Henry Chorley

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Drawing of Chorley, 1841

Henry Fothergill Chorley (15 December 1808 – 16 February 1872) was an English literary, art and music critic, writer and editor. He was also an author of novels, drama, poetry and lyrics.

Chorley was a prolific and important music and literary critic and music gossip columnist of the mid-nineteenth century and wrote extensively about music in London and in Europe. His opera libretti and works of fiction were far less successful. He is perhaps best remembered today for his lyrics to "The Long Day Closes", a part song set by Arthur Sullivan in 1868.

Life and career[edit]

Chorley was born in Blackley Hurst, near Billinge, Lancashire, England. Chorley was the youngest of four children of Quaker parents, John Chorley (1771–1816), an iron worker and lock maker, and Jane Chorley, née Wilkinson (1779–1851). Chorley's father died, leaving his mother alone with young children. Jane Chorley moved her family to Liverpool to help take care of her half-brother, Dr Rutter, when he became ill. Chorley was educated by private tutors in Liverpool and then the school of the Royal Institution. His youth was shaped partly by spending time in the household of the wealthy and intellectual Mrs Benson Rathbone of Green Bank, and he became a close friend of her son Benson, who died in an accident in 1834.[1]

Journalism and non-fiction works[edit]

He began working in merchants' offices, hoping to become a musician, but his uncle discouraged that as an impractical ambition. However, Chorley soon took to musical and literary criticism. He began to write for the Athenaeum in 1830 and remained its music and literature critic until 1868. While there, he reviewed approximately 2,500 books[1] and wrote reviews and musical gossip columns discussing composers and performers in Britain and on the European continent. In this position, he had much influence. He had strongly conservative views and was a persistent opponent of innovation, but was a lively chronicler of London life.[2] In 1850 and 1851, Chorley edited the Ladies' Companion, which covered fashion and domestic women's issues. In the Athenaeum and elsewhere, Chorley often criticised the music of Schumann and Wagner for what he called "decadence".[1]

In addition to criticism for journals, Chorley wrote voluminously on literature and art. His non-fiction books were widely read and included Music and Manners in France and Germany (1841), which includes a detailed description of contemporary opera in Paris and Felix Mendelssohn's career in Leipzig, Germany. He expanded the German section of this book and published it 1854 as Modern German Music.[3] His masterpiece was Thirty Years' Musical Recollections (1862), which covers, year-by-year, the opera seasons of European operas in London between 1830 and 1859. In the work, he blames the autocratic manager of Her Majesty's Theatre, Benjamin Lumley, for a decline in the quality of performances there. On the other hand, he praises the efforts of Giulia Grisi, Mario and Michael Costa, together with a group of journalists (including himself), for successfully creating the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden in 1847.[1] He also wrote the well-received Memorials of Mrs. Hemans (1836), Handel Studies (1859), an annotated edition Mary Russell Mitford's letters (2 vols., 1872) and The National Music of the World (1882).

Fiction and playwriting[edit]

Chorley also wrote, with far less success, novels, stories, drama and verse, and various librettos. His works of fiction included Sketches of a Seaport Town (1834), a collection of stories, essays, and novellas related to Liverpool. The next year, he wrote Conti the Discarded. Neither of these achieved success. His plays, Old Love and New Fortune (1850) and Duchess Eleanour (1854), did not gain a following. He wrote two novels, Roccabella (1859) and A Prodigy: a Tale of Music (1866).[1] His libretti included The Amber Witch for composer William Vincent Wallace, The May Queen – A Pastoral (1858) for William Sterndale Bennett, and two for his friend Arthur Sullivan: The Sapphire Necklace and The Masque at Kenilworth.[4] He published an English version of Meyerbeer's Dinorah, and wrote the words for several well-known songs, including Gounod's "Nazareth",[5] Edward Loder's "The Brave Old Oak" and "The Three Ages", the English form of the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria", Sullivan's "The Long Day Closes", and the hymn "God, the Omnipotent!".

Funerary monument, Brompton Cemetery, London
Detail of monument

Chorley wrote the English libretto for Gounod's Faust, for its first presentation in London in 1863 (at Her Majesty's Theatre). During rehearsals, it was found that the lines were unsingable. Both Sims Reeves and Charles Santley made strenuous and persistent complaints to Messrs. Chappell's, and new translations were made secretly, since no-one dared to tell Chorley. The first he knew of it was at the first performance. Chorley, as reviewer, waited to make his comment until the final announced performance, of which he wrote that it was "seriously imperilled by a singular translation". Unfortunately for him, the final performance in question had not taken place, so the Musical World was able to compliment him on his poetic imagination.[6] Nevertheless, Chorley's translations of several songs from Faust were published and widely performed, such as "The Flower Song", "When All Was Young" and "Glory and Love".[7] A similar Chorley effort, albeit of an obscure work, fared better: his translation of Mendelssohn's Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde, which Chorley rendered as "Son and Stranger," for the work's London premiere in 1851[8] is still heard today in that work's rare revivals.[9]

