#51 Obituaries for Giulio Regondi from The Musical World

Below are two obituaries of Giulio Regondi published in The Musical World on May 18, 1872 (p.315) and May 25, 1872 (p.332) respectively. The original is actually quite readable. I just typed it out for my own reading convenience.

May 18, 1872

It is almost two years since the above well-known name was no longer met with in concert announcements, nor its amiable bearer’s gentle face seen in those places, where formerly his exquisite talent delighted every one. The great artist is no more – he died on Monday, the 6th inst., after a severe and painful illness of more than eighteen months’ duration. Giulio Regondi’s unrivalled talent will not be forgotten by those who had the good fortune to hear him play; to others. It will become manifest by many of the compositions he has left. Giulio Regondi would have been a great performer on whatever instrument he might have chosen for the expression of his thorough musical mind; his refined taste would have elevated the poorest medium for the production of musical sounds. Neither the guitar nor the concertina are concert instruments which could be considered graceful; but, in his hands, they spoke with an eloquence never to be forgotten. We only will refer to his charming concertina solo, “Les Oiseaux,” which he used to perform so often to admiring audiences. Giulio Regondi’s talent was manifested very early. He played at public concerts when he was only ten years of age. Some few years later, he was travelling with his friend, Joseph Lidel, in Germany, where they played at Darmstadt, Frankfort, Carlsruhe, and then went to Vienna, playing repeatedly at the Imperial Court, besides giving, with immense success, twelve concerts, in which the son of Mozart also assisted. Not less enthusiastic was Signor Regondi’s reception in Prague, and afterwards in Dresden. That in England he was on musical tours with many of the greatest artists, is well known. He was of the kindliest disposition, ever ready to acknowledge talent in others; and many were the occasions on which his own talent generously assisted any good and charitable object. Signor Giulio Regondi’s funeral took place last Saturday at Kensal Green Cemetery. According to his own particular wish, it was conducted in the simplest manner, in the presence of only a few intimate friends of the deceased. Three mourning coaches accompanied his remains, from his residence in Portman Place, to Kensal Green Cemetery. The mourners were: – Father White (his confessor), Mr. Binfield, Mr. Gaisford, Mr. Boleyne Reeves, Dr. D’Alquen, Herr Lidel, Herr Oberthur, Mr. G. Forbes, Mr. Theed, Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Bosen. A private brougham followed, in which were Mrs. Culpin and the Misses Lidel. A beautiful wreath of”immortelles,” white lilies and pansies, the offering of the last-named ladies, was laid on the coffin, which, at Kensal Green, was met by a few attached friends, among whom was a gentleman who came up from Brighton especially for the purpose, and a lady, the wife of one of the mourners, who, at the conclusion of the ceremony, had a white rose tree planted on the grave. Father White performed the funeral service, and the coffin bore the simple inscription: –

May 25, 1872

It has often been said that the world knows nothing of its greatest men. This is hardly true with regard to the admirable musician and artist who has just left us. The world does know something of Giulio Regondi, though by no means all it might have known. Man is the creature of circumstances; and circumstances were against him, otherwise he would have had a place among the most illustrious sons of art – a place for which he was fitted by supreme endowments. Such a man should not “join the majority,” without the tribute which is his due, the more because, owing to the despotism of events, it was not paid during his life; and we are, therefore, glad to present our readers with an article contributed by one of his personal friends, and most ardent admirers. The details that article communicates will not fail to be read with interest, especially by amateurs who were discerning enough to recognise, during his lifetime, all the merit of the man.

        Our valued contributor, Mdme. Fauche, writes: –

        On Monday, at twelve o’clock, on the 6th of May, 1872, in a small house near Hyde Park, died Giulio Regondi. He was known to the world as a wonderful musician; but that is not the only light in which he merits to be remembered. His first recollection of himself was in a grand old house at Lyons, where he resided with a man who called himself his father, and who gave instruction in the Italian language. Dr. George Young, a physician of repute in London, and brother to Charles Young, the tragedian, was travelling to Italy, but stopped at Lyons to take lessons and improve himself in speaking Italian. In the course of his study, Regondi constantly expatiated on the talents of his son.

