Luigi Marchesi & ‘Cervetto’

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by

Cervetto/ Marchesi – 

 Luigi Marchesi’s career stretched across the revolutionary generation. He was lionised by the Burneys, by Stendahl, by Napoleon, and gave singing lessons to Niccolo Paganini.

Paganini-‘Adieu a Londres’ Peter Sheppard Skaerved Violin

 Upon hearing him for the first time, Maria Cosway wrote to Thomas. Jefferson:

 ‘The most wonderful singer I ever heard.’

 The cellist Cervetto enjoyed an equally long career. Over fifty years after Nixon drew him playing continuo cello with Marchesi at the Hanover  Square Rooms, he was still playing. IN 1832, Chalon depicterd him, still  in action,  86 years old.. This drawing, which is in the British Museum, reminded me instantly of why I am a musician. Cervetto clearly just loved to play., loved the cello, loved being on stage. I identify with that, and dream of a career as long and as happy as his.

 H.C.Robbins Landon detected the influence of the London school of cellists on Haydn’ s later quartets:

‘There was another factor that contributed to the new assertiveness of these quartets. London had a long tradition of virtuoso violin players….; also of cello players, Cervetto, Crosdill and Damane. All these were accustomed to performing in front of an audience.’

Joseph Haydn-Quartet Op 64 N0 5 Menuetto (Kreutzer Quartet Peter Sheppard Skaerved/Mihailo Trandafilovski/Morgan Goff/Neil Heyde)

 The tickets for Marchesi’s  benefit concert at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, April 29th 1790,  were designed by Richard  Cosway. They  depict a cherub playing the harp on clouds above a banner with the title of the evening. Charles Burney was a fan of his singing, which, in 1780, he described as  ‘…not only elegant and refined to an uncommon degree, but often grand and full of dignity.’

 There were dark rumours about Maria Cosway’s friendship with Marchesi. There was always a certain frisson to the gossip about castrati. The Cosways’ marriage, it was repeatedly suggested, was one of convenience-the delicious notion that the husband had seduced the Regent, whilst the wife was straying with Marchesi was simply irresistible for the early gutter press:

Morning Post: Maria Cosway has taken a whole length of Marchesi’s more successfully than any other artist in the country…the dresses of Marchesi and Giuliani in the new Opera of Iphigenia in Aulide were made after the design of MR Cosway. This ingenious artist, it is said, assisted in attiring Giuliani and the fair Maria in decorating the person of the accomplished Marchesi.’

 Stendahl suggested that Marchesi became extraordinarily vain in the latter part of his career:

 ‘He refused point-blank to sing unless his first entry in the opening scene of the opera were made either on horseback, or else on the top of a hill, Furthermore, whichever alternative was  eventually agreed upon, the cascade of plumes which surmounted his helmet was required to be at least six feet high.


Richard and Maria Cosway-a biography, Gerald Barnett, Lutterworth Press, Cambridge 1995, P112


 [BM AN291916001

Haydn, His Life and Music, HC Robbins Landon & David Wyn Jones, Thames and Hudson, London 1988., P292s

AN513868001 (British Museum)

Obituary, Allgemeine Musicalisches Zeitung XXXII, 1830, Pp. 93-4

Richard and Maria Cosway-a biography, Gerald Barnett, Lutterworth Press, Cambridge 1995.P112

The Life of Rossini¸ Stendahl, 1823, tr. Richard Coe, Oneworld Classics, Oneworld Classics, 1970, P.117