Henry Bishop (composer)

Last updated

Sir Henry Rowley Bishop, by Isaac Pocock Sir Henry Rowley Bishop by Isaac Pocock.jpg
Sir Henry Rowley Bishop, by Isaac Pocock

Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (18 November 1787 30 April 1855) was an English composer. He is most famous for the songs "Home! Sweet Home!" and "Lo! Here the Gentle Lark." He was the composer or arranger of some 120 dramatic works, including 80 operas, light operas, cantatas, and ballets. Bishop was Knighted in 1842. 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 Professor of Music at the universities of Edinburgh and Oxford. His second wife was the noted soprano Anna Bishop, who scandalised British society by leaving him and conducting an open liaison with the harpist Nicolas-Charles Bochsa until the latter's death in Sydney.



Bishop's grave at East Finchley Cemetery Henry Bishop grave.jpg
Bishop's grave at East Finchley Cemetery

Bishop was born in London, where his father was a watchmaker and haberdasher. At the age of 13, Bishop left full-time education and worked as a music-publisher with his cousin. After training as a jockey at Newmarket, he took some lessons in harmony from Francesco Bianchi in London. In 1804 he wrote the music to a piece called "Angelina", which was performed at Margate.

He wrote the music for a ballet, Tamerlan et Bajazet, which opened in 1806 at the King's Theatre, Haymarket and led to a permanent post. His first opera, The Circassian Bride, was performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 23 February 1809, but on the following night the theatre burned down, forcing him to re-write the score from memory. [1] The prima donna of that production, a Miss Lyons, became Bishop's first wife. [2]

After his second success on the stage with The Maniac (1810), Bishop became music director of Covent Garden for the next 14 years. [3] In 1813, he was a founding member of the Royal Philharmonic Society. 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, among others, 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.

In 1841 he was appointed Reid Professor of Music in the University of Edinburgh, but resigned the office in 1843. In 1848 he became Heather Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, succeeding William Crotch, until 1853.

According to William Denslow, Bishop was a freemason. Bishop was knighted in 1842, the first composer ever to receive that honour. [4]

Bishop's later years were clouded by scandal. He had married his second wife, the singer Ann Rivière, daughter of Daniel Riviere and sister of Robert Riviere, in 1831. She was twenty-three years younger than he, and they had three children. [5] 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. [5] Anna Bishop sang on every continent and was the most widely travelled opera singer of the 19th century.

Sir Henry Bishop died in poverty in London, although he had a substantial income during his lifetime. He is buried in East Finchley Cemetery in north London. [6] Bishop is commemorated on the south side of the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens by a relief sculpture on the Frieze of Parnassus, which depicts influential composers, architects, poets, painters, and sculptors; [7] he is the only 19th century British composer represented. [8]


Sir Henry Rowley Bishop by George Henry Harlow (died 1819) Sir Henry Rowley Bishop by George Henry Harlow.jpg
Sir Henry Rowley Bishop by George Henry Harlow (died 1819)

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 with full recitatives. His first opera, The Circassian's Bride (1809), had one performance at Drury Lane before the theatre burned down and the score was lost. Bishop reconstructed it from memory. [9]

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, incidental music etc. which he wrote are mostly forgotten. Even his limited partnering with various composers including Joseph Edwards Carpenter, Thomas Simpson Cooke and Stephen Glover are often overlooked. The year 1816 also saw the composition of a string quartet in C minor. [10]

His most successful operas were The Virgin of the Sun (1812), The Miller and his Men (1813), Guy Mannering (1816), and Clari, or the Maid of Milan (1823). Clari, with a libretto by the American John Howard Payne, included the song Home! Sweet Home! , which became enormously 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.

According to music historian Anne Gilchrist:

'If a postscript by another hand may follow Mr. Frank Kidson's* most illuminating true story of the origin of Home, Sweet Home,' in the November number of THE CHOIR, musical readers may perhaps be interested to learn that the melody was vastly improved by compression in Sir Henry Bishop's later edition of it (the one now familiar). The original so-called 'Sicilian Air,' which Bishop - as Mr. Kidson has told - confessed to having written himself for lack of the required specimen of Sicilian melody, is a tedious affair, with much repetition. The first two bars (now counted as four) of the melody are sung, with the variation of a single note, four times, and after two bars of something a little different, a fifth time. It is as if one sang the strain, ‘ 'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it never so humble, there's no place like home,’ twice over, then two bars of variation, then the music of the above two lines once more. There is as yet no refrain of 'Home, sweet home,' but instead, the strain belonging to 'There's no place like home, there's no place like home' is sung (except for one note) twice over, as a conclusion. The truth as it appears to me is that Bishop's notion of Sicilian music was exclusively derived from the hymn-tune 'Sicilian Mariners,' whose character he imitated as closely as prudence would allow.' [11]

Also of note is Bishop's 1819 musical comedy adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors , which included the popular coloratura soprano aria "Lo! Here the Gentle Lark." [12]

Bishop's last work was the commissioned music for the ode at the installation of Lord Derby as chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1853.

