Hudleston Music

The case of the bonus years: C. M. Sola

Charles Michael Alexis Sola was an Italian guitarist who was active in London in the first quarter of the 19th century. Philip Bone, in The Guitar and Mandolin, states that he was born on 6 June 1786, in Turin. Bone presents quite a bit of detail about Sola’s life before he arrived in England. His source appears to have been the Biographie universelle des musiciens […] by François-Joseph Fétis, whose own source may have been John Sainsbury’s Dictionary of musicians from the earliest ages to the present time […], first published in London in 1824. According to Stuart Button, in his thesis The Guitar in England, 1800-1924, Sola was in direct contact with Sainsbury concerning the information in this dictionary. In any case, since the details of Sola’s earlier life probably originate with Sola himself, for the moment we will have to accept that he was indeed born on 6 June 1786, although that date does not agree with later documents, as we shall see.

Bone states that Sola was ‘living in London as late as 1829’, and this date has been repeated as the year of Sola’s death in a number of places, including Josef Zuth's Handbuch der Laute und Gitarre (Vienna, 1926). This would put Sola’s age at the time of his death at about 43. But fortunately for him, he lived quite a bit longer than that.

Sola appears in the 1841 census returns for England, at 10 Charles Street, London, as a ‘Professor of music’, aged 52, with his son Alfred, aged 25. Both of them are listed as having been born in ‘Foreign parts’, which indicates that when he arrived in England he had brought his son with him. Sola’s wife was not with them in 1841. Several explanations of her absence are possible: perhaps she died in childbirth and Sola migrated with his infant son; perhaps she simply did not accompany Sola and their son to England; or perhaps she died in England prior to 1841. Least dramatically, it is possible that she was elsewhere when the census takers called. Without knowing her name, it is rather difficult to verify any of these theories. In any case, if the age given on the census return is correct, Sola was born in 1789, not in 1786, as Bone has it. (If the age on is death certificate is correct, however, then he must have been born in 1781!) If his son Alfred’s age is correct on the census return, then it is impossible that they arrived in England before 1816, for if they had, Alfred would have been born in England. Indeed, according to Stuart Button, ‘it was through the solicitations of Lady Charlotte Campbell that Sola was induced to come to England in 1816’ – although he gives no source for this statement.

Whatever the case may be, Sola neither left England, nor did he die in 1829 as has been previously thought. He remained in England for 28 years more, until his death, from 'heart and liver exhaustion', on 21 January 1857, at Gardener's Lane, Putney Hill.

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