The Burneys


Edward Francis Burney was the cousin of the novelist Fanny Burney (Madame d’Arblay) and the nephew of the eminent musicologist Dr. Charles Burney. Edward was best known as a prolific illustrator and designer; some of his designs for frontispieces are seen here, along with one of a series of highly complex and humorous watercolors he made around 1820, which deal with aspects of music and dance in early nineteenth-century London. He was an accomplished amateur violinist, although his self-portrait, also displayed here, seems to mock his own abilities as much as he mocked those of other amateurs.

Edward’s uncle, Charles Burney, had been apprenticed during the 1740s to the composer Thomas Augustus Arne, Handel’s foremost competitor. He earned his living primarily as an organist, but in the 1770s made his literary mark by publishing The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771) and then his magnum opus, a four-volume work titled A General History of Music (1776 - 89). In the same year that the first volume of Burney’s history was published, there also appeared the five-volume General History of the Science and Practice of Music, by Sir John Hawkins, a lawyer and antiquarian scholar. While Burney, writing in an urbane and elegant manner, devoted substantial space in his history to a discussion of contemporary music, particularly opera, Hawkins was a devotee of the music of earlier centuries. The rivalry between the proponents of modern taste and traditional music would be plumbed for its comic potential by Edward Francis Burney in his Amateurs of Tye-Wig Music.