Abraham Adcock

Musician and Organ Builder

‘Greatly eminent in his profession of an organ-builder and ever was, and is esteemed as one of the best trumpets in England’

Abraham Adcock was an eighteenth century British musician and organ builder. At the height of his career from 1740 through to his death in 1773, he was a regular performer at Handel’s Foundling Hospital concerts and was considered to be the greatest exponent of the trumpet in the country. Amongst the records of The Royal Society of Musicians he is listed as a trumpet, bassoon, horn and violin player and he was held in high esteem as a serious musician by his peers and by the musicologist Charles Burney.

   His relationship with Handel probably began around 1738 when both artists were employed by the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Handel was known to have been seeking musicians of substantial ability during this period, and he may have had Adcock in mind for the Dublin Messiah of 1742; as no programme of musicians exists for the premiere, it is not known whether Adcock was involved, but he certainly acquired in-depth knowledge of the oratorio.
   Adcock was generally referred to as ‘Handel’s favourite trumpet’, but as the composer’s affections towards his trumpeters were given somewhat promiscuously, first John Shore, then Valentine Snow and finally Adcock, maybe such platitudes became commonplace utterances from the composer.
   During the early half of the eighteenth century a career as a professional musician was a novel concept, most working musicians relied on patrons and teaching to enhance their wages. Alternatively, many performers took a second trade as artisans or in the military where those positions were available. Adcock relied heavily upon the London theatre season and when that closed was engaged for the regional summer festivals, usually with the same colleagues and peers from the London circuit.

   The life of a musician was extremely social. John Grano, incarcerated in the Marshalsea in the 1720s wrote a diary detailing his life inside and beyond the prison walls. He was regularly engaged by the Livery Companies to perform and was a frequent visitor to the Swan Tavern in Exchange Alley; musicians ‘networked’ to increase generous contacts and patrons, mixing with both the middling kind and the nobility. Unfortunately, the converse of success would be the ultimate fate for many musicians dying destitute whilst living beyond their means (Charlotte Brent, Giulia Frasi both died in indigent circumstances and Adcock himself left debts), trying to keep pace with the ranks of the middle and upper class.
   This research appears for the first time in ‘rough draft’ and is re-edited when new information emerges. I have tried to draw from a number of sources, including my own research at the National Archives, London Metropolitan Archives and the British Library as well the excellent work of scholars such as Dr Christopher Kent, whose marvellous article was the foundation on which I have based my research.
An expression of thanks is also required for the team of researchers behind A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Vol. 1, who not only expanded my knowledge base, but who ably brought to my attention other Adcock notables performing in London and it’s environs (though I should add it is painfully without source citation). However, I cannot complain about the lack of citations when I do not provide my own – they will appear here soon, honestly.
   I have used Lysons’ study of the Three Choirs Meetings to build a backdrop of the Summer Festivals, but without any evidential documentation from original sources; however remiss this may seem, I hope to rectify it duly. Read it with caution…

Representations

I have, for the past few months tried to locate a portrait of Abraham Adcock however I am not aware of any besides George Bickham’s untraceable engraving.

MJ Holman, 2010

Revised April 2011, Jan 2014

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