Hogarth and Music


Throughout his career, William Hogarth satirized artifice and pretension while endorsing natural forms and social advancement brought about through honest labor. Musical themes appear frequently in his engravings as a means of criticizing the patronage of foreign art, music, and literature, which was deemed artificial and pretentious. Music also provided Hogarth the occasional opportunity to champion native forms, as in his painting of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera.

First produced by John Rich at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields theater in January 1728, The Beggar’s Opera was an unprecedented success, running for sixty-two performances in its first season and inspiring the pun that it had made Rich gay, and Gay rich. The music, arranged by Dr. John Christopher Pepusch, incorporated English ballads and popular tunes, helping to revitalize an indigenous music tradition that also embraced Handel’s English-language oratorios and the music of the pleasure gardens. With its native music and its setting in London’s criminal underworld, The Beggar’s Opera challenged the vogue for Italian opera, which William Hogarth had satirized in his earliest engravings.