        Dr. Young heard Giulio play the guitar, and was both charmed and astonished. He advised Regondi to take the bot to London. It was probably with this object in view that the poor bot was made to practise five hours per day; while the father left home early and only returned to dinner late. The outward door of their apartment was kept locked to prevent the bot from leaving the house, where he remained always alone, and a neighbour, residing in a room adjoining theirs, was induced to watch and report on the boy’s practice. According to that report he was placed at the father’s bedside to make up whatever time he was said to have missed during the day.

        The boy had not remembered having left the house, when a man appeared who measured him for a suit of clothes, in which he went to a public concert where he performed. On that occasion Regondi carried him arrayed in a velvet tunic, ornamented with gold, and a velvet hat and white feathers. On looking at the audience from the back of the stage, the bot was too frightened to move, and Regondi took him and his guitar in his arm and placed them on a stool in the front of the stage. As soon as the piece of music was finished the house rose to applaud and encore, upon which Giulio ran off the stage in alarm. With difficulty he was caught and made to play again.

        He said that he had been sent for more than once to play with the Duc de Bordeaux, but whether in passing through Paris to England, or in England, is not known. He also said (to the writer of this sketch) that, some years later, he became intimate with a gentleman who professed to be the son of Louis XVI (who is thought to have died, and was buried in the prison where the Royal family were confined). This intimacy led to a proposal that he should marry the pretender’s daughter, a proposal which gave him no little discomfort, until a letter from the younger lady explained that, from her father’s destitute state, she felt it her duty to accept an offer she had received, which would ensure him independence for life. On the testimony of several professional gentlemen, who knew Giulio on his arrival in London, he was not seven years old. Mr. Charles Neate was one of those gentlemen, also the late Mr. Tomkinson. His success both in public performances and private society was complete. He made two tours in Germany – one with Mdme. Dulken, the other with Mr. Lidel – in both instances with great triumph. He spent several days at the country seats of the English aristocratic families and went with Regondi to private houses for an hour’s performance, and constantly received a much higher remuneration in presents than the sum for which he was engaged (twenty pounds).

        He believed there must have been several thousand pounds in the finds when Regondi left England with his earnings. At the termination of one London season, Regondi gave Giulio a five pound note, and sent him to prepare for their “season” at Brighton, which they had regularly attended since coming to London. After waiting until his pecuniary resource was exhausted, without receiving any reply to many letters he had addressed to his father, the poor boy drooped and would have died from starvation but for the care and thoughtfulness of his hostess. He was roused by her to the necessity of learning “how to live.”

        It was many years after this event that Regondi “wrote for money, saying he was dying!” Giulio sent for him to London, where he spent the last years of his life. The first medical men in London – Ashley Cooper was one – saw him from time to time, each visit being paid two guineas, besides a daily attendance from his regular physician. We must turn back to the great musical event of his life – the invention of “the concertina” by Mr. Wheatstone. This clever man of science required an artistic mind to bring the instrument into life. Regondi being shown the ingenious masterpiece, was asked what could be done with it. He replied, “My son will bring out its powers if anyone can do so.” The lad did indeed give it life. He did indeed study it! He published a “Method” or “Guide Book,” which gave clear, concise rules for pupils which no master since has been able to improve upon. It is not too much to say that Giulio Regondi’s performance can never be equalled. All he did has died with him. No other equally great musician, with the same scientific talent would likely to devote year after year to the enormous amount of practice which he bestowed on his fingers. And when will an individual arise possessing the taste and refinement which perfected this wondrous union of means to an end? He was a fine linguist, speaking and writing French, Italian, and English with rare purity. He spent but little on his own person, but to those whose age required comforts beyond their means to obtain, or wherever he saw sickness or sadness, he poured forth his earnings with generous sympathy. It is delightful to record the affection and care with which he was watched and attended during the last twenty months of intense and constant sufferings by his professional friends. Every medical treatment and known remedy was applied during his illness. A subcutaneous injection of morphia, continued for several months twice a-day, relieved his sufferings.

