Neal (Neale), John (fl.
From 1723 the increasing interest in printed music books led him to produce his own copper plates rather than rely on English imports. In 1724 he published A collection of the most celebrated Irish tunes proper for the violin and German flute or hautboy. This collection of forty-nine compositions constitutes the earliest known printed collection of Irish music and includes the earliest recorded compositions by Turlough Carolan (qv) and other important Irish harpers. Most of the music probably dates from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, although a few popular melodies may have been preserved in the folk memory for much longer. Neal probably collected these pieces at his own weekly musical meetings, which met at ‘Mr Neal's musick room’ in Christ Church yard. In about 1723 he became president of the social and musical club which then met at the Bull's Head tavern in Fishamble St., and later became the Charitable and Musical Society.
Between 1723 and 1733 Neal published at least twenty-one volumes of printed music including four quarto books of the Best English airs and minuets, Irish tunes and Scotch tunes for the violin (1724), ‘music after the Italian manner by Lorenzo Bocchi’, music from the ‘Beggar's opera’, ‘curious musical cards’ for the German flute, and five collections of country dances, scored for violin, flute, recorder, and keyboard. One item was dedicated to the duke of Hamilton and Brandon, and in 1724 Neal wrote that he had secured subscriptions from ‘most of the Scotch nobility’. All his printed music was published jointly with his son William Neal (d. 1769), music shopkeeper, music-hall proprietor, publisher, and musician. William was the sole publisher of a further eight volumes of music between 1734 and c.1744. John Neal was still alive in 1739 and may have died c.1740.
After this date William seems to have been able to divert considerable resources into managing concerts and property speculation rather than as a musical-instrument maker. William was elected treasurer and managing director of the Charitable Musical Society c.1741, and in September 1741 a new music room was built on Fishamble St. Neal must have provided most of the funding himself, as the building came to be known as ‘Neal's Music Hall’. The venue could hold 700 people and became very popular. It was here on 13 April 1742 that Handel's ‘Messiah’ was first performed. William built and let houses on Crow St., Wood Quay, and Inns Quay in Dublin city, and in Raheny, Co. Dublin. By the mid 1740s William seems to have left the musical-instrument-making business and his address became ‘the Music Hall’. He extended the hall in 1751 and it was a leading venue for concerts, assemblies, and balls in the 1750s and 1760s. By 1750 he felt affluent enough to style himself as ‘gent’ and in 1763 he was described as ‘master of the great music hall’. William died 18 December 1769 (his wife, who was noted for her hospitality in Dublin society, died in 1763). After his death he was described as a ‘gentleman very justly esteemed by all those who had the happiness of his acquaintance, for his great humanity and friendship’ (Gilbert, i, 80).
They left at least one son, John Neal II (c.1733–1791), musician and surgeon, who maintained the family's musical tradition. He was a child prodigy and first played in public at a concert in Dublin in February 1743 when he was just 10 years old. He almost certainly played at his father's music hall and was a member of a ‘musical academy’ in Dublin. He was probably the ‘Mr Neal’ who was appointed to the board of the Rotunda Gardens concerts in 1769. In 1787 he played at a royal command performance for George III in London and in 1789 was leader of a thanksgiving concert (for the recovery of the king) held at Christ Church cathedral, Dublin. He had a particular interest in the music of Geminiani and Corelli and his tone was considered to be superior to that of Giordani. He died in December 1791. In one obituary he was described as ‘one of the first gentleman performers of the violin in Europe’ (Dublin Evening Post, 15 Sept. 1791).
The music titles published by John and William Neal are now extremely rare and only eighteen of the twenty-nine known works can be traced (some in the NLI). Many of the Irish compositions which they originally collected were reprinted without due acknowledgement by other printers in similar collections during the 1730s (e.g. ‘Aria di camera’) and again at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when there was a renewed interest in early Irish music. A copy of A collection of the most celebrated Irish tunes was collected by the musician and antiquary Edward Bunting (qv) and is now owned by QUB. A tenor recorder made c.1730, attributed to John Neal, is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.