(b Cologne, Germany, 30 Sept 1875; dNew York, 14 Jan 1942). American composer, lyricist and publisher. His parents, Max and Theodora Breitenbach, were Americans. He ran away from home at the age of 13, enlisting in the German navy and in the French Foreign Legion before coming to the USA in 1900. Fisher began composing in 1904; he also wrote the words for his first big success, If the Man in the Moon were a Coon (1905). In 1907 he started his own publishing business, in which the lyricist Joseph McCarthy was briefly a partner; this was remarkably successful. Fisher composed music for silent films and in the 1920s moved to Hollywood, where he wrote songs for films such as Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Their Own Desire (1930). He returned to New York in the early 1930s.
Early in his career Fisher concentrated on ethnic songs; later he made something of a speciality out of geographical topics, as in Norway (1915), Siam (1915) and Chicago (1922). His music was unusually enduring, and in the 1940s several of his songs were widely popular, including Peg o’ my Heart (1913), Oui, Oui, Marie (1918) and Whispering Grass (1940). The last of these was written with his daughter Doris Fisher Wald, and she and Fisher’s two sons, Marvin and Daniel, pursued successful musical careers. Fisher had an excitable character, eccentric mannerisms and a contentious disposition: his most successful song, Dardanella (1919, to which he supplied only the words), was entangled in a lengthy series of lawsuits which persisted until the 1960s. Although some of his ballads and love songs were popular, his greatest strength was in comedy; he was especially gifted at devising quirky rhythms to highlight novel texts.
all 1v. pf; most published in New York; lyrics by Fisher unless otherwise stated
If the Man in the Moon were a Coon (1905); My Brudda Sylves’ (J. Lasky), (1908); Under the Matzos Tree (1908); Any little girl that’s a nice little girl is the right little girl for me (T.J. Gray), (1910); Come, Josephine, in my flying machine (A. Bryan), (1910); Peg o’ my Heart (Bryan), (1913); There’s a little spark of love still burning (J. McCarthy), (1914); Who paid the rent for Mrs Rip Van Winkle when Rip Van Winkle went away? (Bryan), (1914); Norway (McCarthy), (1915); Siam (H. Johnson), (1915); There’s a broken heart for every light on Broadway (Johnson), (1915); Ireland must be heaven for my mother came from there (Johnson and McCarthy), (1916)
They go wild, simply wild, over me (McCarthy) (1917); Oui, Oui, Marie (Bryan and McCarthy), (1918); Dardanella (1919) [music: F. Bernard and J.S. Black]; Daddy, you’ve been a mother to me (1920); Chicago (1922); Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong (B. Rose and W. Raskin), (1927); Blue is the night (1930); Your feet’s too big (A. Benson), (1936); Whispering Grass (1940) [music: D. Fisher]
(b Dunstable or London, 1744; d Ireland, 1806). English violinist and composer. Under the patronage of Lord Tyrawley he studied violin with Thomas Pinto and made his solo début at the King's Theatre on 25 January 1765, at a benefit concert for the Musicians' Fund. He appeared there again as a soloist on 23 January 1767. Opportunities for composition led Fisher to the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, where his contributions to the score of Love in the City were heard on 21 February 1767. He soon became attached to this theatre, where he served as orchestra leader from about 1768 to 1778. During the summer months, Fisher led the Vauxhall orchestra (1769 according to the journals of John Marsh), and composed instrumental and vocal works for presentation there. Fisher also took part in the musical activities of the Masonic order. He was commissioned to compose an anthem and an ode for the dedication of the New Freemasons' Hall (London) in 1776. Unfortunately, a dispute over the publication rights became so acrimonious that he was subsequently expelled from the order.
In 1772 Fisher married Elizabeth Powell (née Branston), widow of William Powell, a former theatre manager. As a result Fisher gained control of a 16th share of the Covent Garden Theatre property. In addition to composing for stage productions he took part in the theatre's administration. Of his contributions to Covent Garden productions those which enjoyed the greatest success were the pantomime Harlequin Jubilee (27 January 1770), the incidental music to the play Zobeide (11 December 1771), the all-sung masques The Druids (19 November 1774) and The Syrens (26 February 1776), and his overture for Kane O'Hara's burlesque, The Golden Pippin (6 February 1773). Fisher's confident and effective writing elicited the admiration of critics. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (28 February 1776) praised the music in The Syrens, stating that ‘natural genius, and scientific knowledge, are happily blended in the music, and several of the airs would not disgrace the first Italian masters’. An experiment in light accompaniment which he tried in the 1776 Covent Garden revival of The Beggar's Opera was strongly criticized, however, in the Morning Post (2 October 1776). The years between 1769 and 1778 must have been busy for Fisher, who composed music for numerous stage productions, of which only a few were collaborative efforts.
