Printer Friendly

A note on Stephen Storace and Michael Kelly.

On Tuesday 20 February 1787 in Vienna, the composer Stephen Storace was arrested for drunken brawling at a Carnival ball. So writes Michael Kelly, tenor and raconteur, in his Reminiscences of 1826, written with the help of Theodore Hook and available in both facsimile and modern editions.(1)

Kelly's trustworthiness has regularly been called into question on the basis of inaccurate details in his Reminiscences. Certainly he made mistakes, such as referring to a performance that cannot have been attended by the dignitaries stated, or to an event that cannot have taken place in a particular year.(2) The importance of these errors has been variously interpreted; indeed, two recent commentators take opposing positions. Geoffrey Brace considers that all Kelly's facts are questionable, describing his memoirs as 'unreliable and chronologically confused'. More generously, Alec Hyatt King calls them 'a remarkable testimony to Kelly's memory', indicating that Kelly's occasional conflation or misdating of events should not invalidate his material.(3) Obviously, as long as musicologists use his writings as evidence of eighteenth-century musical life, the issue of accuracy will remain alive.

The material that follows is intended to support King's view of Kelly as a basically reliable chronicler. The survival of a letter written by Storace from gaol the day after his arrest allows us a rare opportunity to confirm anecdotal details in Kelly's Reminiscences.

Storace's letter has been described in A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians . . ., but its text has never been published.(4) Addressed to a friend in England, the letter gives a detailed (though possibly underplayed) version of the dispute the previous night and its consequences. Further evidence comes from Harry Vane, known as Lord Barnard (later Earl of Darlington and Duke of Cleveland), a young English aristocrat who frequently escorted Stephen's sister Nancy in Vienna and whom Stephen Storace describes as an important (if unwitting) protagonist in the incident on the dance floor. Lord Barnard kept a diary in which he recorded, briefly and in French, his activities each day. By combining the details in Storace's letter with the laconic remarks in Lord Barnard's diary, we have a base of comparison for Kelly's version of events.(5)

There is general agreement that Storace's arrest took place on 20 February 1787, the evening before Ash Wednesday, at a dance in Vienna attended by Storace, his sister Nancy, Michael Kelly (named only in his version) and Lord Barnard (not named by Kelly). The Storaces, along with their mother, Kelly, Lord Barnard and Thomas Attwood, were due to return to England at the end of the week. Nancy had just completed her contract as prima buffa at the Burgtheater, and Stephen, aged 24, had recently seen the first season of his opera Gli equivoci at the same theatre.

Almost 40 years after the event, Kelly wrote:

We were supping at the Ridotto Rooms, and my poor friend, Stephen Storace, who was proverbially a sober man, and who had a strong head for every thing but drinking, had swallowed potent libations of sparkling Champagne, which rendered him rather confused. He went into the ball-room, and saw his sister dancing with an officer in uniform, booted and spurred. In twirling round while waltzing, his spurs got entangled in [Nancy] Storace's dress, and both she and the officer came to the ground, to the great amusement of the by-standers. Stephen, thinking his sister had been intentionally insulted, commenced personal hostilities against the officer: a great bustle ensued, which was ended by half a dozen policemen seizing Storace, and dragging him to the guard-house, to which several English gentlemen followed him. The officer of the guard was very good-natured, and allowed us to send for some eatables and Champagne; - we remained with him all night, and a jovial night we had. In the morning we departed, but Storace was obliged to tarry in durance vile till further orders. He was not, however, the least discomfited; he thought of the Italian proverb, as he told me, -

'Non andera sempre cosi, come diceva Il piccolo cane, quando menava Il rosto, alla fine la carne sara cuccitta.'

I was determined to make a bold push to get him released in the evening. - I placed myself in the corridor through which the Emperor passed after his dinner to his study. He saw me, and said, 'Why, O'Kelly, I thought you were off for England?' - 'I can't go, Sire', was my answer; 'my friend, who was to travel with me, was last night put into prison.' I then told His Majesty who it was, and how it happened. - He laughed at the tipsy composer's wanting to fight, and said, 'I am very sorry for Storace, for he is a man of great talent; but I regret to observe that some of your English gentry who travel, appear much altered from what they used to be. Formerly, they travelled after they had quilted College, - it appears to me that now they travel before they go to it.' His Majesty then left me, saying, 'Bon voyage, O'Kelly, - I shall give directions that Storace may be set at liberty'.

The next morning he was liberated.(6)

On Ash Wednesday, Storace wrote from goal to his friend J. Serres at 1 St George's Row, Oxford Street, London. His version of the previous night's activities reads as follows:

You might not have recieved [sic] a letter from me, so early as this, long good friend - had it not been owing to a ridiculous circumstance that happen'd last night or rather early this morning - to make short of the story - it is some hours since I have been in a guard:house under an arrest - and of course having much leisure I know no better mode of passing my time than devoting it to my friends in England - but to inform you of some of the particulars - you must know that there never perhaps were so hard:a going sett of English in any one town out of England - as are at present in Vienna - we have lived these last six weeks almost in one continual scene of riot - amongst ourselves - as long as it remain'd so, nobody could find fault - but lately some of our youths - high:charged with the juice of French grapes - have made their occasional sallies - & exposed themselves to the natives especially at the Ridotta's, or Masquerades - many of which have been given in the course of the newly expired Carneval [sic][.] a few nights ago the []: Charles Lennox - [L.sup.d]: Clifford and one or two others - courted some ladies - with rather too much vehemence - which occasion'd an order - that every Englishman that behaved with the least impropriety, at the ensueing Ridotta - (the one last night) should be put under an arrest - It so happen'd that about three oclock this morning as my Sister was dancing a minuet with [L.sup.d]: Barnard, a Man who was standing by chose to stand in such a manner that Lord Barnard, turning the corner inadvertently trod on his toe - upon which he was rather impertinent - [L.sup.d]: B took no notice but proceeded - on again coming to the same corner - the Gentleman took an opportunity of advancing still further into the ring & had nearly thrown him down - upon which I who was a stander by - with more spirit than prudence - asked him, 'what he meant by being so impertinent as to attempt throwing down any gentleman that was dancing' - he then immediately chose to use some very ungentlemanlike language - which I (who had rather too much Champaigne in me, though far beneath intoxication) could not brook - inshort words begat words - the whole rooms were presently in a confusion - the report was that an Englishman had mis:behaved - we were almost press'd to death - by the multitudes that crowded round:us - my antagonist proved to be an officer - he immediatly [sic] apply'd to the officer of the guard - who sans:cerimonie put me under charge of a corporal's guard - and I was conducted to the guard-house - from which place I have the honor of addressing to you this epistle - as all the English have taken up this matter warmly - I immagine [sic] I shall soon be liberated - and we shall strive hard to bring the aggressor to condign punishment.(7)

Storace concluded his letter with a description of the route he intended to take home, merely returning to his incarceration with the comment 'I can hardly refrain from laughing at the Idea of myself in durance vile', a phrase later echoed by Kelly.

Lord Barnard is brief. He records that on the evening of 20 February, 'J'ai dine au Club, Je suis alle a la Redoute ou [Mons.sup.r] Storace etait saisi et mis en Prison; - Je suis alle au Prince Ch. Lichtenstein; Je ne me suis pas couche de tout'.(8) His visit to Prince Karl Liechtenstein was probably an attempt to get Storace released, and undoubtedly he stayed up with Storace in gaol. The following day, Ash Wednesday, Lord Barnard again visited Liechtenstein before supping with Storace in prison; on Thursday he called first on the British Ambassador, Sir Robert Keith, then on Liechtenstein again, then finally be returned to Keith. Later, he wrote, 'J'ai soupe chez la [Nancy] Storace, et [] Storace a sorti de Prison'.

Lord Barnard both confirms events from Kelly's and Storace's descriptions and identifies himself as one of the Englishmen who (as Kelly gives it) stayed up all night in the gaol and who (as Storace indicates) took up the cause of his release with influential people in Vienna. Storace's letter goes much further in confirming the remarkable accuracy of Kelly's published version of events, as well as giving us a firsthand glimpse into social life in Vienna. In only one area does Kelly differ from Storace, when he writes that Nancy was dancing with the officer whom Storace attacked, whereas Storace puts Lord Barnard as the dancer and the officer as an onlooker. The difference in detail may have come about because (according to Kelly) Storace entered the ballroom alone, which would make Kelly's description second-hand. In other respects their stories are remarkably consistent: Nancy was dancing; Stephen - who had been drinking champagne - perceived offensive behaviour in an (Austrian) officer with whom be remonstrated; Stephen was arrested. By implication the friends also agree about the reputation of young English aristocrats in Vienna, Stephen in explaining why he was so quickly arrested, Kelly in his reported conversation with the emperor. Kelly and Barnard mention staying up all night; all three indicate that members of the English community sought Storace's release.

We may regret that the best documented event in Storace's life was an incident of youthful indiscretion; even so, his letter is valuable in demonstrating the high degree of accuracy of a lengthy anecdote in Kelly's Reminiscences. His documentation of this event which had occurred almost 40 years earlier is impressive. We should certainly treat his statements with due caution, but perhaps with less suspicion than they sometimes provoke.

1 Michael Kelly, Reminiscences of Michael Kelly of the King's Theatre and Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 1826 (repr., New York, 1968); ed. Roger Fiske. London, 1975.

2 See, for instance, Richard Graves, 'The Comic Operas of Stephen Storace', The Musical Times, xcv (1954), 530; Alec Hyatt King, introduction to Kelly, Reminiscences (repr. New York, 1968), vi-vii; Fiske, introduction to Kelly, Reminiscences, London, 1975, p. x; Geoffrey Brace, Anna . . . Susanna. Anna Storace, Mozart's First Susanna: her Life, Times and Family, London, 1991, pp. 46, 48, 129.

3 Brace, Anna . . . Susanna, p. 129; Alec Hyatt King, 'Kelly, Michael', The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, London, 1992, ii. 974.

4 Philip H. Highfill Jr., Kalman A. Burnim & Edward A. Langhans, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, Carbondale, Illinois, 1973-93, xiv. 307. The letter is part of the Harvard Theatre Collection. I should like to thank Theresa Davidian for transcribing it.

5 Lord Barnard's diaries belong to the present Lord Barnard, Raby Castle, Staindrop, Co. Durham, to whom I am grateful for access to the diaries and permission to quote from them.

6 Kelly, Reminiscences, London, 1826, i. 272-3.

7 S. Storace to J. Serres Esq., 21 February 1787, Vienna (Harvard Theatre Collection). I am grateful for permission to quote from the letter.

8 My thanks to Ron Girdham for the transcriptions of Lord Barnard's diary entries.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:composer; tenor
Author:Girdham, Jane
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Bibliography
Date:Feb 1, 1995
Previous Article:'A Survivor from Warsaw' as personal parable.
Next Article:A letter from John Danby found.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters