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John Braham, Singer

Mollie Sands

<plain_text><page sequence="1">John Braham, Singer By Mollie Sands1 IHAVE called this paper "John Braham, singer" perhaps rashly, since many people find it hard to be interested in dead singers. John Braham indeed has other claims to be remembered?he touched history at many points. He knew Nelson, and sang duets with Lady Hamilton; he played whist with Jerome Bonaparte and knew Josephine de Beauharnais; he was popular with the Prince Regent and a close friend of the Duke of Sussex; he befriended the young Liszt when he first came to England; Thackeray caricatured him; Lamb and Leigh Hunt praised him; his daughter, Frances Lady Waldegrave, was a famous Victorian political hostess. . . . But he was first and foremost a great singer. My old friend, J. Mewburn Levien, to whose enthusiasm I owe much, wanted to write a book which should be called "John Braham, singer/9 and I am sure that is the right emphasis. The Boy Singer at the Synagogue and the Royalty Theatre A writer of fiction could take his choice from several almost equally picturesque versions of John Braham's parentage and earliest years. There are various hypotheses. One is that he was a Sephardi. According to a manuscript by the late Miss Louisa Middleton (now in the possession of Lord Strachie), Dr. Henri Leon of Paris found in the private papers of his father, a well-known musician of the mid-nineteenth century, the information that Braham was known as "otherwise Mendes." The Bevis Marks Registers record the birth on 5th March, 1777, of Abraham, son of Jacob and Clara Mendes Furtado;2 this is the only clue, if it can be called that. The late J. Mewburn Levien also said that Braham was the son of a Portuguese Jew, and born at Rotherhithe, but he may have been using the same source.3 A likelier hypothesis is that he was an Ashkenazi, and that he was the son of a synagogal singer, with the probability that the name Braham indicated that his father's name was Abraham. His father would then have probably been Abraham Singer of Prosnitz, who died in London about 1780.4 We are not even 1 Address delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England, 10th March, 1958. 2 If this were Braham, he would be connected with Isaac Mendes Furtado, who quarrelled with the Bevis Marks Congregation in 1783, renounced Judaism and became a Christian, together with his wife Sarah. Clara Mendes Furtado, who would have been Braham's mother, if this entry refers to him, was Ashkenazi. 8 An unreferenced cutting in the Jewish Museum, London, says: "Abraham's father was a Portuguese Jew who lived in Rotherhithe and the boy's beautiful voice attracted the attention in the synagogue of the brothers Goldsmid." He was asked to call at their house in Leman Street and then introduced to Leoni. 4Z. Idelsohn, in the Hebrew Union College Jubilee Volume, 1925, gives Abraham Singer of Prosnitz as John Braham's father. The name Singer would be an occupational name. Another account, by Boase in Modern English Biography, Vol. I, 1892, says that he was the son of John Abraham of Goodman's Fields. The D.N.B, says merely that he had German-Jewish parents, who died when he was quite young. Finally, there is the well-known humorous anecdote, which may mean anything or nothing. Performing in a musical play Braham has to say in character: "Who is my father ?" whereupon a little Jew stands up in the pit and excitedly exclaims: "I knowed yer farder well. His name was Abey Punch!" Presumably Braham's father was known as Abey, short for Abraham, and had a large nose like that of Punch. 203</page><page sequence="2">204 JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER certain of the year in which John Braham was born; 20th March, 1777, was given by liimself on some insurance declaration, but Henry Phillips and others asserted that he withheld his true age, and 1774 is frequentiy put forward. His death certificate describes him as eighty-four in 1856; eighty-one is given on his tombstone, and eighty-two in The Gentleman's Magazine. As his voice broke in 1788-89, 1774 seems the more plausible date, and I propose to assume it; it seems more likely that his voice broke at fourteen than at eleven. Efforts to trace the date of his birth through circumcision records have failed, through lack of knowledge of his Hebrew name, among other diffi? culties.1 A fairly persistent legend shows him selling lead pencils outside the Royal Exchange early in the 1780's, and apparently singing as he did so, since he thus attracted the attention of his first teacher, Meyer Leon. A less common legend shows him selling oranges in Whitechapel.2 But significantly enough, when the mists of legend which surround these earliest years clear away and we see John Braham clearly for the first time as a boy of eleven or twelve, he is singing, and singing in Hebrew, before the Ark in the Great Synagogue, Duke's Place. The sacred scroll of the Law is returned to the Ark, and the congregation sings the Twenty-fourth Psalm led by the two singers, the man and the boy, who are on the left and right hand of the Hazzan. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. . . . Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doers, that the king of glory may come in. Who, then, is the king of glory ?" The boy was to hear those words many, many times in the course of his long life, not only in Hebrew to a traditiDnal chant in the Synagogue, but in English to the music of Handel, in Westminster Abbey, in York Minster, in Hereford Cathedral. . . . "And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land: and their pursuers thou didst cast into the depths, as a stone into the mighty waters," chanted Hazzan Isaac Elias Polack, Sabbath after Sabbath, during his fifty years at the Synagogue. Sabbath after Sabbath during a much shorter period, the boy on his right hand heard the story in surroundings and in an emotional atmosphere which brought it home in a personal way to every individual present. Like Hazzan Polack, like Rabbi David Tevele Schiff, like his fellow-singer and teacher, Myer Leon, the boy was conscious of belonging to a race which, though not persecuted in eighteenth century England, was yet under many disabilities, and conscious also that in spite of this apparent inferiority he was specially protected, specially chosen, above the common little 1 Circumcision records of the London Ashkenazi congregations of this period provide few clues which can help us. They are, in any case, a doubtful aid, since in those congregations the patronymic is recorded simply by the first name, e.g. Isaac, son of Jacob, without mention of family name. However, it is probable that John Braham's English name represents and is an Anglicized version of Jonathan (or the Hebrew Jacob, or less likely, Israel or Jehudah) ben Abraham. MS. 261 at the Jewish Museum, London, is a collection of circumcision notes incorporated in the fly-leaves of a copy of a Hebrew printed book, Zohar Ha-berith, Amsterdam, 1710 (?), the author of which is Solomon (ben Moses Raphael) Zalman called "London." The copy is from the records of the Hambro Synagogue, and the notes are thus presumably made by a London circumciser. He recorded the circumcision of a child named Israel ben Abraham on 14th Heshvan, 1776, unfortu? nately without further details. It is a possibility, but nothing more, that we have here the record of John Braham. (I owe this information to the kind help of Mr. A. Schischa and to Mr. S. Cohen of the Jewish Museum.) 2 Dr. Cecil Roth describes Braham as "a boy whom Leoni once found selling pencils in the Street." On the back of an engraving in the Jewish Museum, presented by Dr. Israel Feldman in 1936, an unknown English Jew has written, "It is said that he, as a boy, sold oranges in White chapel."</page><page sequence="3">JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER 205 Gentile urchins of his own age. Many years later, after he had left the faith of his fathers, and when he could look back on brilliant successes in the greatest opera houses of Europe, his imaginative interpretation of the passage through the Red Sea in Handel's Israel in Egypt moved Charles Lamb to write: "The auditors for the moment are as Egyptians to him and he rides over our necks in triumph," and Joseph Heywood to describe the overwhelming impression this short recitative made on his hearers: "He said: 'But the children of Israel went on dry land,' and then paused, and every sound was hushed throughout that great space: and then, as if carved out upon the solid stillness, came those three little words 'through the sea.' Our breath failed, and our pulses ceased to beat, and we bent our heads, as all the wonder of the miracle seemed to pass over us with those accents." If the boy were the son of Abraham Singer of Prosnitz, he may have inherited his remarkable vocal chords from his father, and from who knows how long a line of synagogue singers stretching away into the mists of Bohemia, and he would have become familiar with Jewish ritual before he could speak. Be that as it may, he assisted his master Meyer Leon in the Great Synagogue and at least from boyhood steeped his mind in the Old Testament drama of which he was to be a supreme interpreter through the music of Handel. On the debit side it is possible he also acquired thus early a tendency to over ornament and over-emphasize. Meyer Leon was also Michael Leoni, who had appeared at Drury Lane as Master Leoni as early as 1760, seven years before he became assistant at the Great Synagogue. His most famous part was Carlos in The Duenna, which first appeared on 21st November, 1777. Garrick engaged him with the permission of the Elders and the proviso that he should not appear on the stage on a Friday night or on one of the Festivals. His voice was a light tenor, noted for honeyed sweetness rather than vigour, and he was famous for the florid improvisations which he introduced at his cadences. Horace Walpole spoke of the "melancholy melody" in his voice, and admired his singing of Handel. Leoni sang in oratorio, but apparently some exception was taken to this by the Synagogue authorities, and he had to resign his synagogue post. He remained, however, a practising Jew. From Leon-Leoni, young Braham must have learnt not only Jewish ritual singing, but his first notions of technique, of breathing and attack, and ideas of musical taste? both religious and secular, which probably remained with him all his life. "Master Braham" was introduced to the theatrical public at his master's Benefit at Covent Garden on Saturday, 21st April, 1787. He sang the bravura song, The Soldier Tir'd from Dr. Arne's Artaxerxes, and