Musical tributes to Nelson found in Lady Hamilton’s songbooks

·2 min read

“By Parker and by Nelson led, all opposition’s vain, at Copenhagen’s gates, our tars have crush’d the haughty Dane …”

So go the lyrics to a piece of music by the composer Michael Kelly, written within hours of the news reaching London of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory over a Danish fleet in April 1801.

The song is one of a number – some previously unpublished – discovered at the Museum of London during lockdown. Found by librarian Lluis Tembleque Teres, the four tributes to Nelson were among the sheet music collection of Emma Hamilton, the actor and model who captured the naval hero’s heart after the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

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Alongside the piece by Kelly, which was performed at the Theatre Drury Lane at the time, there is also a completely unknown score written by William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry, a landowner and society figure whose gambling overshadowed his musical skills, until now.

There is music for a sea shanty tribute to Nelson, whose lyrics have been known about since a letter from Nelson to William Douglas was sold at auction in 2013. It’s now clear the duke had added music and a chorus to words transcribed by Nelson after he heard his crew chant the song in the aftermath of victory at Cape St Vincent in 1797.

Finally, there is an 1805 cantata by the Italian composer GG Ferrari, with lyrics by the poet Peter Pindar, which celebrates Nelson’s victory at Aboukir Bay in the Battle of the Nile.

Though the cantata was commissioned by Lady Hamilton and printed and made commercially available in London, few copies of the score survived.

Each piece was written by a personal friend and given to Hamilton, whose affair with Nelson – while she was married to Sir William Hamilton, the then British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples – caused a huge public scandal.

The collection was given to the London museum in 1931 by the silk merchant and philanthropist Ernest Makower, who later became a trustee of the museum. To celebrate the discoveries, the Museum of London will join with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for a public performance of the collection of music.

“Discovering names in Emma Hamilton’s albums of music, then finding these in the biographies of Emma that I was reading, felt like unearthing pieces of such a remarkable life, but pieces we didn’t know were missing,” said Tembleque Teres.

“The songbooks turned into something else, they were no longer just parts of Emma Hamilton’s collection of music; the scores were composed by lifelong friends and, with their gifts, they were privately endorsing a relationship that the country saw as a very public scandal.”

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