Richard Randall was an engaging companion. There can be no doubt about it; his diaries tell us so. Almost every day he is receiving hospitality from friends and relations alike. He does not appear to reciprocate this hospitality, so what does he offer this wide circle of people ready to give him breakfast, tea, supper or a bed for the night? His diaries tell us this too. He moves through different social strata as a professional musician and he must have had many stories to tell. Not that that comes out in his diary. There are no confessions, no scandal, not even many opinions. But there are very many statements of fact.
The diaries which cover the period 1762-1785 were given to Dulwich College in 1915. They have been rarely looked at and never researched. The reason they were given was that Richard Randall had been Organist and 4th Fellow at the College for most of this period. They are not, at first glance, as interesting as those of Pepys, Evelyn or Gilbert White but they do provide a window into the busy life of an energetic eighteenth century musician.
Randall was already ascending the ladder of professional success when he received news on 18th December 1762 of the death of Samuel Hawkes, the elderly organist at Dulwich College who had been in that post for 31 years. It must have been an inconvenient time of year to be without an organist but the musical bush telegraph clearly was in overdrive because Richard Randall obliged the College and played in the College Chapel that Boxing Day. He may well have let slip that he was playing at Westminster Abbey the following day.
The world of first class organists was a small but close one in mid-18th century London, just as it is today. They all knew each other and many began their musical careers as choirboys in the choir of the Chapel Royal under the mastership of the celebrated Bernard Gates. Gates was credited with restoring the fortunes of George Frederick Handel when, in 1732 he revived Handel’s opera Esther at a Crown & Anchor concert which provoked Handel to take up seriously the composition of English (as opposed to Italian) oratorio. Handel also conducted the Chapel Royal choir when Richard Randall was a member and late in his life Randall officiated at a gathering of his old musical friends who, as choirboys, all sang under Handel’s baton. Randall would become a celebrated tenor and was a favoured soloist of George II. Nor did Randall forget his former mentor in later life. On more than one occasion he visited Gates in his retirement at the manor of Aston in Oxfordshire, making a stop in September 1769 after he had performed at David Garrick’s famous, but disastrous Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, possibly to dry out after the drenching he and the audience received from the continual rain which ruined the last two days of the event.
Richard Randall must have made a good impression in Dulwich that Christmas in 1762 because he came again from his mother’s house in Stockwell, where he lived, to play for Sunday service at the Chapel on the 9th January and the following day was successfully elected as Organist and 4th Fellow whose duties also included teaching the boys to sing and assist the Warden on administrative matters when required, at a salary of £18.6.8 per quarter, a share of the annual dividend and board and lodging. He returned to Dulwich with his father a few days later, perhaps to show off his rooms and the Chapel and especially the new organ, built by George England only two years earlier which still survives today and was restored in 2009 at a cost of £_million. On Saturday 15th January 1763 there was a celebration dinner at the College and Richard took the oath of new office the following day.
There is no doubt that the College took its music very seriously. In 1740 it had come to an arrangement with Abraham Jordan, a local resident who lived in a house where Brightlands, the DCPS boarding house at the end of Gallery Road stands today. Jordan, who was a noted organ maker himself (he is credited with the invention of the swell box) regularly maintained the existing organ in the Chapel. Later, it may have been Jordan, now probably retired, who suggested the name of George England to the College when the need for a new organ became urgent.
The College statutes required the four Fellows (a preacher, schoolmaster, assistant schoolmaster and organist) to be unmarried and not to undertake any additional employment elsewhere. This last requirement was no longer strictly observed, just as well for Richard Randall who was already an extremely busy musician and singer. In the year before his appointment he was regularly playing the organ at the Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, singing at Covent Garden, Drury Lane and at a number of private and fund-raising concerts.
At the theatres he was either in the chorus, or was providing interval or after show solo performances, although in that year he stood in for the principal tenor in Handel’s Acis and Galatea and a fortnight later sang the principal part in the Royal Command performance of Handel’s oratorio Samson. In the following weeks of the opera season he sang in Judas Maccabeus, Jeptha, Semele, Alexander’s Feast and Messiah. In March a revival of Israel in Egypt had required extra rehearsal time at Covent Garden. When he was singing a principal part Richard was paid half a guinea a performance but when he was in the chorus or singing an interval song or afterpiece his payment was only five shillings.
