Portrait of Richard Leveridge, Engraved by J. Saunders, After Thomas Frye (circa 1710-1762)
19 July 1670|
|Died||22 March 1758
coffee shop owner
Richard Leveridge was born in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, in 1670, and in 1695 became the leading bass singer in the company managed by Christopher Rich at Drury Lane. His first important role of which anything is known was as the magician Ismeron in Henry Purcell's opera The Indian Queen, which included the aria "Ye twice ten hundred deities". In this and other productions he worked for a few months under the supervision of the composer. After Purcell's death he continued to work with composers Daniel Purcell and Jeremiah Clarke. Leveridge also composed, and in February 1699 all three provided music for Motteux's adaptation of Fletcher's The Island Princess, in which Leveridge's performance (particularly his 'Enthusiastick Song') was widely acclaimed.
At various times between 1697 and 1728 Leveridge published volumes of his own songs, and numerous single items including his popular theatre songs appeared as separate printed sheets throughout his career. After a spell in Dublin he returned to London in 1702 for a revival of The Island Princess and a new production of Macbeth billed as "with music Vocal and Instrumental, all new Composed by Mr Leveridge". He sang the role of Hecate in this work for nearly 50 years, and the music remained popular for more than a century after his death.
Leveridge continued to sing Purcell's operas and masques in the revivals, at Drury Lane in 1703-08, of The Fairy-Queen, Timon of Athens, Amphitrion, Libertine Destroyed, Tempest, King Arthur, Indian Queen, and Œdipus. He also participated in the introduction of opera in the Italian style from 1705, appearing in Arsinoë (1705), Camilla (1706), Rosamond (1707), Thomyris (1707), and Love's Triumph (1708). Some of these productions had mixed English and Italian singers (bilingual performances), but when the fashion became entirely Italian Leveridge was replaced in the bass roles by the Italian basso Boschi. He then began a short association with Handel, in 1713 to 1714, and acted in the first performances of Il pastor fido and Teseo and played Argantes in a revival of Rinaldo. Later in his career, in 1731, he is known to have taken the role of Polypheme (who has the aria O ruddier than the cherry) in a performance of Acis and Galatea and several of Handel's Italian arias were published with English translations by Leveridge.
In 1714, he moved to work at the new theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields, managed by entrepreneur John Rich. Remaining there for most of his career, he returned to his English repertoire and a new form, the musical afterpiece. These lightweight works were often comic, and in 1716 Leveridge produced his own afterpiece, Pyramus and Thisbe. For this comic parody of Italian opera, he wrote the music, adapting the words from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and sang the role of Pyramus. He was apparently absent from the stage around 1720-24, at which time he ran a coffee shop in Tavistock Street near Covent Garden. However Rich tempted him back, and Leveridge scored a success in 1726 in Apollo and Daphne with Silenus's song Tho' envious old age seems in part to impair me, composed by Johann Ernst Galliard. From that time forth he became the leading bass at Lincoln's Inn Fields and then at Covent Garden.
His repertoire exploited his firm and powerful voice, and several of his songs became popular favourites. Although most renowned for his comic-patriotic ballad The Roast Beef of Old England, and above all for his setting of John Gay's lyric of Black Eyed Susan, others are lover's complaints or addresses, anacreontics, hunting songs (notably The sweet rosy morning peeps over the hills), fairy songs, dramatic pieces, and the like, to the number of more than 150. In addition to A New Book of Songs 1697 and A Second Book of Songs 1699, and A New Book of Songs 1711, further volumes were printed in 1727 and 1728. A number of the 1727 songs are settings of words by Abraham Cowley. Some songs written no doubt for his own performance contain roulades and word-painting, giving an impression of his vocal range and flexibility, and some have recitatives or short sections of part-writing, introducing dramatic structure into the context of concise set-pieces.
Sir John Hawkins (1776) remarked, "Though he had been a performer in the opera at the same time with Nicolino and Valentini" (possibly meaning Roberto Valentini) "he had no notion of grace or elegance in singing; it was all strength and compass..." Hawkins's opinion of Leveridge was coloured by social perceptions: "Being a man of rather coarse manners, and able to drink a great deal, he was by some thought a good companion. The humour of his songs, and indeed of his conversation, consisted in exhortations to despise riches and the means of attaining them; to drown care by drinking; to enjoy the present hour, and to set reflection and death at defiance. With such a disposition as this, Leveridge could not fail to be a welcome visitor at all clubs and assemblies, where the avowed purpose of meeting was an oblivion of care; and being ever ready to contribute to the promotion of social mirth, he made himself many friends, from whose bounty he derived all the comforts that in an extreme old age he was capable of enjoying."
In 1789 Charles Burney wrote of him: "I remember his singing Ghosts of every occupation, and several of Purcell's base songs, occasionally, in a style which forty years ago seemed antediluvian: but as he generally was the representative of Pluto, Neptune, or some ancient divinity, it corresponded perfectly with his figure and character. He was not only a celebrated singer of convivial songs, but the writer and composer of many that were in great favour with singers and hearers of a certain class, who more piously performed the rites of Comus and Bacchus, than those of Minerva and Apollo."
Leveridge enjoyed good health and reduced his performances only in the last few seasons before retiring in 1751. He died aged 89 at his lodgings in High Holborn, London, in 1758.
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- The New Grove Dictionary of Opera: "Leveridge, Richard"
- See also 'An account of Richard Leveridge (with a portrait)', The European Magazine and London Review October 1793, pp. 243-44, and November 1793, pp. 363-64.
- L.M. Middleton, Old D.N.B., 'Leveridge, Richard'.
- R. E. Moore, 'The Music to Macbeth', Musical Quarterly xlvii (1961), pp. 22–40; R. Fiske: 'The Macbeth Music', Music and Letters xlv (1964), pp. 114–25.
- L.M. Middleton, 'Leveridge, Richard', Old D.N.B.
- European Magazine and London Review October 1793, p. 243
- Presumably this was the London revival performance of the original work which just preceded Handel's reworking of the opera.
- Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson, "Leveridge, Richard (1670–1758)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 12 July 2008 See also, O. Baldwin and T. Wilson: ‘Richard Leveridge, 1670–1758’, Musical Times, cxi (1970), 592–4, 891–3, 988–90.
- O. Baldwin and T. Wilson, 'Singers and John Rich's Pantomimes at Lincoln's Inn Fields', in B. Joncus and J. Barlow (Eds), The Stage's Glory: John Rich (1692-1761) (University of Delaware 2011), pp. 156-69. See also O. Baldwin and T. Wilson, 'The Music for Durfey’s Cinthia and Endimion', Theatre Notebook xli (1987), pp. 70–74.
- A New Book of Songs with a Through Bass to Each Song Compos'd by Mr. R. Leveridge. (1697)
- A Second Book of Songs with a Through Bass to Each Song Compos'd by Mr. R. Leveridge. (1699), 34pp., available as Early English Books Online paperback edition (EEBO, Proquest, 2011).
- A New Book of Songs, Engraven, Printed and Published for R. Leveridge. (1711)
- A Collection of Songs, with the Musick, by Mr Leveridge 2 Vols, (for the Author, in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, 1727), IMSLP source here.
- A Collection of Songs.
- A facsimile edition of Leveridge's songbooks and of miscellaneous printed scores of his songs and other music, with an introduction by Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson, is available as Richard Leveridge: Complete Songs (with the music in Macbeth), Music for London Entertainment 1660-1800. Series A. Music for plays 1660-1714 ; vol. 6. (Stainer and Bell, London 1997), ISBN 0852498411: reviewed by R. Shay, Notes, Vol 59 no. 2, December 2002.
- Sir John Hawkins, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music, in Five Volumes (T. Payne and Son, London 1776), Vol. 5, Chapter 9, pp. 182-83.
- Charles Burney, A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period Volume 4 (Author, London 1789), p. 215
- Sound the Trumpets from Shore to Shore, Musica Oscura.
- Orpheus with His Lute: Music for Shakespeare, Hyperion.
- English National Songs, Saydisc.
- Free scores by Richard Leveridge at the International Music Score Library Project
- National Portrait Gallery: Portraits of Richard Leveridge