John Ella was an eminent English violinist, neglected by posterity. He is looked upon as the shaper of musical taste and culture. He had immense interest in good music and ascended to a position of power and influence in London musical circle and high society from murkiness of artisan-class life. He was very dedicated about his musical pursuit and seized every opportunity needed to gain further exposure in music- both local and standard styles. He was a very talented concert manager and a wonderful reformer of musical art. He formed a famous music society which was completely dedicated to the endorsement and encouragement of ‘Chamber music’. The history of chamber music can be explored through his career and activities. His music weaved brilliance and somberness together and played a pivotal role in sustaining musical activity in nineteenth century Britain. His musical endeavors, combined with his organizing abilities, served as a platform to the flourishing concert-giving enterprise. He always envisioned musical pursuit as a stimulus for cultural improvement and advancement. He was also an enthusiastic traveler and traveled almost the whole of Europe, visiting and re-visiting major art galleries, museums, churches and cathedrals. The essence of these voyages is found to be profoundly immersed in his musical compositions. He is a largely unknown figure, and will continue to be so unless people are ready to delve deeply into the less-known chambers of the heart of music.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born to a confectioner Richard Ella and his wife Kitty Ella and was premeditated to pursue the same trade. Later events led to the prosecution of this idea when he emerged as a promising musician.
In 1817, he began supporting his father in confectionary trade and started earning money as a part-time musician in the locality too. He picked certain basic skills informally.
In 1819, he was taught violin by M. Femy. Two years later, he made his first appearance as a professional musician in the Orchestra of Drury Lane Theater. He was then promoted to the band of the King’s Theater.
In 1826, he took musical education under Thomas Attwood and Francois Joseph Fetis in Paris. Subsequently, he was placed as a member of leading orchestras of London like ‘Philharmonic’ and the ‘Ancient Concerts’. Soon he was escalated to a subordinate post at the Royal Academy of Music.
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In March, 1830, he initiated first musicale in Portman Square, London, which featured a small group of performers accompanied by a tiny chamber band. Later in the same year, he gave public concerts under the patronage of Augustus Fitzgerald, third duke of Leinster.
During his voyages to the different parts of the European continent, he made contacts with many musical celebrities with whom he collaborated later to form the musical union.
He soon commercialized the musical society by making concerts in some measures social gatherings, for which membership could be obtained after giving personal introduction. The program always included minimum of two instrumental compositions.
The annual series included eight afternoon concerts in Willie’s room, a social club in London. There was a benefit concert when vocal music was incorporated in the program. Its instant success in early 1852 led to the commencement of a series of evening concerts at low prices under the title of ‘Musical Winter Evenings’. It received a good deal of encouragement from the supporters.
In 1858, the sets were transferred to Hanover Square Rooms and then to St. James’s Hall in the following year. With the advent of Monday Popular Concerts, Ella renounced this series.
In 1880, the musical union came to a halt when Ella discontinued his active involvement in the society. In 1885, he was appointed as a lecturer in London Institution and the essence of the three lectures which he gave were compiled in the musical union record. They were based on melody, harmony and counterpoint.
He played in the orchestra at Queen Victoria’s coronation. In November, 1837, he wrote music on the Queen’s first official visit to the Guide hall in London and called his creative piece, ‘The Victorian March’. It can now be located in British library mss department.
In 1869, he published ‘Musical sketches abroad and at home’. It is a blend of historical, anecdotal, biographical and critical extracts and numerous additional extracts from his diary. The sketches of personal incidents included in the book are completely reality-based.
‘A personal memoir of Meyerbeer’ is Ella’s important contribution to musical literature. It particularly discussed Meyerbeer’s creation, ‘Les Huguenots’ and Ella’s follow-up visit, enthusing about the music of Meyerbeer.
John Ella remained unmarried throughout and and not much is known about his family life. His ties to his immediate family were not strong, with the exception of his mother and elder sister Ann.
He spent last 20 years of his life at 9 Victoria Square in London. He was mainly house-bound because of old age and failing eye sight.
In his later years, the other members of the family used to visit him at home. It is known that his niece, Ella Harley, was at John's home, when Anton Rubinstein, the famous Russian pianist and composer, made one of his last visits, to see him.
John Ella died on 2 October 1888, at his home in London.