Matthew Dubourg (1703 – 3 July 1767) was an Irish violinist, conductor, and composer. Dubourg also enjoys the distinction of having led the orchestra at the premiere of Georg Friedrich Handel's great oratorio Messiah.
Dubourg gave his first violin concerts as a child, the very first being at Thomas Britton's house. At age 11, he furthered his studies under the celebrated Italian violinist, composer, and music theorist Francesco Geminiani.
Dubourg served as concert-master from 1728 to 1752 in Dublin. His official title was Master and Composer of State Music of Dublin. He was a major force in the musical life of Dublin together with Geminiani whom he invited to join him. In 1752, Dubourg became Master of the Royal Chapel in London, a post he occupied until his death in 1767.
Of a concert in 1742 conducted by Handel, the following anecdote was told: Dubourg played a cadenza in which he wandered far from the theme creating complex modulations of it. When he finally returned to the original theme, Handel said: "Welcome home, Mr. Dubourg."
Dubourg led the orchestra in the first performances of Handel's Messiah. Dubourg had worked with Handel as early as 1719 in London. The premiere of Messiah took place at the Music Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742.
Permission to use members of the choirs from Dublin’s cathedrals had been granted by the dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) (who is better known today as the author of Gulliver’s Travels). However, Swift then withdrew his permission, only to grant it once again as the dates for the performances drew near. Swift also had no kind words for Dubourg's orchestra. He called them "a club of fiddlers in Fishamble Street."
At the premiere of Messiah some 700 patrons arrived at the Music Hall. Since the hall was only designed to hold 600 people, men were asked to "leave their swords at home, and women to refrain from wearing hoop skirts." There were two intermissions, during which Handel played organ concertos.
Handel led the performance of Messiah from the harpsichord, and Dubourg conducted the orchestra. Despite Swift's sally against Dubourg's orchestra, Handel thought they played quite well, writing to Charles Jennens, "as for the Instruments they are really excellent, Mr. Dubourgh being at the Head of them, and the Musick sounds delightfully in this charming Room."
Dubourg wrote several works which are still frequently played, particularly in Britain. One of Dubourg's passions was to take famous Irish tunes and morph them in the late Baroque style as, for example, with his Variations of Druid Tunes. His variations of the sonatas (op. 5) of Arcangelo Corelli are also often heard.
- Royal Society of Musicians - Members database. Accessed 30 March 2013
- Entry on Dubourg in the French Wikipedia
- Notes on Handel's Messiah by Jeffrey Thomas, Music Director of the American Bach Soloists