Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Remembering the random


When writing yesterday’s post I had the niggling feeling that I recognised the name of the sculptor, Cibber. Did a little research and found Caius Cibber, originally from Denmark, settled in England where he had a (mostly) successful career. But that wasn’t why I recognised the name. Cibber had a larger-than-life actor son Colley who was also a writer, and was Poet Laureate to George II. But still it rang no bells for me. Next I find the sculptor’s grandson Theophilus Cibber, also an actor/manager at Drury Lane. Still nothing… then jackpot! I find that Theophilus married Susannah Arne in 1739.

I am familiar with the name Cibber because Susannah, already an acclaimed singer, continued to perform under her married name. I had no idea Arne was her maiden name: of course she is sister to the English composer Thomas Arne. We all know Arne for his composition, “Rule, Britannia!” His sister starred in the premier of "Alfred" in which "Britannia" features as the grand finale. (1740)

So finally I have puzzled it out, using some good old genealogy and Wikipedia (!) The name Cibber was familiar because of Susannah Maria Cibber, an acclaimed actress and singer, protégée of Handel. She was conveniently (for a performer) born near Covent Garden in 1714. The contralto solos in Handel’s Messiah were specifically written for her and include one of my favourites, the heartwretching “He was Despised”.  I have always thought that the contralto gets the best female solos in Messiah, and now I know why. Susannah also acted alongside the famous David Garrick, so now I am off to research whether there are any paintings of Cibber by Zoffany. I love these connections.

On a side note, as Messiah premiered in Dublin (1742), Susannah must have crossed the Irish Sea on at least one occasion. Her estranged husband Theophilus met his end on a similar crossing in 1758 on his way to start the season on Dublin.

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