I.    Biography

   II.   Surviving Works, New Editions, Recordings

   III.  Sources

 I. Biography

Maria Barthélemon, born Mary (Polly) Young, was an English singer and composer. She is one of a number of women who published sonatas and other keyboard music in the later eighteenth century in London, a city whose thriving musical culture included concerts by professionals and amateurs, music publishing, and piano manufacture. Music publishers had amateur pianists and other musicians in mind, particularly ladies and gentlemen of the aristocracy and young women and men of prosperous middle-class families. Many women helped provide the wealth of attractive and readily performable music for which the “Classic” or “common-practice” era is so well known. While these composers, as professional artists and performers, served the nobility and the middle class, they themselves were really part of neither, but lived and worked in the world of musicians, opera singers, actors, and dancers. 

Maria Barthélemon began her public life as a singer-actor in opera and other music theatre. She was born in 1749 (possibly 1748), in London, the youngest of the six female children of the Young family who were celebrated singers. Sophie Fuller, in her book The Pandora Guide to Women Composers, provides a rare extended discussion of this composer. The daughter of Charles Young, an organist and treasury clerk, Mary was brought up by her aunt Cecilia Young, who had married the composer Thomas Arne (1710–1778) in 1737. In 1755 Mary (Polly) and her sister Elizabeth and several other singers went with the Arnes to Dublin where “Miss Polly Young, a Child of Six Years of Age” made her stage debut in Arne’s opera Eliza; according to Faulkner’s Dublin Journal she “pleased and astonished the whole Company, having a sweet melodious Voice, accenting her Words with great Propriety, and Singing perfectly in Time and Tune.”She remained with her aunt in Dublin and continued to perform at the theatres and the pleasure gardens. Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson in The New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers quote a comment from 1758 that “the race of Youngs are born songsters and musicians.”

In 1759 she appeared in London in the Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden. In 1762 she sang and played the harpsichord at the Drury Lane theatre in a pastoral play with music, The Spring. In the 1764–65 season Polly Young, now fourteen or fifteen years old, sang roles in Italian operas at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, where the French violinist François-Hippolyte Barthélémon (1741–1808) became leader of the orchestra. Also there for the season was the great Italian castrato Giovanni Manzuoli; she studied singing with him. She appeared in several pasticcio operas that included arias by the Italian-trained German keyboardist and composer Johann Christian Bach, a leader in London’s fashionable musical life and the music-master to the queen, Charlotte Sophia, wife of George III. Young also appeared in English opera at Covent Garden and at the Drury Lane theatre. In April of 1766 at the King’s Theatre she stepped in at the last moment in an opera by Baldassare Galuppi and, according to the Public Advertiser, “tho’ she had but a few Hours to read over the Part, justly gain’d more universal Applause” than the other singer could raise all that season. The next month, at the end of the 1765–6 season, she sang in a new Italian opera, Pelopida, by Barthélémon—it was his début as a composer. In 1766, at the age of about 17, she married him.

In the 1766–67 season Mrs. Barthélemon continued to be a favorite of audiences. In February of 1767 she appeared in Carattaco, Bach’s fourth Italian opera for London, at the King’s Theatre. In fact in the 1760s she was apparently the only English (non-Italian) singer tolerated there.1 She and her husband also performed in the Bach-Abel concerts, including, in 1769, a benefit concert that was said to have stood out among the “regular” series. (It was customary for leading performers to take an annual benefit concert, with considerable profits, which the public saw as a reward for good service.) In these and other concerts, as at the opera house, Maria Barthélemon almost always appeared with her husband. They had one child, Cecilia Maria Barthélemon, born in early 1770 or possibly 1769.