the sentimental ditty, Ma chere amie, in between the acts of The Duenna. The already famous Mrs. Billington was the Clara in The Duenna, and one wonders if she listened in the wings with condescension or admiration to the florrid passages of The Soldier Tir'd, which was one of her own show-pieces. Many years later, when Master Braham was Giovanni Braham, Primo Tenore, they were to fight a battle royal on the boards of La Scala over their respective bravura passages. But more of that later. On 20th June of the same year young Braham appeared with his master at the Royalty Theatre in Wellclose Square, an ill-starred venture of John Palmer, on which occasion he witnessed his first theatrical riot. The Morning Chronicle said on this occasion that The Soldier Tvfd was sung with great sweetness and execution by a little boy, the pupil of Mr. Leoni. "Little boy" would seem to be in favour of the later date of birth; on the other hand, Braham was always short of stature, and might have appeared a little boy at thirteen.</page><page sequence="4">206 JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER The Young Man Studies with Rauzzini and Makes His Tenor Debut Shortly after this, Leoni left England for Jamaica, to become the first Hazzan at Kingston, Jamaica. We have another period of obscurity in Braham's story. His voice broke about this time and it is said he helped himself by giving piano lessons. His voice returned with promise of future splendour, and here the Goldsmid family entered into his life as fairy god-fathers. It was a well-established tradition in the Goldsmid family that Abraham Goldsmid helped him from his earliest years, and it is a fair guess that he first heard him sing at the Great Synagogue. According to Pohl, the biographer of Haydn, it was the flautist Ashe who recommended young Braham to study with Rauzzini at Bath, but it was Goldsmid's money which enabled him to do so. Venanzio Rauzzini?a famous castrato singer?had settled in Bath in 1780 as a teacher of singing and what we should now call concert promoter, remaining there until his death in 1810, an honoured and respected figure. Rauzzini's was the old school of singing: the voice was trained to become a supple instrument, completely obedient to the will of its master, and able to perform all the feats of virtuosity demanded by the taste of the day. Great stress was laid upon sheer beauty of tone. There were faults in Braham's technique, but the greatest tribute to his training is the fact that he kept his voice to such an advanced age, in spite of the immense strain to which he subjected it. Rauzzini brought out the young Braham at his 1794-95 series of subscription con? certs at the Assembly Rooms. A paragraph in the Bath Chronicle of 20th November speaks of the two "novelties," i.e. new singers, which Rauzzini is introducing. One, Miss Parke, was styled by the amateurs of Bath, "the sweet singer of Israel," but the other "may be more properly said to deserve that tide, as he is derived to us from the Synagogue, though by the simple expedient of dropping the 'A' at the beginning of his name he has got rid of the patriarchal appellation and christianized himself. Mr. Braham possesses a fine mellow voice and correct judgement." Besides "novelties," Rauzzini also provided his public with some already established singers. And at the first concert of the season, 12th November (Braham's first appearance), sang also "the celebrated Madame Storace," herself a former pupil of Rauzzini. . . . Moreover, she sang a duet with the young beginner. Anna Selina Storace or Nancy Storace, but in reality plain Anne Storace, was then twenty-eight with some years of success behind her. She was the daughter of an Italian double-bass player, who settled in London and of Miss Trusler, of Marylebone. In Vienna she had been the first Susanna in Figaro and was much admired and possibly loved by Mozart. In Vienna also she had made a short-lived and disastrous marriage to the violinist, Fisher. It must have been an honour for the inexperienced young tenor to sing a duet with her. This duet was to be the first of many, as it turned out, and the beginning of a twenty-years' association. In retrospect, the tide of the duet seems singularly inappropriate: "Pleasure's former ways resigning." To anticipate some years, John Braham and Anna Selina Storace never forgot their gratitude to their old master, and on his death in 1810 they caused a memorial tablet to be erected in Bath Abbey, where it may still be seen. After another season at Bath, Braham made his debut at Drury Lane in Mahmoud on 30th March, 1796, the music by Stephen Storace, the brilliant brother of Anna Selina, who died tragically of gout barely two weeks before the production. It was finished by Anna Selina, and the profits were given by the author of the libretto, Prince Hoare, to the composer's widow and orphan. Kelly says Braham sang a hunting song in masterly</page><page sequence="5">JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER 207 style and a sentimental ballad with "great truth of expression and lovely simplicity." "Lovely simpHcity" is worth underhning, since that was a quality too often absent in Braham's singing. He made his debut at the Italian Opera at the King's Theatre on 26th November of the same year in Gretry's Zemire et Azore, and the Morning Post said: "When