11 April 2014
‘Schirmer’s Children’: a German theatre troop
On 30 September 1806 the German printer Johann Benjamin Gottlieb Vogel (d. 1832) in Poland Street, Oxford Street, printed a ‘Plan for a subscription for a choice manuscript collection of music: containing the most celebrated compositions of the first masters on the continent, arranged and partly originally composed for the piano-forte or the harp, by Mr. Wœlfl’. Behind this initiative stood one Friedrich Schirmer, who, we are informed, ‘intends, before his return to Germany, a periodical publication of a choice manuscript collection of the best modern German music’.
Only two issues of the arrangements by Joseph Wölfl (1773-1812) saw the light of day, but Schirmer had already made his mark the previous year: as the Plan points out, he was ‘late proprietor and manager of the German Theatre in London’ - surely the first such initiative in the British capital.
Schirmer, who had arrived in England in 1804, had obtained a licence to present a season of ‘musical and dramatical interludes in the German language’ under the name ‘German Theatre’ to start on 22 June 1805 at the Sans Souci Theatre off Leicester Fields. The core of Schirmer’s troupe comprised members of his own family, including his wife, daughter and son. Shortly after the opening, ‘Schirmer’s Children’ (‘die Schirmerschen Kinder’) gave a command performance for the court at Windsor (Frogmore), where they performed the operetta Unschuld und Liebe, oder das geraubte Lämmchen (‘Innocence and love, or the stolen lamb’) with music apparently adapted from a score by Johann Adam Hiller (1728-1804). They were, by all accounts, a success.
The opening of a German-speaking theatre in London is the subject of a number of rather breathless reports by the London-based German journalist J. C. Hüttner. English reviews of their performances suggested that all but Schirmer’s daughter were talented singers. A review of the comic opera Die drei Freier (‘The three suitors’) remarked that Miss Schirmer has a ‘good figure, but sings ill [...] the rest all sang well & they keep time most inimitably’. Schirmer’s season continued for about a year, a not unrespectable period for a foreign-language music theatre troop with a limited repertoire.
Most of the pieces performed by Schirmer’s Children were printed for sale during the performances, though very few copies have survived. We are lucky to have a copy in the British Library of The three suitors, or like loves like. A musical farce, in one act (some of it on blue paper). This was printed by Vogel ‘and sold at the playhouse, Leicester Place, Leicester Square’ in 1805.
Graham Jefcoate, Nijmegen/Chiang Mai
J. C. Hüttner, London und Paris, (Weimar, 1798- ) vol. 16, 1805, pp. 3-12. P.P.4689.
Michael Kassler, The music trade in Georgian England. (Aldershot, 2011), pp 460, 485. YC.2011.a.10792
Frederick Burwick, Playing to the crowd: London popular theatre, 1780-1830. (Basingstoke, 2011), p. 21. YC.2012.a.21614