Samuel Cartwright

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by

Samuel Cartwright –

 One of the main reasons that touring performers were keen to visit London was the quality of the health care available there. This ranged from the dental care offered by Samuel Cartwright (who innovated the appointment system) to doctors such as Archibald Billing [See NPG D9290], who also acted as a financial agent for the Paganini, and émigré homepath, Samuel Hahnemann.

 By the fourth decade of the 19th century, salons had become primarily the purview of the bourgeois amateur. Many of those interested in music were doctors. In London, the two first Liebhaber of the medical profession were Dr Samuel Cartwright, and the dental surgeon, Archibald Billings, himself a performer of sorts, in the operating theatre of Barts Hospital, Smithfield. . This tradition continued through the 19th Century-all three of Johannes Brahms’s Quartets (premiered by Joseph Joachim), were dedicated to doctors.

 On 15th May 1833, Paganini played at a salon held at a Dr Billing’s house. This is amazingly instructive for what it tells us as to the relationship between chamber music and improvisation at this time. The Gazette reported:

‘…at a soiree given by Dr Billing the other evening, Paganini, Mendelssohn and Lindley performed a trio for viola, guitar and violoncello (composed by Paganini), Mendelssohn playing the guitar part on the piano forte, adding a bass in the most ingenious manner. Paganini’s performance on the tenor was of the true school.’

It seems that Paganini also met the young virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps at the Billings House, shortly after Vieuxtemps heard him in concert for the first time. He reported later:

‘When Paganini appeared before the audience, there was a long noisy applause, which seemed to amuse him for a while. When he had had enough of it, he looked at the audience almost threateningly, lifted the violin, and played a run like a rocket from the G String up to the highest position, with such a powerful tone, and so brilliantly, that it almost caused giddiness and electrified every listener. Everybody willingly submitted to his art. I understood the enormous intensity of his playing, although I did not understand his technical resources. From that day forward, Paganini was my model, both as violinist and composer.’

The Billings Salon was closely associated to that of the Horsley siblings, all writers, artists and musicians, and  whose father had been one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society in 1813.

Less than dignified for a grandee

Paganini seems to have played in practically any venue that was available to him in the course of his astonishingly busy touring schedule around the UK. In Stockton, he played in the ‘Georgian Theatre’, which opened as a theatre in 1766, having been originally built as a tithe barn. In the 1880’s this unprepossessing building became the Nebo Sweet factory. His unprecedented (for an instrumentalist) popularity, his determination to play to all audiences in every possible size venue, led better-heeled audiences to worry that they might literally ‘rub shoulders’ with the ‘unlikely classes’.

Pistrucci's bust of Samuel Cartwright being positioned