02 June 2011

Charles N Weiss - renowned flutist and composer and my great great great grandfather?

I've been working on Charles Nicholas Weiss over the past few days. Since I found him living in Manchester it's whetted my appetite for more. I've been trawling through historical newspapers and it's been an absolute goldmine of information. I think I've found a whole lot more about him, but my head is still spinning, trying to take it all in. Forgive me, but this post is very long (it takes a bit of effort to prove your great great great grandfather was a little bit famous).

The first piece of information is from The Manchester Guardian, 5 Nov 1831, where Mr. Charles N. Weiss, of London, is noted as the Principal Flute for a performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) at the Theatre Royal, Manchester. Perhaps he is already living in Manchester at this time, but he seems to have earned his "fame" in London at this stage.

The second piece of information is from The Manchester Guardian, 17 May 1834:

MR. CHARLES N. WEISS, of the London Concerts, respectfully informs the Nobility and Gentry, and his former pupils, that he has arrived in this town to fulfil engagements as Principal Flute at the Gentlemen's concerts, and at the Italian operas; and that he intends devoting some of his time to TEACHING the FLUTE and to accompany ladies with the piano-forte. -Applications to be made at Mr. Beale's music warehouse, St Ann's Square; at Mr. Pickering's Ditto; and at the Royal Theatre Italian Opera.- N.B. Mr. Weiss also gives lessons in private, and in schools, in the Italian and German languages.

From this we learn that he has returned to Manchester as he has former pupils there. It also shows that he knows Italian - perhaps this is related to his performances in the Italian operas, though presumably he does not sing, but instead plays the flute. He also knows German, but considering he is believed to have been born in Prussia this is hardly surprising.

There are other articles in The Manchester Guardian alluding to his performances in concerts, and then we come to the announcement of "Mr. Weiss' Farewell Concert" in The Manchester Guardian of 20 Nov 1839. A write-up of the concert on 27 Nov 1839 notes:

"It is already generally known, that the numerous friends of Mr. C. N. Weiss, principal flutist at the Concert Hall, determined, prior to his departure for India (where he has an appointment as band-master), to give him a concert. ... Amongst the foremost we may state that all the instrumentalists of the "Gentlemen's Concerts" contributed their valuable services, almost all the principal vocal talent of the town was also given; and the musical force consisted of 61 instrumentalists, 7 principal vocalists, 36 chorus; total number of performers, 104. ... Mr. Weiss, on making his bow, in front of the stage, was greeted with loud plaudits from all parts of the theatre. His flute fantasia (of his own composition) was a performance full of talent; and if a fine tone, great facility, rapid fingering, and considerable command over the instrument in all its difficulties and tongueing, &c. bespeak the master of his instrument, Mr. Weiss is certainly entitled to take a high rank in his profession."

If anything made me completely sure that this refers to my great great grandfather, I know that he went to India with the army and was the band-master in his army regiment. I even found this little article from during his time in India, in The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce (11 Aug 1841):

Mr. C. N. Weiss has it in contemplation to establish in Bombay a series of six Concerts by subscription, and under the highest patronage. It will probably be in conjunction with the Band of His Excellency the Governor, so that the effect of having the two best Bands in India to harmonize together, will be very forcible. The Concerts will altogether be on a grand scale, as Mr. W. contemplates to give a selection of Handel's Messiah, and also six operatic pieces performed by vocal and instrumental performers, engaged expressly for the occasion, on liberal terms. As this is undertaken on Mr. W's own risk, we hope he will have success.

We believe that the projector of these concerts has already obtained a high reputation at home for his musical performances.

I'd always wondered what it was that made Charles suddenly consumed with civic duty to a country that he wasn't even born in. If it was a job (as band master) that he was appointed to then that makes a whole lot more sense. A little different from my original assumption that he joined the army and then joined the band because he was a reasonable musician.

After the reference to "London Concerts" I decided to dig a little further, as he seemed to have a bit of a musical reputation elsewhere. Little by little I uncovered bits of information, such as advertisements for new compositions by Charles N. Weiss, for concerts, even books that he had written. Then I came across a book called My complete story of the flute: the instrument, the performer, the music by Leonardo De Lorenzo, which contains a number of paragraphs on Charles N. Weiss, "a well-known flute-player and composer" and son of Carl Weiss, a German who was appointed as principal flutist to King George III's private band. It gives many details of Charles N. Weiss, including suggesting he was born in London (I believe this is wrong), but that he spent time in Italy before settling in London and becoming prosperous and popular. It skirted around the issue of the end of his career, alluding to events which suggest it was ended prematurely.

I was left wondering - could this refer to my great great great grandfather?

The arguments for:

  • We know he knew Italian and German because he gave lessons in both languages
  • He was apparently a talented flutist and did compose works for the flute
  • It gives us a reason for his wife Benigna (who undoubtedly would have had some musical talent) taking a back seat to her husband's musical ability
  • The mysterious end to his career would certainly fit with an early death in India whilst serving in the army
  • Plus I am unable to find any more advertisements for new compositions or concerts after the time of Charles' posting to India

The arguments against:

  • The year of birth (1777) given for Charles N. Weiss, the renowned composer and flutist, in De Lorenzo's book is vastly different to the date calculated from my great great great grandfather's burial record (1795). I have found another reference on the internet to 1789 being his year of birth. It is possible that Charles Weiss might have fudged his birthdate to be allowed into the army, should they have had an upper age limit for enlisting. Unless an actual birth record is uncovered there will always be speculation on this.
  • De Lorenzo says he was born in London. Family information has always suggested he was born in Prussia. I have actually found a letter to the editor that Charles N. Weiss wrote stating "If this letter is not written in the English language, you must ascribe it to my being a native of Germany" (The Morning Chronicle, 27 Jan 1824). I'm pretty sure this means he was born in Germany, whether Prussia or not!
  • No one in my family knows about it. I asked my grandma - "Oh, he was definitely a talented musician", but she had no knowledge of him being a renowned composer, nor which instrument he had played. Why not? Charles' son Frederick, from whom I am descended, was only 3 years old when his father went to India. Even though we know Charles did organise concerts in India, why would a three year old know how famous his father was in England, especially if his father died whilst he was still a child, before he was old enough to be impressed by such information?

So, is the following advertisement from The Morning Post, 13 Feb 1821, the smoking gun?

CHORAL FUND, instituted for the relief of Decayed members, their Widows and Orphans. Patrons: His Most Gracious Majesty, His Royal Highness the Duke of Clarence, His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge. At the New Royal Theatre, English Opera House, Strand, on Friday 16, 1821, will be performed a grand miscellaneous concert of vocal and instrumental music, for the benefit of this charity. ..... [list of all the performers and items etc including] A Concerto on the Harp, Mr. Holst,- A Concerto on the Flute, Mr. Weiss.

Although it is debatable whether this refers to Charles or his father Carl, one of them played in a concert with Matthias Holst, the father of Benigna, whom Charles ultimately married. That seems to be a good enough link as any to me.

How can I be sure that Charles N. Weiss, renowned flutist and composer is my great great great grandfather? The only way we could know for sure would be to compare the signature of my great great great grandfather on the marriage register with one known to be of the renowned flutist and composer. If anyone happens to have a copy of his signature lying around please let me know!

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