he has learnt to moderate his decorations and to surfer the exquisite melody of his voice to be felt unencumbered by the weight of ornament, he will gratify the most scientific as well as the most natural ear." ("Scientific," i.e. musically expert, as distinct from the ordinary listener who would just enjoy the beautiful sound.) This tendency to over-ornament may have come partiy from his early experience of florid singing in the synagogue, partly from his studies with Rauzzini, who belonged to the old school of Italian singing, and partly from a taste for the flamboyant in Braham's own nature. He sang in other Italian operas that year, and also at the Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester in September, and it must have been about this time that he gave lessons in Italian songs to Nelson's wife. The Continent with Anna Selina Storace He still had much to learn which could best be learnt in Italy, and in 1797 he and Anna Selina set out for the Continent. They stayed eight months in Paris on their way, and had much success in concerts. Their first concert was given under the patronage of Josephine de Beauharnais on the day that General Bonaparte left for Egypt. Braham played whist with Jerome Bonaparte, who told him: "Citizen Braham, my brother is determined to conquer and invade England_ But, mon eher ami, do not be frightened. Pray give me the place and number of your house, and I promise you I will occupy it myself and take care of it for you." In Italy Braham studied both singing and composition, but I have not yet discovered where or with whom. The Director of the Museo della Scala, Milan, has, however, given me some interesting information about his singing career, based upon playbills. He and La Storace, sometimes known as l'lnglesina, usually took double engagements, and it is interesting to note that more than one playbill describes her as Anna Selina Storace Braham. In England she was frequently referred to as Mrs. Braham. Mrs. Braham she doubtless would have been if it had not been for her brief and unfortunate marriage to the impossible Fisher, a story too long to detail. She was, of course, already well known in Italy, and her contacts, as we should now call them, must have been very useful. The Italian climate, both physical and musical, suited Braham; his voice came to its full splendour at a moment in operatic history when the tenor was replacing the castrato as the leading man. And in Italy there was no need to curb his natural taste for exuberant ornament. The famous encounter with Mrs. Billington at Milan illustrates this. It was still the custom of singers to introduce considerable embellishments and improvisations into the music written for them, thus demonstrating the virtuosity in which they had been trained. Mrs. Billington's objectionable husband had intrigued to have one of Braham's show-pieces removed from the opera in which they were both performing, and Braham took bis revenge. He listened at rehearsal to Mrs. Billington's brilliant embelhshments, and having a retentive ear as well as a technique equal to her own, reproduced them all at the performance in bis first solo which preceded hers, thus leaving her with no new tricks with which to astonish the audience. On the spur of the moment she could think of nothing else.</page><page sequence="6">208 JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER I will not weary the reader with dates, but (briefly) the pair sang at Florence in 1798, at Milan 1798-99, at Leghorn in 1800, where they met Nelson and the Hamiltons, in 1800-01 at Venice, and thence to Trieste and Vienna. At Venice they both sang in Cimarosa's Artemisia, left unfinished at the composer's death. Many years afterwards, in a letter to a musical journal, Braham described the composer's last days: "I was with the illustrious compositore almost every day. He wrote for me a beautiful scene. ... I assisted at Cimarosa's funeral, sang a song and in a quartet. ... A funeral movement was performed, and in the midst of the most solemn and soul-striking harmonies, little snatches of musical phrases, taken from celebrated operas of the composer . . . were heard from some wind instruments placed in a distant part of the church . . . my heart trembled and tears started from my eyes." He signed this letter "Giovanni Braham, Tenore, ma scrivo con molto umilta un inglese." Whatever his origins and however at home he may have felt in Italy, John Braham was proud to call himself English, and one of his claims to be remembered is that he was one of the first English singers to gain what we would now call international status. "Non c'e tenore in Italia come Braham" was said of him at this time. The Mature Singer He returned to England a mature singer?fortunate in his voice, his technique, his Italian experience and in the age in which he was born. It was a rising market for tenors, and the world was at his feet. Anna Selina, on the other hand, was past her best vocally. She had a roughness in her voice which had not improved with time, and her vivacity and humour as a soubrette were beginning to seem forced. However, she con? tinued to sing until 1809. The break-up of the theatrical partnership did not bring a domestic break for some years. In 1801 a son had been born to them, William Spencer Harris Braham, usually known as Spencer, who became a clergyman