented composer who had a long and successful career as composer and director at several London theatres. His only instruction in music was that which he received from Francesco Bianchi, an Italian who went to London in 1793 and remained there for the rest of his life, achieving a great reputation as composer, teacher, and theoretician.
In 1804 Bishop's first operatic work was produced at the Theatre Royal at Margate and from that time began his association with Drury Lane, King's Theatre, Covent Garden, and Vauxhall Gardens, for which he wrote an immense mass of compilations, arrangements, and incidental music. For the occasion of Queen Victoria's marriage, he wrote a masque entitled The Fortunate Isles, which was produced at Covent Garden, February 12, 1840.
In 1848 Oxford conferred the degree of Bachelor of Music upon him and, in 1853, that of Doctor of Music. He taught harmony and composition at the Royal College of Music in London and succeeded Dr. Crotch as professor of music at Oxford. In 1842, he was knighted by the Queen, the first musician to be so honored.
Like many other nineteenth-century composers, Bishop tried his hand at additional accompaniments to the works of famous musicians. In the Public Library of Liverpool there is a volume of such accompaniments and alterations (mostly for brass and percussion) to works of Beethoven, Mozart, Cherubini, Rossini, and others, which, William Barclay Squire says, " . . . must ever remain a disgrace to the man who wrote it and a record of the low state of musical opinion that could have allowed such barbarisms to be perpetuated without a protest."
The holograph scores of most of Bishop's works are preserved in the British Museum, the Royal College of Music, and the Public Library of Liverpool. In the Allen A. Brown Collection in the Boston Public Library are two: "John of Paris, Opera in 2 acts. The music partly selected from A. Boieldieu etc. the rest composed and the whole adapted and arranged by Henry R. Bishop. Full score. London, 1814."; and "The Magpie or the Maid? Melodrama [Full score] London, 1814. The words by Isaac Pocock."
Bishop's finest compositions are his glees, and on these his musical fame will probably rest. He had a wonderful wealth of melody and great facility of composition, but he frittered away his talents writing down to the popular taste of the time. Although he made a great deal of money, his extravagant habits caused him much pecuniary distress. He died on April 30, 1855, as the result of an operation for cancer.
It would be interesting to trace the travels of the holograph of Clari before it reached Luther Livingston's collection. Richard Northcate stated in 1920 that it had belonged to Julian Marshall, a famous musical amateur and contributor to Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and that it had been sold "to an American amateur in New York." The American amateur was certainly not Luther Livingston, for he was barely twenty years old in 1884, and had not begun to acquire the fine collection which his widow sold in 1923.
Julian Marshall's fine music library, beautifully bound, was sold at auction at Sotheby's in London in July, 1884, but a perusal of the sale catalogue reveals no trace of either the manuscript or printed score of Clari. It was evidently sold privately before that time. A number of books from Marshall's collection have, over the years, found their way to the shelves of the Sibley Music Library, all with his bookplate. The manuscript of Clari has no plate. The volume was evidently an exhibit in some court action, for on the inside of the front cover we find written the following: "D. In chancery. Hutchings et al v. Wood et al - This book marked D was produced and shown to Charles Lane Hutchings and is the book referred to in his affidavit sworn this fourteenth day of September, 1874 Before me, Hen. Pickett, A London comm'd."
Since the famous manuscript was acquired shortly before the centenary of the first performance of Clari, much was made of the occasion in the Eastman Theatre of the University of Rochester. The overture was played by the theatre orchestra for the performances of the week of May 6, 1923. Pages from the score were reproduced on the screen and the manuscript itself was exhibited in a glass case in the lobby.
Probably few people realize when they go to the Levis Music Store in Rochester, that the balcony railing in the store represents the musical staff with the notes of the famous song as they appear in the manuscript.
In 1923 Mr. Miner presented to the Sibley Music Library a copy of the portrait of Bishop by Thomas Foster engraved by Samuel Reynolds. This engraving is very rare, as few copies were issued to the public. An English writer says only two are known, but we can count two more, the one in the Sibley Music Library and one in the Harvard College Library theatre collection.
The manuscript of Clari is one of the treasures of the Sibley Music Library, whose infinite riches should afford pride to all Rochesterians. With its many musical and sentimental associations, the manuscript deserves such a fitting resting place, and it will be cherished by all future generations of music lovers.