Meyer, Philip James (DNB00)


MEYER, PHILIP JAMES (1732–1820), musician, was born at Strassburg in 1732, of protestant parents, and brought up with a view to the ministry. He was early attracted by music, learnt the organ, and coming accidentally across an old German harp without pedals he mastered that instrument. He embraced music as a profession, and introduced some improvements in the harp, which was then in a transition state previous to its perfection by the mechanical genius of Sebastian Erard. He proceeded to Paris in 1765, and was among the first performers on the pedal harp in that city, where, in 1766, he published his ‘Methode sur la vraie manière de jouer la Harpe, avec les règles pour l'accorder,’ a pioneer work of considerable merit. He studied German music during this period with Müthel, a pupil of Sebastian Bach. In 1772 he visited England, and was the first person who publicly played the pedal harp in this country, at a concert at the Hanover Square Rooms. His stay in England was a short one. He returned to Paris, and set to music a dramatic piece by Pitra, entitled ‘Damète et Zulmis.’ Its success procured his introduction to Voltaire, who invited him to compose the music for a serious opera, ‘Samson,’ but died before the work was completed. Meyer definitely settled in London in 1784. He performed little, but wrote a quantity of harp music, and found distinguished patronage as a teacher. In addition to the ‘Methode,’ the most considerable of his published works are: ‘Two Collections of French Songs for the Harp,’ London, 1780; ‘Two Sonatas for the Harp, with an Accompaniment for the Pianoforte or two Violins, Viola, and 'Cello’ [1800]; ‘Irish Melodies arranged as Duets for the Harp and Piano,’ 1811; and ‘A Collection of Hymns and Psalms arranged for the Harp,’ 1815. Meyer died in London 17 Jan. 1820. By the wife whom he married at Strassburg in 1768 Meyer left two sons, Philip James the younger (1770–1849), who was appointed harpist to Queen Adelaide, and wrote numerous works for the harp, and Frederic Charles (1773–1840), who was also a composer and professor of the harp.

[Dictionary of Musicians, 1824; Fétis's Biog. Univ. des Musiciens; Mendel und Reissmann's Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon, vii. 143; Brit. Mus. Catalogue of Music; information kindly supplied by Mr. Sebastian W. Meyer, grandson of Philip James the younger. Brief notices of Meyer also appear in Biographie degli Artisti, 1846, and Dizionario e Bibliografia, Milan, 1826.]

T. S.