John Abell was a celebrated alto singer and performer in the lute, was born about 1660, and probably educated in the choir of the Chapel Royal, of which establishment he was sworn a gentleman extraordinary in 1679.
He was greatly patronised by royalty, and between the years 1679 and 1688 received bounty money amounting to no less than 740 pounds. Charles II sent him to Italy to study, and after his return Evelyn thus describes meeting him:
“After supper came in the famous treble, Mr. Abel, newly returned from Italy. I never heard a more excellent voice, and would have sworn it had been a woman’s, it was so high and so well and skilfully managed, being accompanied by Signor Francisco on the harpsichord.”
He remained in the service of the chapel until the Revolution of 1688, when he was dismissed for his supposed leaning to the Romish religion.
After this he travelled abroad, visiting France, Germany, Holland, and Poland, leading a vagrant sort of life, and depending for his support upon his voice and lute.
It is said that when Abell was at Warsaw he refused to sing before the court, but his objections were overcome by the somewhat summary method of suspending him in a chair in the middle of a large hall, while some bears were admitted below him. He was asked whether he preferred singing to the king and the court, who were in a gallery opposite to him, or being lowered to the bears; he not unnaturally chose the former alternative.
He was Intendant at Cassel in 1698 and 1699. About the end of the century, Abell returned to England, and occupied a prominent positions on the stage. congreve, in a letter dated Lond Decem 10, 1700, says Abell is here: has a cold at present, and is always whimsical, so that when he will sing or not upon the stage are things very disputable, but he certainly sings beyond all creatures upon earth, and I have heard him very often both abroad and since he come over.
In 1701 Abell published two works, A Collection of Songs in Several Languages, which he dedicated to William III, and A Collection of Songs in English. In 1702 he set a poem by Nahum Tate on Queen Anne’s coronation. His death is not recorded, but it was after 1716, when he gave a concert at Stationers’ Hall.