Charles Dibdin at Leeds: the Freemantle Collection

Research Colloquium

Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music

The speaker is John Cunningham (Bangor University)

Despite the fact that Charles Dibdin (1745–1814) was one of the most prolific and important English composers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a satisfactory account of his music remains to be written. We know a great deal about Dibdin’s life and travels from his own published writings; however, the vast majority of his music has been neglected since the 19th century. Arguably the most significant barrier to a full assessment of Dibdin’s music is the disorganised state of his large number of surviving autograph manuscripts, which survive in four main collections: British Library; Harvard, Houghton Library; Southampton, City Archive; and as part of the Freemantle Collection at the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. The collection includes 27 volumes of compositional sketches and fair copies for Dibdin’s instrumental and stage works.

Despite their enormous potential and significance, all four collections remain largely unexplored. The manuscripts are revealing of the way in which Dibdin approached composition and orchestration. For example, there is much to be learned by comparing printed vocal score versions of stage works with full scores, as well as from his compositional sketches which would allow us to better understand his process of creativity within the pressured contexts of stage entertainments. This paper will offer a preliminary assessment of the Dibdin manuscripts in the Brotherton collection, and how they can shed light on his compositional process. It will also discuss the significance of Freemantle as a collector of Dibdin’s music; indeed, the Dibdin material in Harvard was also once owned by Freemantle, but sold nefariously by J. A. Symington, Brotherton’s librarian.

John Cunningham is a Senior Lecturer in Music at Bangor University. His main area of research is secular music in Britain and Ireland, c.1600–1800. Among his major publications, he is the author of The Consort Music of William Lawes, 1602-45 (Boydell, 2010). He has also been the contributing music editor for the Cambridge Works of Ben Jonson (CUP, 2014), The Complete Works of John Milton (OUP, 2012; vol. 3), The New Oxford Shakespeare Edition (OUP, 2016; 2017), and he is the contributing music editor for the forthcoming The Complete Works of Katherine Philips (OUP). Among his other forthcoming projects, Restoration Music for Three Violins and Bass co-edited with Professor Peter Holman, will be published as volume 103 of the Musica Britannica series.