IN: News & Features

Master and Commander: Music from the Novels


Canzonare’s unusual thematic program, En Barque, will evoke Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring tales through performances of some of the music described therein. Beginning with Master and Commander, made famous to moviegoers by Peter Weir’s eponymous film with Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, O’Brian’s tales impart perhaps as much social history as nautical adventure. Joy Grimes baroque violin soprano Sarah Bellott, flutist Kateri Chambers, and keyboard player Dylan Sauerwald will appear on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 in the 1760 Loring-Greenough House Parlor Concerts series with works of Locatelli, Bach and Corelli. Afternoon tea will follow the performances. Tickets, available at the door (12 South Street, Jamaica Plain), are $15 ($10 seniors, students and JPTC members). Space is limited and reservations are suggested—call 617-524-3158 or email

One of the organizers, flutist Kateri Chambers responded most interestingly to BMInt’s questions:

BMInt: It’s hard to be an enthusiast of the Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring tales without thinking of Locatelli and Spotted Dick. Please tell us how you put together En Barque and how it will evoke Stephen Maturin, the physician/spy and Jack Aubrey the Master and Commander.

Kateri Chambers: Canzonare is not looking to recreate the music-making scenes that are specifically illustrative of Aubrey and Maturin’s relationship; we would gladly mount such a performance with with only violin, cello, a spread of Spotted Dick, toasted cheese, and much Madeira aboard a ship. In the absence of such a performance space, however, we have opted to provide a concert of music with the other musical sounds noted in the 21-book series as inspiration, but deliberately did not draw a specific book tie in either the title or the choice of repertoire.

While the novels take place during the Napoleonic years 1800-1817, they reference instrumental music from as far back as 1700 as well as the contemporary performances of instrumental music from the 1730s and London opera performances including the factual first performance of Figaro in London (June 1812). We take the sentiment of using what we’ve got as exemplified by Aubrey and Maturin in their picking through J.S. Bach by “hooting” what they cannot play, drunkenly singing the then-pop tunes of Mozart (followed by Three Blind Mice), and certainly playing their favorite Corelli without continuo. We have taken our best shot at Patrick O’Brian’s opening scene scoring, recreating the household concerts by professionals and accomplished ladies (most often flute, keyboard, voice, and harp) adapting the popular music of the Opera to the available performance spaces and personnel such as would have followed the 1809 vocal score that was the first English publication of Figaro, and so forth. Our concert is a more polished version—closer to the opening scene than their own musical conversations punctuated by a lee-lurch or two.

“‘I was telling you, sir,’ he said, leaning confidentially over towards Jack, ‘I was telling you some ten or twenty courses back, that I had heard a wonderful Figaro at the Opera. You must run up if you possibly can; there is a new woman, La Colonna, who sings Susanna with a grace and a purity I have never heard in my life – a revelation. She drops true on the middle of her note, and it swells, swells… Ottoboni is the Contessa, and their duet would bring tears to your eyes. I forget the words, but you know it, of course.’ He hummed, his bass making the glasses tremble. Jack beat the time with his spoon and struck in with ‘Sotto i pini… They sang it through, then through again; the others gazed at them with a mild, bemused, contemplative satisfaction; at this stage it seemed natural that their captain should personate a Spanish lady’s maid, and even, somewhat later, three blind mice.” (Post Captain)

Regarding the composer you recalled in your first question, O’Brian could have intended the non-existent Locatelli C Major Quartet of infamy to be one of several pieces from Op. 1, 4, 7, or 9, but none of the pieces has correct number and order of movements; there is certainly not a single Menuet to be found in this texture.

Is the Loring-Greenough House true to the period depicted in the novels? Please describe the space and its Parlor Concerts.

The Loring-Greenough House was originally built by British naval Commodore Loring; while Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin spend relatively little time in houses in the series, this 18th century Georgian mansion is what we imagine they inhabited in such scenes as the opening Govenor’s House at Port Mahón, their leased country house in Post Captain: “’Are there any rooms?’ ‘Why, of course there are. It couldn’t be called a neat gentleman’s residence, without there were rooms. What a fellow you are, Stephen. Ten bedrooms. By God, there’s a lot to be said for a house, not too far from the sea, in that sort of country’” and such houses they visited while on land: “Lady Keith was also a political hostess and the friend of a great many interesting people: Jack left Stephen in conversation with a gentleman who had discovered the adamantine boron and moved through the great drawing-room, through the less crowded gallery and to a little domed room with a buffet in it: Constantia wine, little pies, rout-cakes, more Constantia…” (Post Captain)

As for the particular significance of it being the home of a Commodore, Aubrey’s rise in the ranks includes his appointment as Commodore (The Commodore, The Yellow Admiral, and The Hundred Days; 1813-1815).

The Loring-Greenough House was constructed in 1760 by Commodore Loring and owned by the Greenough family from 1783 until 1924… [It is an] 18th century Georgian mansion and heritage landscape… situated on two acres of manicured lawns and gardens… The interior of the House is furnished as a gentleman’s country home, each room decorated in a different period of the House’s history

Loring-Greenough Parlor Concerts annually offer 13 concerts as reconstructions of 19th– century-style entertainments. They are all followed receptions in the formal dining room According to Director, Katharine Cipolla “The drawing room in which the concert will be heard has a Georgian fireplace set unto original woodwork… The current furnishings in the house were collected since 1929 by the current owners, the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club, Inc., originally a ladies club, now a community preservation non-profit. There is one room upstairs with 18th century furniture and decor, but it is too delicate for general use. The decor and furnishings downstairs are a mix of antique and utilitarian furniture in a decor that could best be considered ‘colonial revival’ with some details that were influenced by consultants from Historic New England. Detailed  history of the house is available here.

“Modern preservation philosophy does not encourage attempting to recreate a particular era in a historic building, rather to celebrate the evolution of the space and interpret what has happened there. So, Commodore Loring might recognize the rooms in his house, but not their current appearance.”

A companion article on Locatelli by Bmint’s Andrew Sammut is here.

Paul Bettany and Russell Crowe in Peter Weir’s film “Master and Commander”


3 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Sounds like it will be a great treat! Well written and most entertaining review.

    Comment by J. S. Dinsmore — December 1, 2012 at 10:00 am

  2. It would be helpful to identify the venue for ths concert by more than its name and provenance. There’s a hint that it might be in Jamaica Plain, but no street address. The conceit of the concert sounds interesting, and I might go if I weren’t already committed on Sunday afternoon. A quick Google search puts the location at 12 South Street, Jamaica Plain.

    I suspect that Peter Greenough, husband of Beverly Sills, was part of the same family that owned this house—an odd musical coincidence.

    Comment by Stephen H. Owades — December 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm

  3. there’s a wonderful CD available called “Musical Evenings with the Captain” that includes the Locatelli and some other nice pieces.

    Comment by STW — December 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.