In the early 1770s Mr. and Mrs. Barthélemon were both working at the Marylebone Gardens in London. In 1774 they gave a joint benefit concert. In 1776–77 on a celebrated tour of Germany, Italy, and France they performed for the king of Naples and for Marie-Antoinette, queen of France. Around 1776 Maria Barthélemon published Six Sonatas for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte with an Accompanyment for a Violin, a set of two-movement sonatas. Although she was not primarily a keyboard player, a set of sonatas was the customary debut publication of a European musician of the late eighteenth century seeking or affirming professional status as a composer or teacher. The volume is “most humbly dedicated to Her Majesty,” the queen, an accomplished keyboardist. The Six Sonatas, published in London by William Napier “for the authoress,” apparently had some success, for around 1780 they were printed again “for the Author” by E. Riley, apparently with the same plates, and sold, according to the title page, “at his Music Warehouse No. 8 Strand.” 

As is typical of accompanied sonatas, the keyboard part could stand alone, while the violin is primarily an accompanying part that doubles the keyboard part at the upper or lower octave, plays simple rhythmic figures, and sustains selected chord tones, sometimes in double-stops. The orginal edition is printed in score, so that the violinist presumably reads over the pianist’s shoulder. In amateur circles, women were almost always the keyboardists and men usually the string players, though a mother-daughter duo or other combination of women performers was quite possible.

The composer’s other surviving music is all vocal. Her Six English and Italian Songs, op. 2, for voice with violins and piano or string quartet, published around 1790, were doubtless part of her own performing repertoire. The volume is dedicated to the Countess of Salisbury, and the long list of subscribers includes members of the aristocracy and well-known members of the musical establishment.

In April of 1784, Mrs. Barthélemon sang a principal role in Arne’s Eliza as a benefit concert for her husband; after Act I he played the viola d’amore to accompany their daughter in a piano concerto, and after Act II mother and daughter sang a “favorite” Italian duetto. Later that year, however, in the Morning Post in November 1784, she reports refusals to employ her from the opera houses, the theatres, public and private concert series, and the pleasure gardens, and “begs to know in what manner she should act in this unfortunate situation, having not the least misconduct or indecorum to charge herself with knowingly!” Simon McVeigh, in his history of London concerts, notes occasions when news of dissension among musicians was planted in the press as good publicity. Sophie Fuller, however, believes that this report may have been accurate, perhaps because the couple was seen as arrogant. When they performed in Dublin earlier that year, another famous singer-actor, Mrs. Billington, wrote to a friend, “the Barthelemons are as much detested here as they are everywhere else.”

The Barthélemons became close friends of the highly popular composer Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) during his stay in England in the 1790s. He often visited the family at No. 8, Kennington Place, Vauxhall. Cecilia Maria Barthelemon, then in her early twenties, later recalled:

           The dear good & respected Haydn was often with us — & express’d much pleasure, 

when my beloved mother took the upper part (with me) of a Duett of Handels (in his fine

 Opera of Poro) — She had a fine high soprano voice — & had been (when very young) a

 scholar of the famous Geminiani. (Quoted in H. C. Robbins Landon, Haydn in 

England 1791–1795, 169.)

Maria Barthélemon appeared in her husband’s concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms in which Haydn also participated.2 On 28 May 1792 she sang arias of A. M. G. Sacchini and G. F. Handel, and two years later, for a concert on 26 May 1794, the program lists her performance of a “Song.”

Around 1790 she published an English song with keyboard accompaniment, The Weavers’ Prayer, and around 1794 Three Hymns and Three Anthems, op. 3, settings of psalm verses and of words by James Merrick for two solo treble voices (solos and duets) with treble unison choir, SAB choir, and organ. According to the title page they were composed “for the Asylum, and Magdalen Chapels” and dedicated “to the governors of those charities”; the list of subscribers includes Haydn and the pianist and composer Jane Guest. In 1795 in Brighton, accompanied by her husband and daughter, Maria Barthélemon sang various airs of Handel at a benefit concert for the School of Industry and the Sunday School of the New Chapel; an anthem, perhaps from the op. 3 set, was performed as well. Her last surviving work, published around 1795, was An Ode on the Late Providential Preservation of Our Most Gracious Sovereign, op. 5, with words by Baroness Nolcken set for voice and keyboard. It is possible that Maria Barthélemon wrote other works that were performed and perhaps copied and distributed privately, as was the usual method, but so far only the five published titles are known. She died in London on 20 September 1799.

