Sunday 19 January 2014

The Bittersweet Life of Thomas Linley the Elder

Thomas Linley the Elder (Badminton, Gloucestershire, England, 17th January 1733 – Bath, Somerset, England, 19th November 1795)

Thomas Linley by Sir Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Linley the Elder by Sir Thomas Gainsborough

We are back in the theatre today to meet a man who enjoyed professional successes even as his life was touched by tragedy. Conductor, composer and theatrical impresario, it is a pleasure to welcome Thomas Linley the Elder to the salon.

Linley was born into a privileged family and his early love of and talent for music was plain from an early age. Recognising that he had a natural aptitude for music, they sent the young man to study in Bath, where he eventually became a concert promoter and conductor. 

He made an excellent living as a composer and maestro in the fashionable city and married Mary Johnson, with whom he had 12 children. Seven of these would go on to musical careers of their own and one daughter in particular would provide her father with opportunities for business advancement.

We have previously met the somewhat characterful Richard Brinsley Sheridan and in 1770 he cropped up in the life of Linley as suitor to the composer's 16 year old daughter daughter and operatic soprano, Elizabeth. She was a particular favourite at the concerts given by her father but was not enjoying the attentions of a rather too persistant suitor, Thomas Mathews, and it was decided that she would shelter in a French convent until Mathews could be convinced to seek amusement elsewhere. Sheridan accompanied Elizabeth to Lille but, after an unhappy start to her time in France, Linley travelled to the country to fetch her back to England. Finally, after duels and heartache, Sheridan and Elizabeth were wed in 1773.

Linley collaborated with his son-in-law theatrically, producing songs for The Duenna, premiered in 1776, and providing madrigals and musical accompaniment for other works written by Sheridan and his contemporaries. Even when the play might have been somewhat substandard, Linley's compositions saw audiences flocking to attend the theatre and he soon looked deeper into theatrical opportunities. With Sheridan and James Ford, Linley took on a half share in the management of Drury Lane Theatre and the trio would increase this to total management within two years.

However, 1778 was not to be a year of unbridled successes and tragedy struck when his 22 year old son, Thomas Linley the Younger, died in a boating accident. The younger man had been working as a composer on Drury Lane productions and the death of the enormously talented young man understandably devastated the the Linley family, as well as the company at Drury Lane. The loss of Linley echoed through the musical world and shook his father, who nevertheless enjoyed a successful career until his own death in 1795.


Gem Twitcher said...

...and through Princess Margaret to Lord Linley,Madame? Thank you for adding yet another few pieces of our Georgian jigsaw-of both the Theatre and of Bath

Catherine Curzon said...

A pleasure as always, sir!

Gem Twitcher said...

..and maybe a good thing that he wasn't around to see Sheridans sad fate,and presumably that of his own daughter?

Catherine Curzon said...

Very true!

Unknown said...

No, there's no connection to Viscount Linley, whose surname is Armstrong-Jones.