On my continuing my trek down the less trodden paths of music history, I have three new discoveries to report.
Salomon Bendler (1683-1724), a German bass supposedly had a low E flat (just below the bass staff) that at one time drowned out an orchestra of 50 playing at fortissimo and at another time drowned out the full organ at St. Paul’s, London. On one occasion, his singing to his own organ accompaniment reportedly caused a pregnant woman to give birth. He must have been great at parties. “Salomon, do that thing where you make the ladies go into labor.”
Most of us that are involved with chiral music have at one time or another sung a piece by American composer William Billings (1746-1800). He was not a great composer, but he was the first American composer of significance. I was surprised to discover that he was also walking around Boston looking like a human gargoyle. A contemporary described him as, “a singular man, of moderate size short of one leg, with one eye, without an address, and with an uncommon negligence of person.” I suppose that since I have been mistaken for a homeless person, I shouldn’t criticize.
Anna Bishop (1810-1884), an English soprano, lived a life that would make a good opera plot. After establishing her reputation as a performer, she left her husband and three children, eloped to Germany with a harpist that was wanted for forgery and bigamy. She spent the rest of her life traveling the world and concertizing – always carefully avoiding France where the authorities were seeking her new husband. On one of her yours, she was sailing from California across the Pacific when the boat was shipwrecked on a coral reef. She and her husband survived and managed to get into a smaller lifeboat type vessel. They supposedly drifted for a month on the open sea until they washed ashore on Guam at which point she continues her tour singing in Hong Kong, Singapore, and India.