LAST MODIFIED Monday 18 September 2017 10:59

Lewis Henry Lavenu

Dr GRAEME SKINNER (University of Sydney)


To cite this:

Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), "Lewis Henry Lavenu", Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia):; accessed 18 October 2017

LAVENU, Lewis Henry

Pianist, cellist, conductor, arranger, composer

Born London, c.1818
Arrived Sydney, NSW, 11 May 1853 (per Abyssinia, from San Francisco, 3 March)
Died Sydney, NSW, 1 August 1859, aged 41 or 42 (TROVE tagged by Australharmony) (NLA persistent identifier)

Image: Cover portrait of the late L. H. Lavenu


Summary (to 1853; after Wikipedia):

Son of the London music seller and publisher, Lewis Augustus Lavenu (c.1867-1818), and his second wife Eliza. After Lavenu senior's death, Eliza went into partnership with the violinist Nicolas Mori (1796-1839), whom she married in 1826. Born well before this marriage, their eldest son, the composer Frank Mori (1820-1873) was thus Lewis Henry's stepbrother. The family business traded as "Mori & Lavenu" until Lewis Henry sold his interest in it to his partner Robert Hosdon in May 1844. Lavenu, brought up in music by his stepfather, studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Bochsa, and later with Charles Lucas, George Alexander Macfarren, and Cipriani Potter in composition, cello, and piano.

Between August 1840 and January 1841 Lavenu (assisted by his half-brother Frank) managed Liszt's tours of the British Isles. Lavenu married Julia Blossett, daughter of Col. John Blossett, head of the British expedition to assist Simon Bolivar in the war of independence in Venezuela. One of his daughters was the actress Ethel Lavenu (1842-1917), who was mother of the silent screen actor Tyrone Power, Sr., and grandmother of the Hollywood film star Tyrone Power.

In November 1846, Lavenu's Loretta; a tale of Seville, a grand opera in three parts with libretto by Alfred Bunn, premiered at Drury Lane Theatre, with Anna Bishop as Loretta. After falling into insolvency in 1848, Lavenu became the conductor of the Irish singer Catherine Hayes, first in Britain, and then the United States (1851-52) and Australia.


Liszt, Lavenu, Mori concert program (16 September 1840)

"AMERICAN EXTRACTS", Empire (21 January 1852), 3

[News], Empire (12 May 1853), 2

"SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE", Empire (12 May 1853), 2

