In putting finishing touches on a talk that links correspondence of Abigail Adams and Jane Austen, I came across this paragraph that now means so much more than it would have a year or so ago, before investigating the lives of the Knyvett family musicians: Abigail Adams attended the 1785 Handel celebrations at Westminster Abbey.
In 1784, the celebrations had as one of its chief singers Charles Knyvett – the musician who young Emma Smith mentions in her diary decades later (10/21/1820):
Mamma Augusta & I left the Vine to go to Heckfield. We found only Mr & Mrs Shaw Lefevre & Mr & Mrs C. Lefevre there – Old Mr Knyvett was asked to meet us, but did not come
In a letter dated 2 Sept 1785, Mrs Adams writes:
“The most powerful effect of music I every experienced, was at Westminster Abbey. The place itself is well calculated to excite solemnity, not only from its ancient and venerable appearance, but from the dignified dust, marble and monuments which it contains. Last year it was filled up with seats, and an organ loft sufficiently large to contain six hundred musicians, which were collected from this and other countries. This year the music was repeated. It is called the celebration of Handel’s music; the sums collected are deposited, and the income is appropriated to the support of decayed musicians. [I just love her word choice here: decayed…] There were five days set apart for the different performances. I was at the piece called the Messiah, and though a guinea a ticket, I am sure I never spent one with more satisfaction. It is impossible to describe to you the solemnity and dignity of the scene…. I was one continued shudder from the beginning to the end of the performance. Nine thousand pounds were collected, by which you may judge of the rage that prevailed for the entertainment.”
And Charles Knvyett? He would be remembered forever and always as “one of the chief singers”. But: Did he also appear in 1785? I’ll have to revisit notes taken for my Regency World article, dig a bit deeper — and keep my fingers crossed.