Robert Lucas de Pearsall
Pearsall was born at Clifton in Bristol on 14 March 1795 into a wealthy Quaker family. His father, Richard Pearsall (died 1813), was an army officer and amateur musician. He was privately educated.
In 1816 Pearsall's mother, Elizabeth (née Lucas), bought the Pearsall family's home at Willsbridge, Gloucestershire from her brother-in-law, Thomas Pearsall. Thomas had been ruined by the failure of the iron mill that had been the family's business since 1712. However, after the death of his mother in 1837, Pearsall sold Willsbridge House. Despite the fact that he would never live there again, he regularly chose to be known in publications as 'Pearsall of Willsbridge'. As for Willsbridge Mill, it was later converted into a flour mill, and it stands to this day.
Pearsall married Harriet Eliza Hobday in 1817. She was the daughter of a moderately successful portrait painter, William Armfield Hobday (1771-1831). The couple had four children—two boys (although the first son died in infancy) and two girls—all of them born in Bristol. In their early years of marriage, Pearsall practised as a barrister in Bristol, but in 1825, he took his family to live abroad: first to Mainz, then to Karlsruhe (1830–42). In 1842, evidently after a long period of strain in their relationship, husband and wife separated. Pearsall used the money from the sale of the house at Willsbridge to buy the Schloss Wartensee, a ruined medieval keep near Rorschach in Switzerland; immediately following his purchase of the Schloss, he spent several years restoring the keep and building a suite of apartments adjacent to it. He remained there until his death on 5 August 1856, and was buried in the vault of the castle's chapel. When the chapel was deconsecrated in 1957, his remains were removed and reinterred at the Roman Catholic church at Wilen-Wartegg.
Pearsall's move abroad brought opportunities to develop his interests as a composer. Although it seems likely he had some instruction, or at least received advice, in composition from the Austrian violinist and composer Joseph Panny, most of his early attempts would appear to have been self-taught. There is little evidence to support a claim made by Hubert Hunt that his early works included the Duetto buffo di due gatti, published under the pseudonym G Berthold and often attributed to Rossini. Though resident abroad, he kept in touch with his home city of Bristol. Pearsall's last visit to Willsbridge in 1836–37 coincided with the foundation and earliest meetings of the Bristol Madrigal Society, for which many of the madrigals and partsongs he wrote in the period 1836–1841 were composed. The success of his earliest works for the society encouraged him to write others, including 'The Hardy Norseman' and 'Sir Patrick Spens' (in ten parts), and eight-part settings of 'Great God of Love' and 'Lay a Garland'. His setting of 'In dulci jubilo' (in his original version for eight solo and five chorus parts) is still performed frequently at Christmas.
Pearsall was an amateur composer. Many of his compositions were not published until after his death, and even now, many remain in manuscript. The particle de often added to his name is largely a posthumous affectation, propagated by his daughter Philippa, possibly to encourage sales of his work or to ennoble his memory - or both.
Pearsall was the author of several articles and letters that contributed to scholarly understanding of early music in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions and helped to re-establish plainsong, Renaissance polyphony, and ancient church hymns in German and English-speaking countries. His antiquarian interests, including history, heraldry and genealogy, his rejection of industrialisation, and his search for clarity in musical composition derived from earlier models, places him firmly in the Romantic movement. He also composed poetry, some of which he used for his madrigals, such as 'Why Do the Roses' (1842). In the 1830s, he made accomplished verse translations into English of Schiller's play William Tell in 1829 and Goethe's Faust.
The composer Robert Cummings writes, "While Robert Lucas Pearsall wrote instrumental and orchestral music, he is best known for his vocal works, particularly for his madrigals and part songs, which he composed as a means of reviving Renaissance-era styles. He expanded on, rather than copied, them, adding structural features from the Classical period to forge a unique pastiche style, which yielded several masterly works, including the madrigals 'Great god of love' and 'Lay a garland'."
Edward-Rhys Harry, erstwhile director of Bristol Chamber Choir (formerly the Bristol Madrigal Society mentioned earlier), was responsible for a landmark recording of Pearsall's setting of the Requiem Mass in 2009. Using Christopher Brown's edition (typeset by OUP in 2006), which was published by the Church Music Society, he created a new revised version which sought to address many of the issues raised by the original manuscript - specifically Pearsall's lack of definition regarding verbal underlay. The recording remains available from Bristol Chamber Choir.
- Free scores by Robert Lucas de Pearsall in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Free scores by Robert Lucas de Pearsall at the International Music Score Library Project
- Three video recordings: Retrieved 18 May 2011.
- Robert Pearsall, National Portrait Gallery
- ODNB entry: Retrieved 18 May 2011.
- Warmley district website: Retrieved 18 May 2011.
- ODNB entries for Pearsall and for Hobday: Retrieved 18 May 2011.
- ODNB entry.
- Citation required.
- Citation required.
- ODNB entry.
- Allmusic website: Retrieved 18 May 2011.
- Retrieved 13 July 2011.