Principal works

Stage works


Instrumental music


  1. "Papers of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786-1855)". jisc.ac.uk. Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  2. Lennox, William Pitt (1863). Fifty Years' Biographical Reminiscences, Volume I. London: Hurst and Blackett. p. 76.
  3. Geoffrey Brace: "Bishop, Henry Rowley", in: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG), biographical part, vol. 2 (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1999), cc. 1686.
  4. Starkey 2013, p. 317
  5. 1 2 Norman Gilliland, Grace Notes for a Year: Stories of Hope, Humor and Hubris From the World of Classical Music (Madison, Wisconsin: NEMO Productions, 2002), p. 9.
  6. Matthews, Peter (2017). Who’s Buried Where in London. Oxford: Shire Publications. pp. 139–140. ISBN   978-0747812968.
  7. "London - The Albert Memorial". vanderkrogt.net. René & Peter van der Krogt. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  8. Starkey 2013, p. 305
  9. Brace, in MGG (1999), as above.
  10. Foreman, Lewis (June 2002). "Holes Held Together by String" . Retrieved 6 November 2010. This work is also mentioned in Corder.
  11. Traditional Song Forum. 'HOME, SWEET HOME' AND 'SICILIAN MARINERS' [By Anne G Gilchrist]
  12. Naxos.com

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael William Balfe</span> Irish composer

Michael William Balfe was an Irish composer, best remembered for his operas, especially The Bohemian Girl.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Arne</span> 18th-century British composer

Thomas Augustine Arne was an English composer. He is best known for his patriotic song "Rule, Britannia!" and the song "A-Hunting We Will Go", the latter composed for a 1777 production of The Beggar's Opera, which has since become popular as a folk song and a nursery rhyme. Arne was a leading British theatre composer of the 18th century, working at the West End's Drury Lane and Covent Garden. He wrote many operatic entertainments for the London theatres and pleasure gardens, as well as concertos, sinfonias, and sonatas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Arne</span>

Michael Arne was an English composer, harpsichordist, organist, singer, and actor. He was the son of the composer Thomas Arne and the soprano Cecilia Young, a member of the famous Young family of musicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Like his father, Arne worked primarily as a composer of stage music and vocal art song, contributing little to other genres of music. He wrote several songs for London's pleasure gardens, the most famous of which is Lass with the Delicate Air (1762). A moderately prolific composer, Arne wrote nine operas and collaborated on at least 15 others. His most successful opera, Cymon (1767), enjoyed several revivals during his lifetime and into the early nineteenth century.

The history of opera in the English language commences in the 17th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Julius Benedict</span>

Sir Julius Benedict was a German-born composer and conductor, resident in England for most of his career.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frederic Hymen Cowen</span> English composer, conductor and pianist

Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen, was an English composer, conductor and pianist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Alexander Macfarren</span> English composer and musicologist

Sir George Alexander Macfarren was an English composer and musicologist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Augustus Harris</span>

Sir Augustus Henry Glossop Harris was a British actor, impresario, and dramatist, a dominant figure in the West End theatre of the 1880s and 1890s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nicolas-Charles Bochsa</span> French musician

Robert Nicolas-Charles Bochsa was a harpist and composer. His relationship with Anna Bishop was popularly thought to have inspired that of Svengali and Trilby in George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lewis Henry Lavenu</span>

Lewis Henry Lavenu (1818–1859) was an English composer, conductor, musician and impresario.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alberto Randegger</span>

Alberto Randegger was an Italian-born composer, conductor and singing teacher, best known for promoting opera and new works of British music in England during the Victorian era and for his widely used textbook on singing technique. His compositions included ballets, masses and other church music, operas and numerous other vocal pieces. He also edited several collections of vocal music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Willoughby Weiss</span>

Willoughby Hunter Weiss was an English oratorio and opera singer and composer. He became one of the most celebrated bass singers of the 19th century, and sang in the premieres of many English works.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Loder</span> English composer and conductor

Edward James Loder was an English composer and conductor. His best remembered work is perhaps the 1855 opera Raymond and Agnes, though his most successful opera during his lifetime was The Night Dancers.

William Michael Rooke was an Irish violinist and composer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir Henry Dudley, 1st Baronet</span>

The Reverend Sir Henry Bate Dudley, 1st Baronet was a British minister, magistrate and playwright. He was born in Fenny Compton, Warwickshire, but in 1763 his father moved the family to Essex to take up a Rectory at North Fambridge near Chelmsford. On his father's death, Bate Dudley took over the ministry. In Essex, he owned Bradwell Lodge, a Tudor country house near Bradwell-on-Sea and engaged the architect John Johnson to construct a large extension attached to the south side of the original house, designed in a Neoclassical style.

Isaac Pocock was an English dramatist and painter of portraits and historical subjects. He wrote melodramas, farces and light operatic comedies, many being stage adaptations of existing novels. Of his 40 or so works, the most successful was Hit and Miss (1810), a musical farce. The mariner Sir Isaac Pocock (1751–1810) was his uncle.

William Howard Glover (1819-1875), was an English musical composer and writer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Henry Johnstone</span>

John Henry Johnstone (1749–1828), also known as 'Jack' Johnstone or 'Irish' Johnstone, was an Irish actor, comedian and singer.

George Herbert Buonaparte Rodwell (1800–1852) was an English composer, musical director, and author.

Gesualdo Lanza (1779–1859) was an Italian teacher of music who made his career in London.