        He was a rare creature, and, like all such exceptionally organized men, his experience in life partook of more grief and pain than of enjoyment and pleasure. May a higher state of existence be his portion.


These details, while of extreme interest, are of extreme sadness, but the fate of Giulio Regondi is only another illustration of the sorrow which waits upon genius. We join in the concluding aspiration of our correspondent’s letter. Canning called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old; and were we not instinctively sure of an Hereafter, it would be necessary to create one.

#50 Jules, why? – 2

(continue from Jules, Why? – 1)

Another mystery about Regondi: why did he pick up the concertina? And, if he needed a second instrument, why the concertina? It’s so unfair: Regondi ended up writing two concerti and a method book for the concertina, but not for the guitar.

(At least there are pictures of young Regondi with a guitar. I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of Regondi playing the concertina.)

Was Regondi’s adoption of the concertina a complaint to the guitar’s shortcomings? Low volume, limited repertoire, lack of works composed by “big-name composers”, inability to utilize distantly related key areas and chromatic keys (“We Hate the Guitar” by Erik Stenstadvold gave a lot more insights in how negatively the guitar was viewed in 19th century Europe in general).

In his article in Grove Music Online, Thomas Heck mentioned Regondi played an 8-string guitar, which was quite common for a lot of 19th century guitarists – Carulli, Legnani, Coste, Mertz. The 8-string guitar does extend the guitar’s range, but it doesn’t practically solve any of the issues mentioned above. Was playing the 8-string an intermediate step to picking up the Concertina? Fortunately, Regondi did not give up the guitar entirely – he would play both instruments in concerts. So, the love for guitar was still there.

I got more insights from the obituaries for Regondi published in The Musical World, as well as the radio show, Wheatstone, His Sighing Reed, and The Great Regondi—BBC Radio4 Programme. Charles Wheatstone was an English scientist who also invented instruments. And when he needed a music virtuoso to be the “ambassador” of his newly invented concertina, he asked Regondi’s foster father A. Regondi if he knew such a musician. A. Regondi happened to have a very musical son.

That might answer why little Giulio have picked up the concertina. Although I make it sound like little Regondi was being exploited by his foster father (as always), he was indeed offered an exclusive chance to try out a new instrument. Guitar was on the decline as Regondi grew up, and perhaps Regondi (or the foster father) saw the opportunity to be a pioneer and spokesman of a newly invented instrument as a possible alternative to a declining guitar career . The concertina also projects better than the guitar, and could be played in a bigger venue with a bigger audience. The louder volume of the concertina probably also explains why did Regondi compose two concerti for the concertina but none for the guitar.

Anyhow, just out of curiosity, I also looked at Regondi’s New Method for the Concertina and Rudimenti del Concertinista to see if his own writings would provide further perspectives. While Regondi did not compare the guitar to the concertina in his method books, the method book does offer a lot of interesting things about the concertina and how Regondi thought of music.

(continue to Jules, Why? – 3)

#49 Jules, why? – 1

One of the most beloved pieces in the classical guitar repertoire is the tremolo standard, Reverie, Op.19, by Giulio Regondi (1823-1872). I have mentioned him a bit in previous posts, where I talked about the first tremolo piece and Madame Sidney Pratten. With much delay, I have finally decided to collect my thoughts and write a short post about this wonderful musician.

A few commonly known information about Regondi (at least to guitarists): a child prodigy guitarist with golden hair, settled in London when he was 8, Fernando Sor’s dedicated his op. 46 Fantasia “Souvenir d’ Amitie” to Regondi when the latter was 9, picked up the concertina later in life, toured Europe with both instruments, and now being remembered as one of the best guitarists and concertinists (is this a real word?) of 19th century England.

