Michael Costa at the Haymarket: the Establishment of the Modern Role of 'The Director of Music'

Matsumoto, Naomi. 2014. Michael Costa at the Haymarket: the Establishment of the Modern Role of 'The Director of Music'. In: Roberto Illiano and Michela Niccolai, eds. Orchestral Conducting in the Nineteenth Century. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 25-60. ISBN 9782503552477 [Book Section]

No full text available
[img] Text
Matsumoto Michael Costa Chapter.pdf - Published Version
Permissions: Administrator Access Only

Download (3MB)

Abstract or Description

Michael Costa (1808-1884), who arrived in Britain from his native Italy in 1829, rapidly established his reputation as the most sought-after conductor on the London musical scene. His musicianship was not only praised highly by contemporary critics but also led him to be knighted in 1869.
This paper will focus upon his career between 1830 and 1846 at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, London (renamed as Her Majesty’s Theatre after Queen Victoria’s ascension in 1837). Before his arrival the musical direction of an opera house tended to be caught between several roles which had derived separately from the practices of the eighteenth century. For example, there was the maestro al piano (who looked after the day-to-day running of the orchestra and had control over rehearsals and some interpretative issues); the first violinist (who coordinated the playing during the actual performances); and the impresario (who had control over casting and repertory).
Using letters, newspaper reports, performers’ diaries and other documents, this paper will demonstrate how Costa was gradually able to coalesce these different roles into an official (and officially recognised) position as ‘Director of Music’. Although he began as the maestro al piano in 1830, it will be shown that he became ‘the director of the orchestra’ in 1832, and ‘the Director of the Music’ (capital letters!) in 1834, a role which (in his case at least) also included composing and conducting, as well as some responsibilities in respect of repertory. Also, surviving correspondence from contemporary composers such as Rossini and Donizetti indicates that Costa was influential in the casting, the selection of orchestral members and the chorus, and compositional decisions such as the use of insertion arias.
This paper will examine the real nature of this newly-emergent, proto-modern, role of ‘Director of Music’, especially as it effected new conducting practices. However rapid his progress was, Costa did not have an easy time establishing these new practices. He had to contend with rather undisciplined orchestral players and even more temperamental singers, and it was he who, in the eyes of the critics, had the chief responsibility towards the burgeoning taste for an individual interpretative approach to the music. Clearly Costa succeeded in these endeavours since many singers and orchestral members followed him when he transferred himself from his old establishment to the newly constructed Royal Theatre at Covent Garden in 1847.

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



June 2014Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Aug 2018 13:11

Last Modified:

09 Jun 2021 16:59



View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)