"DEATH OF LEWIS HENRY LAVENU", The Sydney Morning Herald (2 August 1859), 5

OUR readers will learn with surprise and deep regret that Mr. Lewis Henry Lavenu, the late talented Conductor of the University Festival, expired yesterday morning, at his residence, Horbury Terrace, Macquarie-street. He had been ill for some days, but owing to pressure of business, connected with the University Festival and the Prince of Wales Theatre, had neglected to take care of his health, and had even for some time omitted to take food. His illness was not at first of a dangerous character, and the symptoms - vomiting, pain, and constipation - yielded to medical treatment, but on Sunday evening a fit of an epileptic character came on; from excessive pain he became occasionally delirious, and imagined himself still conducting a musical force. Yesterday morning, however, he rallied a little, and about an hour before his death rose from his bed and expressed his determination to go to rehearsal; shortly afterwards what was considered a favourable symptom took place, and gave some slight hope; but his sufferings had been so acute, and his nervous system was so completely exhausted, that nature succumbed, and he breathed his last about 11 o'clock. Mr. Lavenu's abilities as a musician were of the highest order, and in the many musical entertainments over which it had been his lot to preside he was eminently successful; his death will prove a serious loss to the musical portion of the community, by whom his talents have been appreciated and acknowledged. At the period of his decease, he was, we believe, somewhere about 41 or 42 years of age. Mr. Lavenu was the son of the well-known publisher of music of that name, who formerly resided in Edward-street, Portman Square, and whose widow was subsequently married to Mori, the eminent violinist. By Mori the lamented subject of this notice was at an early age placed in the Royal Academy of Music, where, under the system, of tuition carried out in that admirable institution, he soon gave ample evidence of his aptitude and talent for the divine art. His abilities as a composer were displayed when still a mere youth, in his opera of Loretta - performed at the St. James's Theatre with considerable success, and he held diplomas as professor of violoncello, piano-forte, and for composition. Mr. Lavenu was very felicitous in his ballad compositions, amongst which "By the banks of Guadalquiver" and the popular "Molly Asthore" stand preeminent in the degree of favour with which they have been received by the musical public. He was the first man who brought Liszt, the great pianist, from Ratisbon, in Germany; and was at one time engaged by Biel as musical conductor through the English provinces during the tours of Grisi, Mario, and others; subsequently he was engaged as musical conductor to Miss Catherine Hayes, and travelled with her as such during that lady's professional visits, to the United States, California, Australia, and India; and we think the justice of our award will scarcely be questioned when we state that much of that lady's success may be attributed to the valuable assistance she derived from Mr. Lavenu in all matters connected with the orchestral department. In that branch of his profession he undoubtedly ranked very high; his practice as a violoncellist in the orchestra of the Academy, under Lindley, having no doubt contributed much to the acquirement of that ready tact and skill which he displayed in this difficult branch of the musical art. He was a very good pianist, his skill in that respect being chiefly confined to the unobtrusive but delicate and difficult duties of an accompanyist. His love of music was very intense, and his thorough knowledge of all its branches may be inferred from the fact that he arranged the score and adapted the opera of Il Trovatore, for a full orchestral representation, from a pianoforte copy. Up to the time of his illness he was busily engaged in arranging the operas of Rigoletto, Traviata, and Ernani; the score of the last named opera having been fully completed by him for representation. It is a somewhat singular fact that many great musicians have, shortly before death, composed those mournful strains with which their departure from this world is associated; such as Mozart's "Requiem", Weber's "Last Waltz", and many others that will be readily brought to mind; without seeking to institute any comparison we might refer to one portion of the overture to Trovatore composed by Mr. Lavenu, in which the most melancholy and plaintive strains are introduced - not suggested by the music of the opera - this, we believe, is one of his latest compositions. Mr. Lavenu was much esteemed by his professional friends, many of whom watched over him during his last hours, for his kindliness of manner, and the urbanity which always characterised his intercourse with them. It may not perhaps be deemed irrelevant to mention as a somewhat singular circumstance, that Mr. C. S. Packer, who three years ago followed to the tomb the remains of his own master in the orchestral branch of his studies at the Royal Academy of Music - the celebrated Bochsa - will, to-day, perform the same sad duty to one who was one of his own earliest pupils in the same institution. The funeral of the deceased gentlemen is appointed to take place this afternoon at two o'clock; and it is understood that besides his professional brethren - by whom he was sincerely respected - his remains will be followed to the grave by members of the University and the Festival Committee. From his late residence the funeral cortege will proceed to Christchurch, where a portion of the burial service will be read, and a short selection from the oratorio of the Messiah sung; the body will then be conveyed to the Cemetery at Newtown, to be placed beside the resting-place of the greatest musical genius that ever came upon our shores - the Chevalier Bocsha. Mr. Poole, out of respect to the deceased gentleman, has closed the Prince of Wales Theatre for this evening, and we are requested to state that, in consequence of the lamented and sudden death of Mr. Lavenu, the Band of the 12th Regiment will not perform in the Botanic Gardens this afternoon.

"A Christmas Eve's Adventure, AND WHAT CAME OF IT. A TRUE STORY (BY PAUL TWYFORD)", Nepean Times (23 December 1893), 2 

... probably the better to show off the long hair saturated with grease or oil and turned under so as to form a roll low down on the neck. This style of hair dressing was known as "The Lavenu curl," from a musical gentleman of that name who led the orchestra at the "old Vic." theatre, in Pitt-street. The cabbage-tree mob were regular frequenters of the theatres, and Lavenu was a great favourite with them. And they not only imitated his style of dressing his hair but they borrowed his well-known airs and whistled them in the streets. Rough and quarrelsome as these fellows were they had a keen appreciation of music; thus their great admiration for Mr. Robert Farquharson, the great basso, and later on the Howson family ...