In July 1777 Fisher graduated BMus and DMus from Magdalen College, Oxford. His graduating exercise was the oratorio Providence. This was performed at Oxford on 2 July with Fisher himself leading the orchestra, with subsequent performances in London for the benefit of the Middlesex Hospital (Freemasons' Hall, 28 May 1778), and again in 1780. After 1778 Fisher concentrated upon his performing career and, following the death of his wife on 7 May 1780, he undertook concert tours in France, Germany (attracting the attention of C.G. Neefe) and Russia. Kelly records his arrival in Vienna from Russia (1783) and his unusual courtship of the celebrated English singer, Nancy Storace. A marriage licence was issued on 21 March 1784, and the wedding itself took place shortly thereafter in the presence of Lord Mount Edgcumbe and other dignitaries. Temperamentally unsuited in the extreme, this marriage was ill-considered even in an age when such marriages were undertaken as financial arrangements or to boost career potential. When, by the autumn of 1784, rumours that Fisher beat his wife reached the emperor, it was suggested that the composer leave Austria. No official expulsion order exists; however, Fisher left Vienna and resumed his concert activities. Subsequent details of his career are few, although Lady Morgan records that Fisher ‘was tempted over to Dublin immediately on his return from his tour in France, Italy and Germany, and a long visit to that royal fanatico per la musica, Frederic the Great’. Further meetings between Fisher and Nancy Storace (who remained legally married) were sufficiently acrimonious to attract the attention of the press (The World, 22 March 1787). Thereafter, Fisher settled in Dublin, where he supported himself by teaching and performing occasional concerts at the Rotunda. The Strachie papers record that he was dependent upon the generosity of Sir Owen Wynn during his final years. It is possible that his affected personality, so vividly recorded by Lady Morgan (Owen Wynn's daughter), undermined his popular support in the late years of his life. The Gentleman's Magazine records his death in Ireland in the June issue of 1806.
As a performer Fisher played with great temperament and technical facility. His flamboyant manner, however, led some to complain of charlatanism. The virtuoso element is displayed in his three long and difficult violin concertos, the second of which features frequent wide leaps, double stopping, arpeggiation and a variety of virtuoso bowing techniques, including bariolage. Fisher exploits the high range of the instrument and specifies colouristic effects such as harmonics and the use of the G string for some solo passages. The concerto has great rhythmic vigour, though it lacks sufficient harmonic variety. In contrast, his six violin duets, which are in fact charming three-movement sonatas, were clearly designed for amateurs. In them Fisher avoids the extreme upper range of the instrument, though they still contain double stopping and difficult passage work. The elements of sonata form are particularly well handled in Fisher's seven symphonies, and the orchestration is varied by the introduction of solo passages for wind instruments and the use of ‘high’ textures without a bass line. Mannheim techniques (such as indications for dynamic contrasts, including the crescendo) are in evidence. Fisher appears to have been the first English composer to use a ppp marking in a published work. His Music for the Opening of Macbeth (1780), seemingly the last music he composed before undertaking his continental concert tours, was only rediscovered in 1982; the manuscript had been sold at auction in 1839. The score appears to be the first musical setting of the two witches' scenes in the first act of Macbeth to make use of an accurate version of Shakespeare's text. It is unfortunate that Fisher did not continue in the composition of incidental music for the play on a similar scale. The extant score vividly characterizes the three witches, and Fisher's depiction of natural phenomena is handled with skill and imagination. The popularity of Fisher's works later in the century, including his well-loved overture to The Syrens, is demonstrated in the surviving repertory lists for Vauxhall in 1790 and 1791.
