History Hunt: Mary Anne à Beckett

I’m back on the hunt this week with another British composer with not all that much information available. In fact, my sources can’t even agree on the spelling of her name!

Mary Anne (or possibly Mary Ann) à Beckett was born Mary Ann(e) Glossop on April 29, 1815, in London, England. Her mother was a singer whose parents escaped the French Revolution and who sang under the name Madame Feron. Her father was in charge of a series of several theatres in England and Italy. Not much is known about à Beckett’s childhood, but we do know she stayed at a convent in Avignon, France for a reasonably long period, and that it was during her family’s time in Italy that she studied music.

à Beckett composed a variety of music throughout her life, including a dozen vocal pieces and three piano works, but she’s best remembered for the three operas she and her husband, Gilbert Abbott à Beckett, wrote together. Agnes Sorrel was her first, written when she was only twenty, and it was later followed by Little Red Riding Hood, and The Young Pretender. à Beckett composed the music for all three operas, while her husband wrote the libretto, or lyrics, for the first two and another writer named Mark Lemon wrote the libretto for the third. While à Beckett’s music was well liked and praised in reviews, her husband and Lemon didn’t fare so well: the libretto for Agnes Sorrel was described as “cold, dull and comfortless” and Lemon’s writing in The Young Pretender was called “as dreary a production as it is possible to imagine in any work professing to be a drama.” (Wikipedia) Yikes!

Though à Beckett was a conductor as well as a composer, it seems she was shy. She was offered the opportunity to conduct the first performance of Agnes Sorrel, but she turned it down. Later in her life, she published a collection called The Music Book, along with some of her fellow (male) British composers, and after that, as is so often the case with forgotten composers, she fades from history.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate any of à Beckett’s music in a readily available listening format. If any of my readers could lend me a hand, I’d be tremendously grateful!

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To Learn More (Sources):
A’Beckett, Mary Anne (1817 – 1863), composer on Grove Music Online
Mary Ann à Beckett at Victorian English Opera
Mary Anne à Beckett at Wikipedia

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2 thoughts on “History Hunt: Mary Anne à Beckett

  1. I’m afraid Mrs a’Bs music was pretty poorly received.It have only heard a little (on paper) and it is what would nowadays be called wallpaper music. Such attention as she recieved was social rather than musical.

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    • I’m aware that à Beckett’s music both isn’t and wasn’t considered of the highest quality. However, I feel it’s important to spotlight not only great minority and women composers, but the average, everyday ones as well. Otherwise, it sends the erroneous message that the greats were the exception to the rule of the privileged male composers we hear about constantly today, and few women and minorities composed or performed. Especially considering I’m writing this series in large part for students, it’s a message I very much do not want to send.

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