Tommasino: The Enigma of the English Mozart


The first biography of a forgotten star of Georgian music: Thomas Linley junior, virtuoso violinist and composer, son of a famous bass and brother of three beautiful celebrity sopranos. A child prodigy, taken up by George III and painted by Gainsborough, he made his debut aged six, and went to study with the Master of the King’s Musick. At twelve he was sent to Italy to study violin, and at the court in Florence he struck up a close friendship with Mozart, noted by Dr Burney who reported that the two boys were ‘the most promising geniusses of this age’.

Before he was twenty-two Linley had written sonatas and concertos, two comic operas, a cantata, an ode and incidental music for plays by his brother-in-law Sheridan – and was set to become, as Mozart himself said,’ one of the greatest ornaments of the musical world’. But in the summer of 1778, while staying with his patron at Grimsthorpe Castle, he met a tragic end in an unexplained boating accident. Unravelling the mystery, Tony Scotland finds clues in a manuscript long buried in the archives at Blenheim Palace.

Thomas Linley Junior with his sister Elizabeth, Bath, 1768 (eldest children of the bass, singing coach and impresario Thomas Linley Senior), painted by Gainsborough, just as Tom, aged 12, was setting off for Italy to study the violin with Pietro Nardini for three years. (Portrait reproduced by permission, The Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA/Bridgeman Images).

In Florence in 1770 Tom Linley met and formed a lasting friendship with Mozart. The music historian Dr Charles Burney, who was visiting the Tuscan capital at that time, reported that the two boys were known throughout Italy as ‘the most promising geniuses of this age’. In this anonymous painting, Mozart is playing the clavichord and Tom the violin, with their friends, the Gavard des Pivets family.

Returning home in about 1772 Tom Linley became leader of his father’s orchestras in Bath and at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and a celebrity soloist. This portrait by Ozias Humphry dates from about 1777, a year before Tom’s mysterious death on holiday with his sister Mary at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire. He was only 22, and already recognised as one of England’s great composers. (Reproduced by kind permission Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, and North East Somerset Council)

Like the other titles in the Shelf Lives list, Tommasino is for generak readers, collectors and bibliophiles. With 208 pages, a dustjacket, 48 illustrations, and an index, it is available in hardback (218 x 138 mm), ISBN 978-0-9955503-6-0, at £25.00. It will be published on 7 November 2022, and can be found at independent bookshops, and online at

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