Giulio Regondi in Ireland by Thomas Lawrence is a wonderful document that discusses Regondi’s tour with his foster father A. Regondi in Ireland from 1834 – 1835. Not only are there many previews/reviews of Regondi’s concerts and repertoire at the time (the concertina is part of his concert at this time), but it also showed a glimpse of his fine character:

“While Giulio was in Brighton preparing for the next season, his father absconded with their amassed fortune of £2,000…”

“… after waiting until his pecuniary resources were exhausted [five pounds that he had been given for his trip to Brighton] and without receiving any reply to many letters he had addressed to his father, the poor boy drooped and would have died from starvation but for the care and thoughtfulness of his hostess…

“… Giulio ironically received a letter from his foster-father, the older Regondi, saying that he was dying and needed money. The compassionate Giulio responded accordingly and brought him to London where he tended to his father’s needs for the remainder of his life.” 

One particular concert mentioned was interesting: Regondi performed on both guitar and concertina, and a Mr. Holland presented his “Achromatic Oxy-Hydrogen New Ionian Microscope”. The first google search results will show an article from the Magic Lantern Gazette, with many amazing pictures of microscopes.

Guitar Review also had a three-part article series, “Giulio Regondi – Guitarist, Concertinist or Melophonist?” by Douglas Rogers (from issue #91, 92, and 97). These articles included a lot of Regondi’s concert reviews, and a few things that strike me include:

  • a review from The Musical World (June 26, 1852) mentioned “… just before the conclusion, for a heavy thumderstorm occurred at the time, and one of the strings of the guitar broke, which was rather impropos to the talented artist.”
  • Regondi played a melophone: “invented in Paris by a watchmaker named Leclerc and could be described as a free reed hurdy-gurdy”. A picture shows a hybrid instrument of guitar and concertina… makes sense as Regondi’s weapon of choice, right? Later in the article, it refuted the possibility of Regondi playing the melophone.
  • Regondi played a “melophonic guitar”: “an improvement upon the common Spanish Guitar. This instrument certainly deserves every encomium, for effecting that which no other guitar was ever made to achieve, namely, a sustained, even tone, not only on the metallic strings, but also on the higher ones…”

The end of the third articles says “The name “Melophonic guitar” did live on, however, and underneath “(To be continued)”, but I am not aware of a follow up article…? A google search brought me to www.harpguitars.net, which included a melophonic guitar with a description:

“The brothers D.& A. Roudhloff were prolific makers in London who copied both the styles of Panormo and Lacôte with equal success. The “improved Melophonic Guitar” was a popular model offering two extra strings in the bass, a short playing string length of 599mm, and was built either with the traditional rosewood back and sides or in solid pine for the belly, back and sides. -Ian Watchorn”

The melophonic guitar made by the Roudhloff brothers in 1841 (see pictures 1 and 2) is an instrument with two extra unfretted bass strings, hence being listed on Harpguitar.net. This echoes Regondi’s entry on Grove Music Online written by Thomas Heck:

“…Here he also met the Polish guitar virtuoso Marek Sokołowski, whose seven-string instrument may have prompted him to go a step further and take up the eight-string guitar.“

Theguitarmuseum.com shows a 6-string Roudhloff guitar with an X-bracing. Was the X-bracing the improvement to the traditional guitar? When did Regondi switch to an 8-string guitar (there’s a review from the Guitar Review article saying he performed on a 6-string guitar)?

As usual, the more I dig into things, the more questions I have. Aside from what these articles have discussed, two things regarding Regondi perplexed me. One of them is shown in the portriat of Regondi above: what was that thing he wears on his pinky? Sor would anchor his pinky on the soundboard, just like Regondi did in the picture. That’ is kind of alright, as earlier in the 19th century, the right hand ring finger was not a main part of the guitar technique. From today’s perspective, that is counterintuitive, as the pinky-anchoring would restrict movement of the ring finger. Even though the guitarist might not anchor his/her little finger through a performance, wouldn’t this pinky support slip? Did other 19th century guitarists also wear a pinky support? Was Regondi born with different hands from others that gave him extra flexibility, such that he can wear a piece of “bling-bling”? To stand out from other guitarists? To show off his flexibility?   

And there’s the second question: why did Regondi pick up the concertina?

(continue to Jules, Why? – 2)