Actors, Singers and Musical Personalities ~ Henry Rowley Bishop ~ 1786 - 1855

1. Bishop

Henry Rowley Bishop 1786 - 1855

1.     Sir Henry Rowley Bishop 1786 - 1855, 1813, attributed to Isaac Pocock 1782-1835,  oil on canvas,  762 mm x 635 mm.  Collection of National Portrait Gallery, London.  Given by Mrs C.H. Smith, 1869  [This Image in the Public Domain]

Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786 — 1855) was an English composer. He is most famous for the songs 'Home! Sweet Home!' and 'Lo, Hear the Gentle Lark'. He was the composer or arranger of some 120 dramatic works, including 80 operas, light operas, cantatas, and ballets.   Knighted in 1842, he was the first musician to be so honoured.

Bishop's 'operas' were written in a style and format that satisfied the audiences of his day. They have more in common with the earlier, native English ballad opera genre, or with modern musicals, than the classical opera of continental Europe. His first operatic score, The Circassian's Bride (1809), had one performance at Drury Lane — then the theatre burned down and the score was lost.

In the years between 1816 and 1828, Bishop composed the music for a series of Shakespearean operas staged by Frederic Reynolds. But these, and the numerous works, operas, burlettas, cantatas and, incidental music which he wrote are mostly forgotten.

His most successful pieces were The Virgin of the Sun (1812), The Miller and his Men (1813), Guy Mannering (1816), and Clari, or the Maid of Milan. The latter's libretto and lyrics were written by the American John Howard Payne, whose poem and song Home! Sweet Home! (1823) became wildly popular. In 1852 Bishop 'relaunched' the song as a parlour ballad. It was popular in the United States throughout the American Civil War and after.

Bishop worked for all the major theatres of London in his era — including the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Vauxhall Gardens and the Haymarket Theatre, and was also Professor of Music at Oxford University.  In 1841 he was appointed to the Reid Chair of Music in the University of Edinburgh, but he resigned the office in 1843.

[This text is based on material in The Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) (Eleventh ed.), now in the public domain, and other sources available on line.]

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2.   Bishop


Henry Rowley Bishop 1786 - 1855

2.    Portrait of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786-1855).  English School, c1830
Oil on Canvas, 30 x 25 inches (canvas)

In 1825 Bishop was induced by Robert Elliston to transfer his services from Covent Garden to the rival house in Drury Lane, for which he wrote the opera Aladdin, based on the story from 1001 Nights. It was intended to compete with Weber's Oberon, commissioned by the other house. Aladdin failed, and Bishop's career as an operatic composer came to an end.

He did, however, rework operas by other composers.  An 1827 Covent Garden playbill records a performance of the Marriage of Figaro with 'The Overture and Music selected chiefly from Mozart’s operas – the new music by Mr Bishop'. It included an aria called 'Follow, follow o’er the mountain', sung by Miss Paton.

Bishop was one of the original directors of the Philharmonic Society when it was founded in 1813.  He conducted at Covent Garden and at the London Philharmonic concerts. In 1848 he became Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, succeeding William Crotch.  His last work was the commissioned music for the ode at the installation of Lord Derby as chancellor of the university in 1853.

Bishop's later years were clouded by scandal. Twice married,. his first wife was a Miss Lyon, who came out as a singer at Drury Lane in 'Love in a Village' in October, 1807, and to whom he was married soon after the production of The Circassian Bride,' in which opera and The Maniac she sang small parts. He had two sons and a daughter by his first wife.  He had married his second wife, the singer Ann Rivière, in 1831. She was twenty-three years younger than he and they had three children.

In 1839, Anna Bishop (as she was now known) abandoned her husband and three children to run off with her lover and accompanist, the harpist and composer Nicolas-Charles Bochsa. They left England to give concert tours abroad until Bochsa died in Sydney, Australia in 1856.  Anna Bishop sang in every continent and was the most widely travelled opera singer of the 19th century.

Sir Henry Bishop died in poverty at his Hyde Park home in London, although he had a substantial income during his lifetime. He is buried in East Finchley Cemetery in north London.

[This text is based on Groves Musical Dictionary, and other sources available on line.]

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3.  Bishop

Henry Rowley Bishop 1786 - 1855

3.    Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786–1855), Engraved by W Nichols, Published by J Colman, London.

Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786–1855), musical composer, was the son of a London merchant whose family came from Shropshire, and was born in Great Portland Street in the city.

He seems to have received all his instruction in music from Francesco Bianchi, an Italian who came to England in 1793, where he lived for the rest of his life, enjoying a great reputation, not only as a composer,but also as a teacher, and theoretical musician.

Bishop's earliest compositions are a set of twelve glees and several Italian songs, in all of which the influence of his master, an influence which remained with him throughout his life, is plainly discernible. After 1804. he began to write ballet music for the King’s Theatre and Drury Lane. At the former house the success of his Tamerlan et Bajazet  (1806) led to his permanent engagement, and he began at once to write the immense mass of compilations, arrangements, and incidental music which he produced over the next thirty years.

In this manner he was more or less concerned in Armide et Renaud (1806), Narcisse et les Grâces (1806) and Love in a Tub (1806). At Drury Lune he wrote or arranged music for Caractacus, a pantomime-ballet (1808), The Wife of Two Husbands (1808), The Mysterious Bride (1808), The Siege of St. Quentin (1808), besides contributing some new music to The Cabinet. Other works of this period are The Corsair, or the Italian Nuptials, described as a 'pantomimical drama', and The Travellers at Spa, an entertainment of Mrs. Mountain’s, for which Bishop wrote music.

At the beginning of 1809 his first important opera, The Circassian Bride, was accepted at Drury Lane, and was brought out with great success on 23 February, but on the following night the theatre was burnt down, and the score of the opera, which Bishop subsequently rewrote from memory, perished in the flames.'

Guy Mannering (1816), was' a collaboration with Attwood. Whittaker, and others, Bishop's best work in it being the famous glee 'The Chough and Crow'.  In 1819 he had entered into partnership with the management of the theatre in conducting the so-called 'oratorios,' concerts of the most heterogeneous description, which were given at the opera-houses during Lent, and in 1820 Bishop became the sole manager of these curious entertainments.  His management, however, ceased after one season.

In the autumn of 1829 he went to Dublin, where he was received with great honour, the freedom of the city being unanimously voted and bestowed upon him. In 1830 Bishop left Drury Lane and was appointed musical director of Vauxhall Gardens, which post he occupied for three years.

In 1832 he was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society to write a work for their concerts, in fulfillment of which he composed a sacred cantata, The Seventh Day, which was performed in the following year, without, however, achieving any great success. Two years later (1836) another cantata of Bishop’s, The Departure from Paradise, was sung at the same concerts by Malibran. Other cantatas composed by him are Waterloo (performed at Vauxhall in 1826), and a setting of Burns's Jolly Beggars.

[Text based on an article by W. B. S. in the Dictionary of National Biography, drawing on Grove's Discretionary of Music; Dictionary of Musicians,(1827) and other contemporary sources including Genest's History of the Stage.]

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Bishop Anecdotes

Top ~ Works by Henry Bishop  ~  Bishop and Weber  ~  Bishop and the Hymnary


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