in the Church of England. In the course of a long career he was Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral. His great-granddaughter described him to me in his old age as "a lovely voice, a perfect mimic, a sense of humour and general charm." Many years later he changed his name to Meadows, ashamed not so much of his origins as of the fact that so many of the name of Braham were on the stage, and also of the scandal caused by Josephine, his youngest half-sister. Who could have recognized in the respectable Victorian Canon Meadows the son of Mozart's first Susanna? Braham sang chiefly in a series of English so-called operas, some of them hotch? potches by different composers, some of them with music entirely or partly by himself, of little value, but splendid vehicles for his singing. Among the better productions was The English Fleet in 1342, produced at Covent Garden in 1803, in which occurred the famous duet for two tenors, AIVs Well, sung by himself and Incledon. In 1811 came The Americans at the Lyceum, also by Braham himself, forgotten for everything except The Death of Nelson. In the middle of the stage was a marble tomb surmounted by a figure of Britannia, her head bowed in grief, holding a wreath of laurels. The audience rose and cheered, silenced only when Braham dressed as a British sailor sang the opening words of the recitative: "O'er Nelson's tomb. . . ." Ladies sobbed, strong men shed tears. There was tumultous applause and the whole had to be repeated again and again. Braham was to sing The Death of Nelson upon every suitable and unsuitable occasion for the rest of his life, and always with tremendous effect; it was his signature tune from</page><page sequence="7">%**? BvMftqb TU B?lt AY. Jue ?, 1?**. Devil s Brkfee. "- Iff. RIA II ? W, lit *BX?t\. A'? ?A ?T ?I. LUIT, ? r Ut ?V* ?qwmfae Ik^lW ??* ? trot* mUfc.* *I?t]im*Hcftrt? vTke ffcrture So re ?Aftt&gt; lamjxtatmjl' 4 BmAtmmilm Glm*k* IMOkiS ii i ?y Mr rWj ;.? cos Plate 34 Playbill of Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 29th June, 1824</page><page sequence="8">Plate 35 John Braham ca. 1774-1856</page><page sequence="9">JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER 209 1811 until his death in 1856. When Lady Hamilton heard it, she fell into strong con? vulsions; fortunately the box-keeper had been forewarned and was ready with a glass of water and a smelling bottle. Braham managed to interpolate it even into his part as Young Hawthorn in Love in a Village. The fact that the audience was aware that Braham had known Nelson in the flesh must have given an added thrill to these per? formances. Not only had they met at Leghorn, but more recently Braham had been a visitor to Merton and had sung duets with Lady Hamilton. Lord Minto wrote on 20th March, 1803: "Braham, the celebrated Jew singer, performed with Lady H. She is horrid, but he entertained me in spite of her." This seems the moment to say a word about Braham the composer. He had no great originality and his songs are full of cliches, but he had a certain gift of melody and knew how to write for the voice, particularly his own. "Said a tear to a smile," "Breathes there a heart," etc., typical sentimental ballads, have a certain period charm, and when sung with all Braham's beauty of tone and elegance of phrasing, must have been very effective. It is easy to laugh at The Death of Nelson, but, sung with conviction by a fine tenor voice, it would still move an emotional audience. He interpolated these songs (or any others he fancied) into all kinds of musical pieces. Here is an account of Guy Mannering, a hotch-potch based on Scott's novel, produced by Sir Henry Bishop at Covent Garden on 12th March, 1816:? "In the last scene, a cave ... a grand piano was discovered, at sight whereof Braham as Henry Bertram blandly remarked, ?A Piano.' That reninds me of the delightful aria I heard at La Scala the other night. Let me see if I remember it. Sitting down, he accompanied himself in a delightful Italian ditty; then an encore was vociferously demanded?he responded with 'Waft her Angels' (from Handel's Jephthah)." He did sometimes sing in opera worthy of his gifts, however. From 1806-16 he was engaged at the Italian opera and sang in Mozart's Tito and Cosi fan tutte. Both Rauzzini, his teacher, and Anna Selina Storace had known Mozart well and studied with him, so that Braham had every opportunity of learning to sing such music as the composer intended. Whether he did or not, is another matter. But his veneration for Mozart is shown by the fact that he was one of the subscribers to the presentation made to Mozart's sister in 1829. His name comes next to that of Thomas Attwood on the list. He was a poor actor, not helped by his low stature. However, he achieved dramatic effect by his vocal colour and his remarkably clear articulation. Therefore he was at his best when he had fine words to sing, not conventional rubbish, and his true greatness showed itself in oratorio rather than on the stage. It was in the Old Testament subjects of Handel's oratorios that Braham was at his finest. Listen to Nathan: "From his masterly delivery the music and poetry resemble a fine picture whose light and shade mellow on the eye until we imagine that the living objects are before us in their reality." Speaking of the Handel Commemoration of 1834, another writer says: "Braham sang Total Eclipse (Samson) as no one else could then or now sing it, so as to make his hearers feel the hopeless sorrow of blindness." I have already quoted descriptions of his singing in Israel in Egypt. An article in the Musical Quarterly, 1818, confirms that his style in oratorio was quite different from that he employed in Italian opera. This article, very balanced in its criticism, says he was gifted with the most extraordinary genius and aptitude for the exercise of his profession that was ever implanted in a human being. Such were his natural gifts that he could produce at pleasure any given quality of tone on any one of the</page><page sequence="10">210 JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER nineteen notes of his voice. But the writer comes down heavily on him for "his defects of exaggeration, and even accuses him of being a bad influence on other singers. 1816: Critical Year of Marriage, and Possible Baptism This is, perhaps, the place in which to discuss a matter of special interest to members of this Society, namely the date at which John Braham formally abandoned the faith of his fathers. From 1797-1816 he was living and working with Signora Storace, a Gentile and a Protestant, and there is no evidence of his practising his religion during those years. In 1813 and 1815 he sang at the Charity Banquet at the Meshibat Naphesh, and in 1815 subscribed ?5 5s. Od. to the Charity. This is no evidence of Orthodoxy, since the Christian tenor Incledon did the same, but it is evidence he was not a renegade. As the late Mr. Wilfred Samuel pointed out, the vocal and cash contribution of a Gentile would be acceptable to such a Jewish charity, when that of a renegade Jew would not. On 18th November, 1816, John Braham was married in the Collegiate Church, Manchester, to Frances Elizabeth Bolton. On 13th February, 1826, John Bull made an attack on his singing in Oratorio on account of his being a Jew. To which he replied in a letter to the New Times that he had "long been a member of the Protestant Church." This led to Charles Lamb's famous Essay, The Religion of Actors. If he was ever baptized, a likely time would be just before his marriage. I say "if," because although membership of the "Protestant Church" certainly pre-supposes baptism, Braham's statement is rather vague, and it is just possible he merely conformed to his wife's religious views. Announcements of baptism appear to have been usual in the Manchester papers of the period, and no such announcement can be traced. Unless some unexpected piece of information turns up we have to admit that we do not know when or where (or even if) he was baptized. The year 1816 was in any case a momentous one in his life. The long association with La Storace finally broke up, following the action for Grim. Con. brought by a certain Mr. Wright, whose wife had become friendly with the Braham menage. It was pretty clearly a form of blackmail, but Mr. Wright was awarded ?1,000 damages in July, 1816, and Braham was hissed at Drury Lane. And on 18th November of the same year he was married to Frances Elizabeth Bolton, one of the five children of an impecunious widow. Fanny was seventeen, beautiful, tall and slender. Braham was old enough to be her father, but famous, wealthy and of great charm. Domestic Extravagance and Public Success Fanny was dazzled in a naive sort of way by her husband's fame, and even more by his aristocratic admirers. She had a passion for entertaining, and no idea of the value of money. Braham's triumphs continued unbroken in the 1820's and his money was care? fully invested by the Goldsmid brothers. But the family finances felt the strain as the family itself grew:?Hamilton, Frances, Charles, Ward, Augustus, Josephine. . . . Braham's life before his marriage could not be described as austere, but he was too whole? hearted an artist to let either snobbery or dissipation get the better of him, and he had lived on a fairly modest scale with Nancy Storace. In 1830 the Braham family moved to the Grange, a large house opposite Brompton Church, between Yeoman's Row and the road that led through gardens to Fulham. Thousands of pounds were spent on fitting it up, and there was a grand party in July, 1831, in honour of His Royal Highness the</page><page sequence="11">JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER 211 Duke of Sussex, who was god-father to Braham's son Augustus, and who took the Rev. Spencer Braham as his domestic chaplain. Such parties had to be paid for, and paid for by the cheapening of Braham's art. The Duke of Sussex himself once asked him why he did not always sing as finely as he could sing, instead of playing to the gallery, as we should call it. "If I did, I should not have the honour of entertaining your Royal Highness to-night," was the candid answer. One cannot blame Mrs. Braham alone for the follies of their way of life. Braham should have put his foot down. How clearly he saw both the foolishness and his own weakness is shown in a letter he wrote her about sending Hamilton to Cambridge: "You know I was always against the vain project of sending any of my children to the Univer? sity. . . . But the dazzling vulgarity of the thing blinded me. . . ." "The dazzling vulgarity of the thing. . . ." That candid admission explains perhaps some of the faults in his singing as well as his