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Mr Charles, the Hungarian

Updated: Mar 16, 2023


In May 1742, an advertisement appeared in the Dublin Mercury:

At the MUSIC HALL in Fishamble-street, To-morrow being Wednesday the 12 th of May, 1742, will be performed. A GRAND CONCERT of MUSIC by Mr. CHARLES, the HUNGARIAN, Master of the French Horn, with his Second; accompanied by all the best Hands in this City.


It finished with a curious note about the instruments to be performed:

N. B. The Clarinet, the Hautbois de Amour, and Shalamo, were never heard in this Kingdom

before.


‘Mr. Charles’ was probably Charles (Carlo) Vernsberg, a horn player who was a member of

the Royal Society of Musicians during the 1730s and 1740s. Little is known of his training or

career before his first documented appearance at the Haymarket Theatre in London, where

he was billed as ‘lately arriv’d from Paris’. Charles is documented as performing in London,

Stamford, York, Dublin, Salisbury, Hereford and Manchester in the between 1733 and 1756,

and spent the early 1750s as impresario of a theatre in Bristol. He also established a

lucrative teaching practice in London and in Dublin. His students were probably mostly

gentlemen of means, but those selected to appear with him at a concert at Stationers’ Hall

in 1737 – presumably on account of being the most highly skilled – were described as ‘An

English Gentlewoman and a Negro boy of ten years old’. It was not uncommon for enslaved

Africans to be trained as musicians, and several highly-skilled black horn players are

documented during the eighteenth century. The instance of a female horn player is also not

unique, and Charles performed regularly with his wife, whose full name is sadly unrecorded.


Multi-instrumentalism, particularly among wind players, was not uncommon in the 18th

century. Charles clearly identified the presentation of unusual instruments as a surefire way

to sell tickets for his concerts. The French Horn was already a significant audience attraction

in the hands of a virtuoso player, but Charles also saw fit to add several unusual woodwind

instruments to his offering as well. The Baroque clarinet emerged around the turn of the

eighteenth century in Germany and was initially only played in the mid- and upper-part of

its range, using the upper partials of the harmonic series – much like contemporary brass

instruments – resulting in a sound that was, in turns, sweet or brilliant. In Walther’s 1733

Musikalisches Lexicon it was described as sounding ‘not unlike a trumpet’ and the name

clarinetto can be translated as ‘little trumpet’. The mysterious ‘Shalamo’ or ‘Shalarno’

mentioned in Charles’s concert listings is another single-reed instrument, better known as

the chalumeau. It is the counterpart to the clarinet, using only the fundamental tones of the

harmonic series, which gives it a small range and a soft, beguiling tone that was used by

composers for particular effect in operas and cantatas. The oboe d’amour, pitched a third

below the oboe and with a bulbous bell that gives it a veiled tone, is similarly an instrument

that would appeal to audiences through its sheer sonic charm.


Eighteenth century audiences expected to hear novelties at every concert. The newspaper

listings for Mr Charles’s concerts show that, like most musicians of his time, he presented a

combination of new compositions and popular pieces by the most in-demand composers of

the day, together with his own music. The listing for his Dublin benefit concert was typically

varied:

First Act

1. An Overture with French Horns, called new Pastor Fido

2. The 6 th Concerto of Signior Geminiani

3. A Solo on the French Horn, by Mr Charles, to shew the beauty of that Instrument

4. A Concerto on the Clarinet.

Second Act

1. Mr HANDEL’S Water-Music, with the March in Scipio, and the grand Chorus in

Atalanta

2. A Concerto on the German Flute, by Mr. Levieux

3. A Solo on the Hautbois de Amour, by Mr. Charles

4. Signor Hasse’s Concerto, with Signora Barbarini’s Minuet

Third Act

1. The Overture in Saul, with the Dead March, composed by Mr. HANDEL, but never

performed here before.

2. A select Piece on the Shalamo

3. A Solo on the Violoncello by Signior Pasqualino

4. The Turkish Musik in the original Taste, as performed at the Spring Garden, Vaux-

hall, London


The Solos and Concertos without composer attribution were most likely composed by the

players themselves, and were as much intended to delight the audience through the novel

and varied timbres of the instruments that they showcased, as to display compositional

technique. Such works could be considered ephemeral by today’s standards, but they are

typical of a time when most music was simply written to serve the immediate needs of

performers, rather than with out of any concern for posterity.


In light of this, it would be impossible to reconstruct Charles’s concert, as little of his own

music has survived. Twelve Duettos for two French Horns were included in a 1754

publication with the charming title of Apollo’s Cabinet, or the Muses Delight, a compendium

of popular English and Italian songs and duets alongside basic instructions for a range of

instruments and a musical dictionary, all presumably aimed at the self-taught amateur

musician. The Napolitana for oboe d’amour was similarly published in Der getreue Musik-

Meister, Telemann’s multi-part series of instructional music for diverse instruments.

Lorenzo Bocchi’s Sonata for Cello was published in Dublin in 1724 in a collection of sonatas

for entitled A Musicall Entertainment. Here it stands in place of the solo performed in

Charles’s concert by another Italian cellist, ‘Philip’ Pasqualino de Marzis, who was employed

by the Bishop of Cloyne and probably played in the orchestra for Handel’s season in Dublin

in 1741–2.


Several of the Handel works featured here are linked to the London publisher John Walsh.

Walsh was Handel’s main publisher from c. 1730 and had exclusive rights to his works from

1739. The Water Musick and Concerto Grosso op. 3/3 are both performed in the versions

published by Walsh, and the arrangement of ‘Va Tacito’ from Giulio Cesare was issued by

Walsh in 1732 as one of Six Celebrated Songs made on purpose for French Horns ... by Mr.

Handel, with the voice replaced by a flute. All of these works represent to varying degrees

the eighteenth century practice of adapting and re-using musical material in different

combinations, contexts and instrumentations, in order both to maximise revenue and to

make it available to as wide a range of performers and listeners as possible. The use of a

clarinet and an oboe in place of trumpets in the Water Music here is in keeping with this

adaptive practice, as well as the trumpet-like character of the baroque clarinet.


Walsh was also one of the earliest publishers to issue music by Dresden-based Johann Adolf

Hasse. Dresden was also one of the key centres of chalumeau performance and

composition, and Hasse’s concerto for ‘Shalmeau’, Oboe and bassoon is really an intimate

quartet that was probably intended for chamber performance. ‘Signora Barberini’s Minuet’

is in fact last movement of Hasse’s concerto op. 4 no. 1 for oboes, horns and strings,

published by Walsh in the early 1740s. Signora Barberini was the Venetian ballet prodigy

Barbara Campanini, who Charles may have met in London in 1740-41 and who made her

debut in Dublin a few weeks after his concert, in June 1742. Like all of Hasse’s Op. 4

concertos, the music was originally composed as the Sinfonia of dramatic work, in this case,

his 1737 opera Asteria.


Charles’s inclusion of several works by Handel reflects the fact that his concert took place at

the climax of Handel’s 1741-42 stay in Dublin, between the two public performances of

Messiah and in the midst of a veritable Handelmania. Exactly like Handel’s Messiah

performances, Charles’s concert was sufficiently popular to justify a public rehearsal and a

repeat performance, something that no musician would undertake without the certainty of

selling tickets. We take it as read that the first performance of the celebrated oratorio

should have merited such treatment, but at the time, the virtuoso multi-instrumental

talents of a now-forgotten horn player were accorded equal interest in the eyes of a

musically educated public – reminding us of the higher status and indeed respect accorded

to performers, and to the act of performance itself, in the eighteenth century.


© Emily Worthington 2023

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