Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lee, George Alexander

LEE, GEORGE ALEXANDER (1802–1851), musical composer, born in 1802, was the son of a pugilist, Harry Lee, who kept the Anti-Gallican Tavern in Shire Lane, Temple Bar, London. While a boy he was in Lord Barrymore's service as ‘tiger,’ and is recorded to have been the first to bear that title. His decided bent for music, together with the possession of a pleasant voice, procured him some instruction in singing, and in 1825 he was engaged as tenor at the Dublin Theatre. The following year he returned to London and appeared at the Haymarket, to which theatre he was appointed musical conductor in 1827. Shortly before this he had started a music shop in the Quadrant, Regent Street.

In 1829 he joined with Melrose the singer and John Kemble Chapman in taking the Tottenham Street Theatre for the purpose of producing English operas, seceding from the management a year later in consequence of heavy penalties incurred by the lessees through certain infringements of the rights of the ‘patent theatres.’ He then became co-lessee of Drury Lane with Captain Polhill, but retired after a single season. In 1831 he directed the Lenten oratorios at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, in 1832 was appointed composer and musical director to the Strand Theatre, and in 1845 obtained a similar post at the Olympic.

He was married to Mrs. Waylett, a popular soprano singer, who had been separated from her first husband in 1822. Her death, on 26 April 1851, caused Lee a shock from which he never rallied. He died on 8 Oct. of the same year.

He wrote the music to the following dramatic pieces: ‘The Sublime and the Beautiful’ and ‘The Invincibles,’ 1828; ‘The Nymph of the Grotto’ and ‘The Witness,’ 1829; ‘The Devil's Brother’ (mainly taken from Auber's ‘Fra Diavolo’) and ‘The Legion of Honour,’ 1831; ‘Waverley’ (in collaboration with G. Stansbury), 1832; ‘Auld Robin Gray,’ composed about 1838, first performed in 1858; ‘Love in a Cottage;’ ‘Good Husbands make Good Wives,’ ‘Sold for a Song,’ and ‘The Fairy Lake.’

He composed a number of songs and ballads, of which the most popular were ‘Away, away to the Mountain's Brow,’ ‘Come where the Aspens quiver,’ and ‘The Macgregors' Gathering;’ and published two sets of eight songs, ‘Beauties of Byron’ and ‘Loves of the Butterflies,’ the words of the latter being by Thomas Haynes Bayly, of whose verses Lee unfortunately made frequent choice for musical setting. He was also the author of ‘A Complete Course of Instructions for Singing,’ of which an edition was published in London in 1872.

[Grove's Dict. of Music, ii. 111, iv. 698; Brown's Biog. Dict. of Music, p. 381; Brit. Mus. Catalogues.]

R. F. S.