Chapter 4: Conclusion

Page 46

The purpose of this thesis has been twofold: firstly to analyse the emigration and settlement of German musicians who came to London from c1750 to c1850. It investigated the factors involved in their decision to emigrate and their migration patterns. It also explored the community of German musicians in London, and appraised their assimilation into English life. Secondly, the case study looked at the factors involved in the Griesbach brothers’ decision to emigrate, and at the communities that they formed a part of. It was possible to explore how their careers progressed and how they fared economically to a certain extent.

Various factors were found to be significant in the emigration of German musicians to London. Some were seeking religious, intellectual or political freedom, away from the confessional struggles and wars in Continental Europe.  Also, the Hanoverian Kings encouraged and patronised the arts, and London became a ‘mecca’ for German instrumentalists as opportunities abounded in different sectors of the music world.

As regards migration, the majority of musicians were found not to have travelled directly to London, but to have proceeded step by step, spending time in other centres of music before finally reaching England. (There was strong evidence of ‘chain migration’, whereby new migrants were informed by and aided in their migration by those already established here.) Some migrants only stayed for a short period, but others remained for the rest of their working lives. While a number thought it important to return to their homeland towards the end of their lives, for many the significant relationships in their lives were here, and they died on English soil. The vast majority who came were males, not very young adults, but those in their late twenties or thirties, who already were skilled musicians.

The main cause of migration was found to be economic. The high wages and availability of work meant that some musicians became rich and were able to live in affluence. There were perhaps just as many who were less successful, and who, perhaps for reasons of ill health, ended their days in poverty.

The community of Germans, of which musicians were a part, was found to have been built on the settlement of Germans already established in London. A number of aspects of community life were examined. Most German males married Englishwomen, but they married later than the average, though this may have been in keeping with other professional males of the time. The German language was commonly used within the community, but many became fluent in English. German musicians on the whole did not choose religious or institutional segregation, but became integrated into English life. A considerable number of German musicians

back to top
Page 47

were found to achieve a high status in England, and to have had a significant role to play in the development of English musicians.  There were indications of the musicians being part of the wider German community in London, and that this had negative implications as well as positive ones. Lastly, they were part of the occupational community of musicians, and as such became bound up with other musicians, both native and migrants from other European countries, and significant affective relationships were formed.

The five Griesbach brothers’ eagerness to come to London when the opportunity presented itself, was in no small part due to the already established patterns of temporary and more permanent migration in their extended family. The brothers became part of the sub-community of the Queen’s Private Band, and of the Germans in court, and were intricately bound up with them.

As a family the Griesbachs appear to have  been intimately involved in one another’s lives until the end, as surviving wills show. They were also involved with the lives of members of their extended family, the Herschels, to some extent. Caroline, however, perceived them to have ‘marred their prospects … by marrying into families with which [the Herschels] had no desire to be connected’,  and to be ‘spendthrifts’, and was relieved that ‘the name of Herschel’ could ‘not be sullied by any of them’.[1] Four of the brothers married English wives, which indicates that they assimilated into English life to a certain extent. Some were more successful than others: George managed to survive economically, but probably only because in later years his family were helped financially by Lady Harcourt. Charles fell into debt, and in later life demonstrated a restlessness which may have been because he came to England when he was older than his brothers had been, and therefore did not adjust as easily as his brothers had.[2] Henry appears to have been very successful professionally, and with prudence was comfortably off in later life. Frederick, in contrast, though outstanding as a musician, ended his days in debt and distress. William was successful too, and, helped by the fact that he was single, left a considerable estate. (Interestingly, it was only William who left any legacy to a relative in Germany.) The brothers’ experience typified the broad range of experience of their fellow countrymen.

All of the brothers died on English soil, though it is clear from George’s memoirs that at one stage he would have liked to have returned to Hanover, had a job arisen. The fact that there were negative reports of life back at home cannot have helped. Their uncle, Dietrich, had come to England in 1808, in his late fifties,

[1] London, British Library, ‘Correspondence of Caroline Herschel’: Egerton 3761,f.26; 3762,f.19,39
[2] Grauman, ‘Cultural Assimilation’,p.77
back to top
Page 48

‘ruined in health, spirit and fortune’, with very distressing accounts of life in Hanover, and had remained for four years in order to earn money to maintain his family.[3] Later in the 1820s and ’30s Caroline sent  back news of life in ‘Horrible Hanover’, as she called it, where life had changed considerably while she had lived in England.[4] This was no incentive for the brothers to entertain a return to their homeland.

There were five first generation, nine second generation, and at least four third generation musicians in the family. The record of their careers and achievements is impressive, and as a family may have been unequalled. They were part of the wider community of German migrant musicians who made a tremendous contribution to the music scene in England, and our country would have been the poorer without them.

Burney looked on Germany as a great musical nation, and in 1773 adorned the title-page of his ‘Present State of Music in Germany’ with this quotation:

‘Auf Virtuosen sey stolz, Germanien, die du gezeiget   [sic];

In Frankreich und Welschland sind grössere nicht’ 

He translates this as ‘Be proud, Germany, of the Musicians to which thou hast given birth; in France and Italy there are none greater.’ [5]

Nevertheless, many questions remain unanswered; nor will there ever be a complete and definitive account of the migration of German musicians to London. The rich sources which have been investigated during the course of this study have revealed some interesting findings, but as Holmes has suggested: ‘A pioneer can effect some improvement, but the ground that needs to be covered is enormous, and the best hope is that later travellers, cultivating their own terrain, will add, by degrees, to the richness of the landscape.’[6] It is hoped that this research project might have done just that.

[3] Hoskin, Herschel Partnership,p.119-120. The Griesbachs may have been instrumental in Dietrich’s finding work at the Concerts of Ancient Music - see Figure 7: 1809-1812.
[4] London, British Library, ‘Correspondence of Caroline Herschel’ : Egerton 3762 ,f.126,97
[5] Hughes, ‘Dr Burney’s Championship of Haydn’,p.91
[6] Holmes, John Bull’s Island,p.13
back to top