financial downfall. But it was theatrical speculation which finally ruined the Brahams. When Fanny dislocated her ankle going up to a first-tier box at Drury Lane, her husband vowed she would have her own theatre, a vow she made him keep. In the words of Edward Stirling (Old Drury Lane, 1881): "He built the St. James's Theatre at a cost of nearly ?40,000 and managed it himself at a loss of nearly ?20,000 in three years: total, ?60,000 for a slip of the foot." One of the most interesting episodes in the St. James's story is the production in 1836 of the operetta which John Hullah wrote to the libretto of Charles Dickens, The Village Coquettes. It was not a success financially, nor (it must be admitted) artistically, and Braham's costume was said to be "absolutely disfiguring," but in order to see John Braham and Charles Dickens take a curtain call together, most of us would gladly sit through an evening of worse rubbish than that presented on 25th September, 1836. The St. James's Theatre did at least give pleasure to play-goers for more than a century, but Braham's other 1835 speculation, the Colosseum in Regent's Park, was a disastrous enterprise, now quite forgotten. The year 1836 was one of constant lawsuits, selling and borrowing, while Mrs. Braham gave parties and made ambitious plans for her family. Braham was still too busy singing to give enough attention to either of his speculations. But during those years, when the family finances were sliding rapidly downhill, he had some of the greatest musical experiences of his career. In 1824 the thirteen-year-old Liszt visited London for the first time and displayed "his inimitable powers" on the new grand pianoforte invented by Sebastian Erard, and was much in Braham's company. In the same year, Braham was Max in the first English production of Der Freisch?tz at the Lyceum on 22nd July. It proved such a good box-office draw that Kemble invited Weber to compose an opera in English, specially for England. The result was Oberon to a libretto by Planche. On 5th March, 1826, Weber, already in the last stages of consumption, arrived in England to conduct rehearsals. He composed two fresh airs to suit Braham, who was Sir Huon,andthe first triumphant performance took place at Covent Garden on 12th April. Thackeray caricatured Braham in the part of Sir Huon. Weber did not spare himself during those weeks. He conducted the first twelve performances of the opera himself, and appeared in concerts given by his chief singers. On 4th June he died. Braham and other principal singers were pall-bearers at his funeral, and Braham's mind must have gone back to the last days of Cimarosa in Venice.</page><page sequence="12">212 JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER I will not give a long account of all the musical festivals at which Braham sang, but I must mention the first performance of Mendelssohn's St. Paul and Song of Praise, both at Birmingham, and both conducted by the composer?in 1837 and 1840 respectively. Financial Straits: America and Last Concerts in England The stage was not entirely abandoned, and when he began losing his upper notes he sang high baritone parts, Don Giovanni and William Tell. There was the same fine musicianship, the same perfect enunciation, the same true feeling and mastery in recitative, but the voice was not what it had once been. Tell was a success, however; its thirty-third performance was attended by Queen Victoria. In ten months in 1839 Braham earned more than seventeen hundred pounds, but his earnings could not keep pace with his cornrnitments and the extravagant way of living at the Grange. He urged economy on Mrs. Braham, with little result. In May, 1839, a fashionable reception was given at the Grange to celebrate the first marriage of the lovely Frances Braham. Within a year she was a widow, for the first but not the last time. Her parents were in America in September, 1840, when they heard she had become Countess Waldegrave, the name under which she became famous in Victorian society. The Brahams had gone to America as much to escape their creditors as to recoup their fortunes. The DeviVs Bridge, Masaniello, The Cabinet, The Waterman ... all the old favourites were produced at the Park Theatre with the ageing singer in the juvenile leads. Small wonder that the public was cool. But when he repeated his great inter? pretations of Handel on the concert platform, then we read that "his pathos, sublimity, power and wonderful execution cannot be described." Charles Braham, a pleasing tenor trained up in his father's school, joined his parents in New York, and sang with his father; on their return they gave a successful concert together at the St. James's Theatre. Charles, tenor, and Hamilton, bass, alone of the family made any mark on the professional stage; Augustus inherited some vocal gifts, and Ward was active in amateur theatricals. Spencer, his son by La Storace, as we have seen, used his fine voice in a different sphere; he probably inherited a double portion of vocal talent. During the next few years John Braham with Hamilton and Charles gave concerts up and down the country, with long programmes, sometimes in quite obscure places. The Death of Nelson was always on the programme and one or two of the father's most famous Handel arias; each son sang several solos, and there were glees for three voices, for