Musical works / publications (before Australia)

The new opera entitled Loretta, a tale of Seville, in three acts ... the whole of the music composed by M. Lavenu; the libretto by Alfred Bunn, Esq. (London: printed and published by W. S. Johnson, "Nassau Steam Press," 60, St. Martin's Lane, Charing Cross, London, [1846?]) [wordbook only] (DIGITISED) (DIGITISED)

Links to many digitised non-Australian editions can be browsed, along with Lavenu's Australian editions, here: (TROVE tagged by Australharmony)

Musical works / publications (Australia):

The Hellespont polka ("composed and dedicated to Captain Watts and the officers of the screw steamship Hellespont") ([Sydney: Henry Marsh, 1853]

Cleopatra Polka ("Composed and dedicated to Robert McKean, Esq.") (Sydney: H. Marsh and Co., [1853])

Solo violoncello on airs from Somnambula:

[Advertisement], The Courier (8 October 1853), 3

It reminds me of thee (ballad; "composed expressly for Madame Sara Flower"; "Sung by Madame Sara Flower ... dedicated to Mrs. Stephen H. Marsh") (Sydney: Henry Marsh, [1854])

I cannot sing tonight (ballad; words: Haynes Bailey; composed by Lavenu for his pupil Maria Carandini; "Sung with great success by Madame Carandini") (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, [1857])

A tribute to Australia (song) (words: F. H. Dicker; for Catherine Hayes)

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (17 October 1854), 1

"MISS HAYES' CHARITY FAREWELL CONCERT", The Sydney Morning Herald (18 October 1854), 5

Serenade (for orchestra; on popular ballads)

[Advertisement], The Argus (1 November 1854), 8

Ida May ("new" "composed by Mr. Lavenu for Mr. White" [of Rainer's Ethiopian Serenaders])

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (11 June 1855), 1

My Molly Asthore ("Ballad (new version) as sung by Catherine Hayes") (Sydney: H. Marsh, 1855; The Australian Cadeau No 17 (22 September 1855)

Molly Asthore ("sung by Miss Catherine Hayes") (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, [1857?])

Molly Asthore ("Composed for and sung by Miss Catherine Hayes"; with cover portrait of Lavenu and printed signature") ( Sydney: J. R. Clarke, [1859]) (Lavenu memorial edition)

Kate Kearney, or the Lakes of Killarney ("The music composed and arranged by M. Lavenu")

[Advertisement], The Argus (21 February 1856), 8

Queen of the West ("In a few days will be published ... both poetry and music, by the late Mr. Lavenu") (composed for Madame Carandini; accompaniment by Charles Packer") (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, 1859)

Once upon a time there were two kings ("The characteristic incidental music composed, selected, and arranged by L. Lavenu, Esq.")

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (15 February 1859), 1

The vocal gems of Il trovatore [Verdi] ("arranged expressly for the publisher by the late L. H. Lavenu")

1 Ah! I have sighed to rest me (Ah! Che la morte); 2 Home to our Mountains (Ai nostri monti); 3 Tempest of the heart (Il balen del suo sorriso); 4 Breeze of the night (D'amor sull ali rosee); 5 Ah! Yes, thou'rt mine (Ah! Si ben mio); 6 In the combat (Mal reggendo) (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, [1859])

Other sources:

Bellini's grand opera of Norma, in two acts, as performed at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne ... musical director and conductor, M. L. Lavenu (Melbourne : Wilson, Mackinnon & Fairfax, 1855) 

Rossini's grand opera of The barber of Seville, a lyric comedy, rendered into English by J. Wrey Mould, and produced at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, prima donna - Madame Clarisse Cailly, conductor - M. L. Lavenu (Melbourne: Wilson, Mackinnon & Fairfax, "Argus" Mercantile Printing Office, 1856) [wordbook] 

An English version of The favourite, composed by Donizetti, written and adapted by Edward Fitzball; performed for the first time, at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, under the direction of Mr. L. Lavenu, who has arranged it expressly for this theatre (Melbourne: R. M. Abbott and Co., 1858) 

Prince of Wales Theatre ... An English version of Il trovatore"; or, The gipsy's vengeance, a grand opera in four parts written and adapted by Charles Jeffreys; to the music composed by Verdi; arranged expressly for this theatre by M. Lavenu (Sydney: Printed at the "Caxton" Printing Office, 1859) 

Prince of Wales Theatre ... Ernani, a grand opera seria, in four acts produced under the direction of Monsieur Lavenu (Sydney: Caxton Printing Office, 1859) 

Bibliography and resources:

© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2017