Maria Barthélemon (Polly Young)

Composer, Singer and Keyboardist

A colour painting of an ornate brown harpsichord superimposed on top of a musical score for piano. This image is used to represent composer Maria Barthelemon.

Image by Dirk Röpert from Pixabay

  • BORN 7th July 1749, Covent Garden, London, England
  • DIED 20th September 1799, London, England
  • WORKED She made her debut in Dublin, singing in an opera “Eliza” by her uncle Thomas Arne when she was 6 years old. Much of her work seems to have been in London, but she made at least one tour to France, Italy and Germany
  • HONOURS None that could be discovered
  • MINERVA SCIENTIFICA PROJECT Echoes from Northamptonshire

Entry by Frances M Lynch, Artistic Director of electric voice theatre

SCIENTIFIC CONNECTIONS

There are no apparent connections with science – other than being part of the Minerva Scientifica project.

COMPOSITIONS


Title: The Lacemakers (Weaver’s) Prayer
Hymnodist: ELIZA WESTBURY
Words by: Maria Barthélemon
Written in: c.1790
For: Soprano, Violins and Keyboard
Performed by: Frances M Lynch, Jenny Miller (sopranos); Margaret Cameron (mezzo); David Sheppard (counter tenor); Julian Stocker (tenor); Gwion Thomas (baritone)
First Performed: c. 1790 at a concert for the Weavers

This hymn was discovered by Frances in the British Library and was due to be performed at the Brixworth Music Festival in May 2020. We believe it may not have been sung for 250 years. Originally the dedication was For the Benefit of the distress’d Weavers, but we have changed a couple of the words to point to the story of Northamptonshire Hymnodist and Lacemaker Eliza Westbury who died at only 20 within a few weeks of 3 other women in her home. Her story felt important to tell, despite not knowing if she had written any music for her hymns, as we were deep into research for impressive women in arts/science from Northamptonshire.

Our plans were altered due to the intrusion of Covid-19 and instead of a live performance it was recorded by the singers individually in their homes on May 10th and compiled and edited at Birnam Studios, London on May 12th 2020 as part of electric voice theatre‘s Minerva Scientifica – Connections 2020 project, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

You can find PDFs of the score and text of The Lacemakers prayer at the following links:

LACEMAKERS PRAYER SCORE

LACEMAKERS PRAYER TEXT

Education

Like most young girls of her time, Maria, also known as Polly, was taught at home, but her education was a particularly musical one! Her father was an organist and treasury clerk, but she lived in Dublin with her Aunt Cecilia who was married to the composer Thomas Arne. It was this Aunt who took charge of her musical education and who helped to build her career from the age of 6.

Occupations

Singer
Barthélemon was a child prodigy who moved in the highest of musical circles. She performed in Opera as a child and made her London debut in 1759 in the Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden and later sang in Italian Operas at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket where she studied with the Italian castrato Giovanni Manzuoli. Her singing was generally much admired. After her marriage she gave concerts and benefits with her husband.

Harpsichordist
She is noted as singing and playing harpsichord at Drury Lane in 1762 – presumably accompanying herself.

Composer
In 1776 she published her first work – a set of Six Sonatas for violin and keyboard dedicated to Her Majesty the Queen – which proved a success. It is possible she wrote more instrumental pieces but the only other scores that still survive are all vocal, and there are sadly few of these. You can find links below to see the full list.

General view of Covent Garden looking north, circa 1720, from an engraving by Sutton Nicholls

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Her European tour must have been a highlight for her, performing for royalty including the Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette.

DID YOU KNOW?

At the age of 17 she married François-Hippolyte Barthélémon, violinist and composer at the Haymarket Theatre, not long after singing in his first opera there.

Their only daughter Cecilia Maria Barthélémon also became a performer and composer and appeared with them in performances.

The family lived at No. 8, Kennington Place, Vauxhall

They were close friends of the composer Joseph Haydn, appearing in concert with them and receiving him at their home in the 1790s.  Their daughter recalled the visit:

The dear good & respected Haydn was often with us — & express’d much pleasure, when my beloved mother took the upper part (with me) of a Duett of Handels (in his fine Opera of Poro)

Score of The Beggar’s Opera

AN INSPIRING WOMAN

Maria Barthélemon appears to have inspired all those who heard her sing, and taught her daughter to follow in her footsteps, encouraging her to perform and compose.

The composer’s signature

Links