good measure. In 1849 John Braham's debts were again so serious that he fled to Brussels with his son Ward to escape imprisonment. The next year he was comfortably settled in Blooms bury, but three years later, when nearly eighty, he had to pay another enforced visit to the Continent, this time to Boulogne. Wyndham Hewitt's Strawberry Fair gives a fascinating picture not only of the beautiful Lady Waldegrave and her grand social and political circle, but of the Braham family in the great singer's last years. One is left with an impression of irrepressible vitality, sometimes ill-directed as in the case of the black sheep, Josephine, but always rather attractive. Lady Waldegrave herself helped her Bohemian and usually impecunious relations out of their messes to the best of her ability, and was quite unspoilt. Wyndham Hewitt comments on her death: "The last of the great ladies was dead." Did he stop to think that the last of the great ladies was only one generation away from the Stage and the Synagogue on her father's side, and that she did not repudiate either, surely another</page><page sequence="13">JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER 213 tribute to her character considering the age in which she lived. She was an affection? ate daughter and sister. Braham's last years were made less harassed by her care. Wilhelm Ganz remembers accompanying him in 1851 when he sang at a party at Lady Waldegrave's. "He sang Total Eclipse in a way I shall never forget, and with an amount of pathos which touched my heart. His high chest notes were as fresh and pure as a young man's." There was dignity in the old singer's last years, and Chichester Fortescue, Lord Carlingford (Lady Waldegrave's third husband) remarked on his lack of obsequiousness. On 17th February, 1856, John Braham died at 29, Conduit Street, devotedly cared for by Aunt Seph&gt; Mrs. Braham's sister (Mrs. Braham had pre-deceased him). Lady Waldegrave was with him in his last, short illness. He is buried in Kensal Green, on the north side near the Harrow Road. To conclude, may I quote from Henry Phillips, himself a singer and a Jew: "He was, take him altogether, a most extraordinary personage, highly gifted and better educated than musicians generally; he had an expansive and creative mind, was gifted with a glorious voice, full, round and flexible, whilst as a musical declaimer, he was perfect. . . ." Acknowledgements I am deeply grateful to Lord Strachie for letting me see his collection of family papers in 1945; and to many correspondents who have supplied information of all kinds. The precious Dublin contract* was kindly given me by Mr. T. Edward Carpenter. Dr. Richard Barnett has done his best to find out more about Braham's origins. Bibliography It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that Braham is mentioned at least once in every book of reminiscences and nearly every periodical published in this country from his return to England in 1801 until his death, i.e. roughly the first half of the nineteenth century. There is all too much information, much of it trivial and repetitive, about his middle and later life. On the other hand, his early years are poorly documented, and there is still much to be learnt about his career abroad, 1798-1801. The following should not be regarded as a complete bibliography, but rather as the chief sources for the story of Braham's life and art, other than those mentioned in the Acknowledgements:? Early Years Paul Emden, Jews of Britain, London, 1944. Z. Idelsohn, Hebrew Union College Jubilee Volume, Ms., Cicinnati, 1925. James Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History, London, 1875. Cecil Roth, The Great Synagogue, London, 1690-1940, London, 1950. Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England, Oxford, 1949. Grove, Dictionary of Music and Musicians. D.N.B.: newspapers, etc. * Shown on the screen but not reproduced.</page><page sequence="14">214 JOHN BRAHAM, SINGER France, Italy, Germany Les Gestes de VAn VI, and other French periodicals, for France. Nani Mocenigo, Cronologia della Fenke, 1926. Giuseppe Pavan, I Teatri Musicali Veneziani, 1916-17. I For Teodoro Wiel, / teatri musicali del settecento, 1897. [ Italy. Material in the Museo Teatrale della Scala, Milan. Musikalische Zeitung, 1800-01, for Germany. Family Affairs Letters in the Soane Museum; information kindly supplied by the Cathedral Librarian, Canterbury, and by the descendants of the Rev. Spencer Braham, for the son of Braham and Nancy Storace; Verbatim report of Wright v. Braham, 1816, for the scandal preceding the final break with Nancy Storace. C. Wyndham Hewitt, Strawberry Fair, London, 1955, for marriage and history of legitimate descendants. America George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, Vol. IV, Columbia University Press, New York, 1928. New York Mirror, 1840-41. Career as a mature singer in England John Ebers, Seven Years of the King's Theatre, 1828. William Gardiner, Music of Nature, 1832. William Gardiner, Music and Friends, 1838-53. Life of John Hullah, by his wife, 1886. Isaac Nathan, Musurgia Vocalis, 1823. Charles E. Pearce, Sims Reeves, 1924. Max von Weber, C. M. von Weber, ein Lebensbild, 1912. C. F. Pohl, Mozart u. Haydn in London, Vienna, 1867. Charles Lamb, Essays. William Hazlitt, Essays. Playbills, newspapers, periodicals.</page></plain_text>