printed works published in London unless otherwise stated
performed at London, Covent Garden, unless otherwise stated
The Court of Alexander (burlesque op, 2, G.A. Stevens, after N. Lee: The Rival Queens), 5 Jan 1770, music lost
Harlequin Jubilee (pan, H. Woodward), 27 Jan 1770, vs (1770)
Zobeide (tragedy, J. Cradock), 11 Dec 1771, incid music, vs (c1771)
The Monster of the Woods (pan), Sadler's Wells, 13 April 1772, vs (1772)
The Golden Pippin (burletta, 3, K. O'Hara, burlesque on Ovid: Metamorphoses), 6 Feb 1773, ov. and compilation of music, vs (c1773)
The Sylphs, or Harlequin's Gambols (pan), 3 Jan 1774, vs (1774)
The Druids (masque, after B. Jonson), 19 Nov 1774, vs (1774); ov. and sym. ed. in Studies in the History and Interpretation of Music, xlviii (Lewiston, 1996)
Ov. to Prometheus (pan), 26 Dec 1775
The Syrens (masque, 2, E. Thompson), 26 Feb 1776; ov., 2 vn, va, b, 2 ob, 2 hn ad lib (1777); ov. ed. in Studies in the History and Interpretation of Music, xlviii (Lewiston, 1996)
The Beggar's Opera (ballad op, J. Gay), 27 Sept 1776, accs. only
The Norwood Gypsies (pan, J. Messink and C.A. Delpini), 25 Nov 1777, vs (1777)
Iphigenia, or The Victim (tragedy, 5, T. Hull, after Racine), 23 March 1778, incid music
Macbeth (tragedy, W. Shakespeare ), 2 scenes from Act 1, opening scene performed during A Fete Anticipated (entertainment), 10 April 1780, later scene, inc., unperf.: both CDN-VIu; ed. in Studies in the History and Interpretation of Music, xlviii (Lewiston, 1996)
Music in Love in the City (comic op, 3, I. Bickerstaff), 21 Feb 1767, other music by C. Dibdin and others; The Seraglio (afterpiece, Dibdin and W. Thompson), 14 Nov 1776, other music by Dibdin and S. Arnold, vs (1776); The Tempest (dramatic op, 3, after Shakespeare), 27 Dec 1776; Love Finds the Way (comic op, 3, Hull, after A. Murphy: The School for Guardians), 18 Nov 1777, other music by Arne, Sacchini and traditional, vs (1777); Harlequin's Museum, or Mother Shipton Triumphant (pan), 20 Dec 1792, compiled by T. Goodwin from Pepusch, Galliard, Vincent, Boyce, Fisher, Arnold, with new music by W. Shield
The Favorite Cantata of Diana and Cupid, and a Collection of Songs … 1770 (1770)
2 Cantatas and a Collection of Songs sung at Vaux Hall and Ranelagh … bk 2 (c1772)
Vauxhall Songs and Cantatas, bk 3 (1772)
The Songs and Cantatas as sung at Vauxhall Gardens … 1773 (1773)
Vauxhall and Marybone Songs … bk 3, 1774 (1774)
Vauxhall Songs for 1775 … bk 4 (1775)
Behold, how good and joyful (Masonic anthem, after Ps cxxxiii), 1776, London, Library and Museum of the United Grand Lodge of England
What solemn sounds on Holy Sinai sung (Masonic ode), 1776, London, Library and Museum of the United Grand Lodge of England
Seek ye the Lord. An Anthem as sung … at Bedford Chapel and at the Cathedral in Lincoln (c1775)
The Morning Invitation (cant.) (c1775)
In vain I seek to calm to rest: a Favorite Song (c1775)
Providence (orat), Oxford, 2 July 1777, lost
Just what you will, song (c1778)
Diana and Acteon (cant.) (c1780)
A Comparative View of the English, French and Italian Schools, consisting of Airs and Glees … compos'd as Examples of their Several Manners, during Residence in Those Countries (Edinburgh, c1790)
6 Solos, vn, bc (c1770)
6 Simphonies in 8 parts, vns, obs, hns, va, bc (1772); ed. P.F. Rice (Wellington, 1999)
C.L.Cudworth: ‘The Vauxhall Lists’, GSJ, xx (1967), 24–42
J.LaRue: ‘The English Symphony: Some Additions and Annotations to Charles Cudworth's Published Studies’, Music in Eighteenth-Century England: Essays in Memory of Charles Cudworth, ed. C. Hogwood and R. Luckett (Cambridge, 1983), 213–17
P.F.Rice: ‘John Abraham Fisher's Music for the Opening of Macbeth’, College Music Symposium, xxvi (1986), 7–13
S.McVeigh: The Violinist in London's Concert Life, 1750–1784 (New York, 1989)
G.Brace: Anna … Susanna, Anna Storace, Mozart's First Susanna: Her Life, Times and Family (London, 1991)
P.F.Rice: ‘John Abraham Fisher's A Comparative View of the English, French and Italian Schools: a British Musician Tours Europe’, Sharing the Voices: the Phenomenon of Singing: St John's, Newfoundland, 1997, ed. B.A. Roberts (St. John's, 1998), 184–92