Hester Needler

We've reached the halfway point in our series RISM A-Z. We'll start the second half of the series with the letter N, which today stands for Hester Needler.

Not much is known about Needler, but she is the composer of a collection of 6 anthems in the RISM online catalog and appears as a previous owner for a further 10 manuscripts. These 10 manuscripts are copies made by her husband, Henry Needler (1685-1760), who was known as an early member and leader of the ensemble Academy of Ancient Music in London. Sometime after Henry's death, Hester gave the manuscripts to James Mathias (another colleague from the Academy), and it is Mathias's bookplate that is found in these items. Mathias bequeathed these manuscripts to the British Museum (today the British Library) in 1782.

Hester Needler does not receive her own entry in any of the standard reference works, though her husband frequently does, presumably given his importance in London musical concert life. Curiously, a source by Hester is listed in Robert Eitner's Biographisch-Bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon (1902)—but it is hidden within the entry for her husband. A collection of six anthems composed by Hester Needler and dated 1751 is listed as the first source in Henry's entry (GB-Lbl Add. 5053; RISM ID no. 806940122). In a roundabout way, Hester is thus included in Eitner's monumental source catalog.

The manuscript Add. 5053 at the British Library contains autograph anthems that are, or at least were at the time of the Monte Edgel Atkinson's dissertation "The orchestral anthem in England, 1700-1775" (1991), the only known woman who composed orchestral anthems. Atkinson characterizes the first three of Needler's anthems in this small collection as "extended hymn settings" and the last three are verse anthems with multiple movements. Given Needler's compositions and her husband's association with the Academy of Ancient Music, Atkinson even speculates whether these anthems might have been performed during an Academy concert. The anthems are scored for solo voices, chorus, and strings with organ.

The manuscripts Needler owned were copied by her husband and include music found in manuscripts at the Christ Church and Bodleian libraries in Oxford as well as music presumably copied from printed editions. The music contained in these copies would have been appropriate repertoire for the Academy of Ancient Music: music by Palestrina, Victoria, and other representatives of polyphonic vocal music from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (mainly Add. 5036-5043). The 10 volumes left to Hester, along with 17 other volumes Henry copied, are all in the British Library and paint a picture of the Academy's activities at the time.


Image
: Drawing of Montagu House, the old British Museum, by Michael Angelo Rooker (1746 - 1801), 1778. From the British Museum Collection Online, Museum number 1868,0328.334 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Category: RISM A-Z



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All news entries are by the RISM Central Office staff unless otherwise noted. Reuse of RISM's own texts is permitted under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License—though please note that image credits and permissions are usually separate and noted at the bottom of each post. If authorship is attributed to someone else (indicated at the start of an entry and/or by a name following the word "Contact"), please contact the individual authors.