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Bumey, Charles

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Bumey, Charles, celebrated English music historian; b. Shrewsbury, April 7, 1726; d. Chelsea, April 12, 1814. He was a pupil of Edmund Baker (organist of Chester Cathedral), of his eldest half brother, James Burney, and, from 1744 to 1747, of Arne in London. In 1749 he became organist of St. Dionis-Backchurch, and harpsichord player at the subscription concerts in the King’s Arms, Cornhill. He resigned these posts in 1751, and until 1760 was organist at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where he planned and began work on his General History of Music . He returned to London in 1760; received the degrees of B.Mus. and D.Mus. from Oxford Univ. in 1769. Having exhausted such material as was available in London for his History of Music, he visited France, Switzerland, and Italy in 1770 and Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria in 1772, consulting the libraries, attending the best concerts of sacred and secular music, and forming contacts with the leading musicians and scholars of the period (Gluck, Hasse, Metastasio, Voltaire et al.). The immediate result of these journeys was the publication of The Present State of Music in France and Italy, etc. (1771, in diary form) and The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, etc. (1773). His General History of Music appeared in 4 vols. (1776-89; new ed. by Frank Mercer in 2 vols, with “Critical and Historical Notes,” London and N.Y., 1935), the first vol. concurrently with the complete work of his rival, Sir John Hawkins. From 1806 he received a government pension. Other publications: La musica che si canta annualmente nelle funzioni della settimana santa nella Cappella Pontificia, composta de Palestrina, Allegri e Bai (1771; a book of sacred works with Burney’s preface); An Account of the Musical Performances in Westminster Abbey…in Commemoration of Handel (1785); Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Abate Metastasio (3 vols., 1796); the articles on music for Rees’s Cyclopedia; etc. He composed, for Drury Lane, music to the dramas Alfred (1745), Robin Hood and Queen Mab (1750), and The Cunning Man (1765; text and music adapted from Le Devin du village by Rousseau); also sonatas for piano and for violin; violin and harpsichord concertos; cantatas; flute duets; etc. Burney’s daughter, Frances Burney (b. King’s Lynn, Norfolk, June 13, 1752; d. London, Jan. 6, 1840), wrote the novel Evelina and Memoirs of Dr. Burney (3 vols., 1832), the latter a highly bowdlerized version; she destroyed much of the original MS, but fragments were discovered 120 years later; S. Klima, G. Bowers, and K. Grant ed. and annotated a new edition as Memoirs of Dr. C. B., 1726-1769 (1988).

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