Actors and singers engaged on a contract were given benefit nights to augment their salaries but pay was low in contrast to the stars of Italian opera who commanded £1200-£1500 a season but who in the process bankrupted theatre owners like Vanburgh and drove promoters like Handel abroad. Competition from operas in English followed the success of John Gay’s Beggars Opera and audience tastes were increasingly attracted to a form of pantomime developed by John Rich at Covent Garden which was presented as an afterpiece to a play. Richard Randall appeared in numerous pieces of pantomime at both Covent Garden and at Drury Lane. Private singing recitals brought in a half guinea a performance and he was in demand from St Margaret’s, Westminster and Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital. On top of all this he gave private music lessons, invariably to young ladies.
An invitation to breakfast by Lord Delawarr must have convinced the 26 year-old that he was on an upward trajectory and he splashed out £6.16.0 on a new suit of clothes and half a guinea on a flowered waistcoat. A new wig, price £1.11.0, completed his new wardrobe. For fun he went to see cricket played at Westminster School where the Town boys beat the King’s Scholars. Although a keen cricketer himself, the game he played most frequently was Trap Ball. Trap Ball is virtually unknown today but was a game which could be played in a small garden with a few players. In between all this he was managing to compose his own music and had 150 copies of his works printed at his own expense. Several years later, he would get his uncle, who was a music publisher with premises in the Strand, to print some further compositions for him.
When he arrived at Dulwich that January 1763, he was befriended by the Rev William Swann who was the preacher and who had been a poor scholar at the College from 1739-48. Swann was a College success story; he had gone to Christchurch, Oxford, taking Holy Orders after gaining his BA. He was elected Schoolmaster at his alma mater in 1752 and in 1766 was promoted to 1st Fellow or Preacher. Swann, who was a few years older than Randall, took the new arrival for a walk to Dulwich Wells, later introducing him to The Green Man tavern which also stood at the extremity of Dulwich Common. Swann would be a close friend of Richard Randall during his many years at Dulwich. Towards the end of January 1763 Richard moved his goods from Stockwell to Dulwich and refreshed himself at the Greyhound which was to be his regularly used ‘local’ and where he on occasion enjoyed boiled goose.
His busy musical career soon collided with his duties at Dulwich and two months after his appointment he was fined by the Master, Dr Joseph Allen, 5/- for being absent without leave. Dr Allen, who was born in Wexford around 1712, had, in 1740, accompanied Anson’s harrowing four year-long voyage around the World as ship’s surgeon and would become the last survivor of that epic journey. He was appointed Warden at Dulwich in 1745 and Master the following year following the death of James Allen. Late in life he retired to marry Elizabeth Plaw, the daughter of the village shoemaker. He was a kindly man and an eminent physician. Clearly he thought that the new young organist’s liberty needed curbing.
Actually Richard Randall was over his head with commitments. An odd pantomime called Harlequin Cherokee had been a big hit. It was inspired by the visit of several Cherokee Indian chiefs to London to petition the King over a land issue. Their appearance at Vauxhall Garden in July 1762 had attracted thousands of the curious, including Randall, to see them, some to see them get drunk. David Garrick, like his rival theatre managers, was always on the lookout for novelty and a pantomime invoking this unusual event was produced which became an instant success. There had been 27 performances at Drury Lane, including a Royal Command, almost nightly in November in which Richard Randall had a part. Its success was hardly fleeting, it was revived by Garrick several times the following February, once as an afterpiece to Romeo and Juliet and Richard, with a part in all of them, as well as singing five different Handel oratorios at other venues, was already falling down in his new Dulwich appointment.
Some kind of understanding must have been reached between the Master and his organist because Richard Randall’s profession career did not miss a beat. Two days after this admonishment Richard performed in Messiah but the following week he notes that he “heard the boys sing”. Thereafter there are plenty of references to his teaching duties and later that year he would give the boys a chance to learn to play the organ. He must have done a fair amount of duty-swopping with his colleagues at Dulwich and there are a number of references of him standing in for them in their teaching duties almost certainly as reciprocations.
(In the next issue we hear how Richard Randall becomes a popular guest at Dulwich houses and vows to “Live as Happy this year as I did the Last and if possible Go to Bath!)