Dibdin, Charles, English composer; b. Dibdin, near Southampton (baptized), March 15, 1745; d. London, July 25, 1814. From 1756 to 1759 he was a chorister at Winchester Cathedral. He took lessons there from Kent and Fussell, but was chiefly self-taught in composition. At age 15, he went to London. He was engaged at Covent Garden as a singing actor, and soon began to write for the stage. His first piece, The Shepherd’s Artifice, was produced at his benefit performance at Covent Garden on May 21, 1764. He was engaged at Birmingham from 1763 to 1765, and at Covent Garden again until 1768, when he went over to Drury Lane. During this period, he wrote his most successful theater scores, among them the comic opéras Lionel and Clarissa (Covent Garden, Feb. 25,1768), The Padlock (Drury Lane, Oct. 3,1769), and The Ephesian Matron (Ranelagh House, May 12, 1769), the afterpiece The Waterman, or The First of August (His Majesty’s Theatre, Aug. 8, 1774), and the opéra The Quaker (Drury Lane, May 3, 1775). Falling out with Garrick, he went to France in 1776 to avoid imprisonment for debt, remaining there until 1778, when he was appointed composer to Covent Garden, having up to that time brought out 8 opéras. From 1782 to 1784, he was manager of the newly erected Royal Circus (later the Surrey Theatre). After the failure of certain theatrical enterprises, and a projected journey to India, he commenced a series of monodramatic “table-entertainments,” of which song was a principal feature, and which were extremely popular from 1789 to 1805; in these Dibdin appeared as author, composer, narrator, singer, and accompanist. He then built and managed a
small theater of his own, which opened in 1796; he retired in 1805 on a pension, which was withdrawn for a time, but subsequently restored. Dibdin also com-posed numerous sea songs which were very popular at the time. He publ. The Musical Tour of Mr. Dibdin (1788), History of the Stage (5 vols., 1795), The Professional Life of Mr. Dibdin (4 vols., 1803), and various novels. His grandson, Henry Edward Dibdin (b. London, Sept. 8, 1813; d. Edinburgh, May 6, 1866), was an organist, harpist, and teacher who compiled the collection The Standard Psalm Tune Book (1851).
E. Dibdin, A C. D. Bibliography (Liverpool, 1937); E. Holmes, C. D. (diss., Univ. of Southampton, 1974).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Charles Dibdin, 1745–1814, English songwriter and theatrical entrepreneur. His best-known songs are from his ballad operas, such as The Bells of Aberdovey from Liberty Hall (1785) and To Bachelors' Hall and Tom Bowling from The Oddities (1789).