II. Surviving Works, New Editions, Recordings

The works are listed in order of publication. Library locations are from Barbara Garvey Jackson, “Say Can You Deny Me”: A Guide to Surviving Music by Women from the 16th through the 18th Centuries (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994), 45–6.

Op. 1: Six sonatas for the harpsichord or piano forte with an accompanyment for a violin. London: William Napier, for the authoress, [1776]. 26 pp. GB: Lbl (2 ex.).

———. Ibid. London: E. Riley, ca. 1780. US: PHu, R, Wc.

- New edition of sonata no. 4, ed. Susan Pickett. Bryn Mawr: Hildegard.

- New edition of Sonata no. 3, with introduction by D. Hayes, in Women Composers: Music Through the Ages, edited by Sylvia Glickman and Martha Schleifer (12 vols; New York: G. K. Hall/Macmillan, 1995– ), vol. 5, pp. 54–68.

- Facsimile edition, New York: Broude Bros.

Op. 2: Six English and Italian Songs . . . opera 2da. Vauxhall [London]: author; Harrison & Co., Longman & Broderip, Thompson, Napier, Holland [ca. 1790] (sometimes dated 1786). 25 pp. F: Pc. GB: Bu, Gu, Lbl, Obharding. US: Bp.

 - “Se pietà da voi non trovo” from this collection, for voice and string quartet, is on the CD “Non tacete! Music by Women Written Before 1800” by the Ars Femina Ensemble.

The Weavers’ Prayer [song with keyboard]. London: Preston & son, [ca. 1790?]. 4 pp. GB: Lbl (2 ex.).

Op. 3: Three Hymns, and Three Anthems . . . Composed for the Asylum and Magdalen Chapels . . . op. 3. London: John Bland, for the authoress [ca. 1794] (sometimes dated 1795). 21 pp. GB: En, Lbl (2 ex., [1795]), Ob. H: Bn. US: Wc.

Op. 5: An Ode on the Late Providential Preservation of Our Most Gracious Sovereign . . . op. 5. London: Culliford, Rolf & Barrow [ca. 1795]. 7 pp. GB: Lbl, Ob.

III. Sources 

Baldwin, Olive, and Thelma Wilson. “Maria [Polly; Mary] Barthélemon [née Young].” In New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers. London: Macmillan, 1994. Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers. New York: Norton, 1995.

Caldwell, John. English Keyboard Music Before the Nineteenth Century. New York: Praeger, 1973.

Fiske, Roger. English Theatre Music in the Eighteenth Century. 2nd edn; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Fuller, Sophie. “Maria Barthelemon.” In The Pandora Guide to Women Composers, Britain and the United States 1629–Present. London: HarperCollins/Pandora, 1994.

Gribenski, Jean. “François Hippolyte Barthélémon.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, XV (supp.). Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1973: cols 514–15. 

Highfill, Philip H., Jr., Kalman A. Burnim, and Edward A. Langhans. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660–1800. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973.

Jackson, Barbara Garvey.“Say Can You Deny Me”: A Guide to Surviving Music by Women from the 16th through the 18th Centuries. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.

Johnson, Calvert. “Preface” to Cecilia Maria Barthélemon: Accompanied Keyboard Sonatas, ed. Calvert Johnson. Fayetteville: ClarNan Editions, 1993.

Landon, H. C. Robbins. Haydn in England 1791–1795. Vol. 3 of The Collected Correspondence and London Notebooks of Joseph Haydn. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.

Sands, Mollie. “Polly (Mary) Young [Mrs. Barthélemon].” In New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan, 1980: XX, 578.

Terry, Charles Sanford. John Christian Bach. 2nd edn; London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Zaslaw, Neal. “François-Hippolyte Barthélemon.” New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan, 1980: II, 194.