Personality and last years[edit]

Chorley was considered eccentric and abrasive, but he was respected for his integrity and kindness. Chorley enthusiastically gave and attended dinner parties and was known as a big drinker. He cultivated friendships with Elizabeth Barrett and Mendelssohn, and later Charles Dickens, Arthur Sullivan and Charles Santley, among others. After the death of his brother, John Rutter Chorley (1806–1867), he inherited enough money to retire from the Athenaeum, although he continued to contribute articles for that paper and also for The Orchestra.

In spite of his efforts to promote the music of Charles Gounod in England, the composer disliked Chorley intensely. When Gounod lived in England during the early 1870s, he wrote a satirical character piece for piano that was intended to be a parody of Chorley's personality. It greatly amused Gounod's English patron, Georgina Weldon, who described Chorley as having a "thin, sour, high-pitched sopranish voice" and moving like a "stuffed red-haired monkey."[10] Gounod intended to publish the piece with a dedication to Chorley, but the latter died before this was possible. Weldon then invented a new program for the piece, which was re-titled Funeral March of a Marionette. It became popular as a concert piece,[11] and in the 1950s, its opening phrases became well known as the theme music for the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents.[12]

Chorley died at his home in London in 1872, at the age of 63, and is buried there in Brompton Cemetery.[13] He left a very considerable estate of £45,000.[1] Fellow critic Charles Lewis Gruneisen wrote in the Athenaeum that Chorley's personality had impeded appreciation of his qualities.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Bledsoe, Robert. "Chorley, Henry Fothergill (1808–1872)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 6 October 2008, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5350
  2. ^ See Preface by Robin Gordon-Powell, Archivist & Music Librarian of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, to the score of The Masque at Kenilworth, published by The Amber Ring in 2002
  3. ^ "Modern German Music – Recollections and Criticisms", The Times review, 25 April 1854, p. 8, col. B
  4. ^ "Birmingham Musical Festival", The Times review, 12 September 1864, p. 10, col. A
  5. ^ Songs with English lyrics by Chorley
  6. ^ C. Pearce, Sims Reeves – Fifty Years of Music in England (Stanley Paul, London 1924), pp. 241–42.
  7. ^ Translations of Gounod songs by Chorley
  8. ^ Aldrich, Richard. "Of Music and Musicians: Hugo Wolff, His Songs and His Admirers—Mendelssohn's 'Return of the Roamer' and Its Origin," The New York Times, 22 November 1903, accessed 23 November 2009
  9. ^ Programme notes for Concert Opera Boston performance of 15 March 2009, accessed 23 November 2009
  10. ^ Harding, pp. 179–80
  11. ^ Hale, Philip. Programme, Boston Symphony Orchestra
  12. ^ Frankel, Chris. "Jacopo Pontormo Tournament of Manners", #9, 1 July 2005
  13. ^ The Times, 21 February 1872, p. 5, col. E


  • Bledsoe, Robert Terrell, Henry Fothergill Chorley: Victorian Journalist. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998. ISBN 978-1-84014-257-0
  • Bledsoe, Robert Terrell. "Henry Fothergill Chorley and the Receptions of Verdi's Early Operas in England",[permanent dead link] Victorian Studies, Summer 85, Vol. 28 Issue 4, p. 631
  • Chorley, Henry Fothergill. (1862). Thirty Years' Musical Recollections. Hurst and Blackett (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00139-7)
  • Chorley, Henry Fothergill. (1841). Music and Manners in France and Germany. Longmans, Orme, Brown, Green and Longmans (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00203-5)
  • Chorley, Henry Fothergill. (1854). Modern German Music. Smith, Elder (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00158-8)
  • Chorley, Henry Fothergill. (1880, posthumously published). The National Music of the World. Low, Marston (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00138-0)
  • Chorley, Henry Fothergill. Autobiography, Memoir and Letters, edited by H. G. Hewlett, 2 vols. (1873).
  • Chorley, Henry Fothergill. Thirty Years' Musical Recollections (Hurst and Blackett, 1862). Available online here
  • Lehmann, R. C. Memories of half a century (1908)
  • Marchand, L. A. The Athenaeum: a mirror of Victorian culture (1941)
  • Harding, James Gounod, New York: Stein and Day (1973)
  • Sanders, V. (ed.) Martineau, Harriet: selected letters (1990)

External links[edit]

  • Lyrics and translations by Chorley on IMSLP.ORG.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Chorley, Henry Fothergill". Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 270.