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Some Anglo-Jewish Song Writers

Rev. F. L. Cohen

<plain_text><page sequence="1">JEWISH HISTORICAL SOCIETY. -? SOME ANGLO-JEWISH SONG WRITERS. By the Rev. F. L. COHEN. As, judging from the kindness of Mr. M. D. Davis in sending me extracts from his rich store of notes on the Pre-expulsion period concerning Anglo-Jewish musicians of that time, it appears to have been thought I was to cover a wide range of centuries this evening, I must explain that my intention originally was to sketch the work of Anglo-Jewish song-writers of the present century only. I found myself very soon compelled to exclude from my view those who are happily still amongst us. And I must confess that from the artistically musical point of view I have unearthed no hitherto undiscovered treasures. On the contrary, I had some great disappointments. Even some of the illustrations I at first selected Mrs. Cohen could not bring herself to sing, so unendurably trivial were they. But most of those I came across I myself was obliged to reject on that score. Thus, for instance, the only publication of Michael Bolaffi (or Abulafia), musical director to the late Duke of Cambridge, is a sonnet for voice and piano? forte published in 1809 in memory of Haydn, who would have been altogether forgotten next year if he had had no greater claims to immortality. When, however, I came to Charles Sloman, the popular entertainer of some fifty years ago, Braham's musical conductor, and the author of "Fitful Fancies," I thought I had a valuable find. Among his songs I noticed?" The Daughter of Israel," " The Hebrew* Maiden's Dream," " The Daughter of Salem," " The Maid of Judah." " Here," said I, triumphantly, " here is a man with excellent taste/' But, unfortunately, the excellent taste did not extend to the music. So vol. ii. b</page><page sequence="2">2 SOME ANGLO-JEWISH SONG WRITERS. having barred myself from the use of the vastly more edifying com? positions of living writers, I determined to illustrate to you Braham and Nathan, the men to whom we owe the " Hebrew Melodies " already discussed this evening. I am not going to take up your time with a biography of these men. If you are interested in that, I refer you to Grove's Dictionary of Music, or the Dictionary of National Biography. Braham and Nathan I look upon as pioneers of the Emancipation, as our friend, Mr. Israel Abrahams, looks upon Daniel Mendoza, Dutch Sam, Aby Belasco, or Barney Aaron. These pugilists, who flourished, you remember, in the early decades of this century, made all English sporting men respectfully familiar with the prowess of English Jews. Braham and Nathan did the same thing in other directions?Braham, as the Edward Lloyd of his time, the unapproachable singer of oratorio, the acknowledged chief ornament of the operatic stage and concert platform, the genial wit and man of society?and Nathan, the fashionable singing master and song-writer. When any section of the population find favour in the sight of the sporting world, the opera world, and the oratorio world, they are sure to be favourably regarded by the mass of the English. But, strictly between ourselves, let us notice that while the pugilists belonged to Bevis Marks, the singers belonged to Duke's Place. John Braham (or Abrahams) was born in London about 1774, and was left an orphan at an early age. He sold pencils in the City streets until he was adopted by Myer Lyon (after? wards famous as the operatic singer Leoni) and employed as a Meshorrer, or singing boy, at the Great Synagogue, where Leoni was an official. Even as a child the flexibility and sweetness of Braham's voice were remarkable. Leoni soon lost his position at Duke's Place, owing, it is said, to his having sung in a public performance of the "Messiah." But one may perhaps doubt whether it was ecclesiastical reasons that concluded Leoni's and Braham's connection with the syna? gogue. It is so easy to throw on the ecclesiastical authority the blame for action or inaction in communal matters. If only the public would open their eyes they would recognise that it is the lay management of the synagogai body?in other words, their own representatives?who have received from themselves a mandate to do nothing, to care nothing, and to know nothing that might promote a closer union between good music and the synagogue. So it was in Leoni's time, and so, I am afraid, it</page><page sequence="3">some anglo-jewish song writers. 3 will remain for a long time to eome. When Leoni fell into financial dif? ficulties, and went abroad in hope of better fortune, Abraham Goldsmid materially befriended the young Braham and was rewarded by the signal success of the new singer, who reigned supreme from 1796 till 1831, and appeared with success even after that, till 1852. He died four years later. Braham's voice was a marvel; its volume was prodigious; its range, including head notes, the wonderful extent of two octaves and a fifth beyond. It rang out like a trumpet even at the age of fifty-six. As a singer of Handel he was incomparable. When he visited Paris and Italy for three years, at the close of the last century, the critics acknowledged they had no tenor to approach him. As a composer he was very feeble, most of his songs being only endurable by the em? bellishments he delightfully introduced in singing them. After the fashion of the day, Braham himself set to music the words which fell to him and to his companion Nancy Storace to sing. When you hear some of these words, which I had trouble in persuading Mrs. Cohen to sing, you will agree that that was decidedly not the period in which a Gilbert or a Burnand flourished. Here is one of the best of them, catalogued as an " admired ballad." Ballad . . . " The Winter is Past"... Braham. Mrs, F. L. Cohen. The next song, " The Bewildered Maid," contains a sort of parody of Ophelia's song, and is, I imagine, a very indigestible joke. When I read it, I was bewildered; when Mrs. Cohen sang it, she was be? wildered ; and when you hear it, I think you will be bewildered. Ballad . . . " The Bewildered Maid "... Braham. Mrs. F. L. Cohen. Braham had a very conventionally Jewish appearance. He is described as " short and stout, with a long Hebrew nose, and a huge pair of black whiskers." Another observer tells us he was once at the opera when the orchestra began to play a symphony with unusual zeal and fire. At the last chord there darted on from the wings a little fat man, clad in absurdly tight garments, who ran to the footlights, and leaning as far forward as he could without falling over on to the heads of the band, placed his hand where his waist ought to have been, and b 2</page><page sequence="4">4 SOME ANGLO-JEWISH SONG WRITERS. gave forth a string of most ravishing notes. At one of the Hereford Festivals, we are told, his small stature gave rise to an amusing incident. He was singing the " Bay of Biscay," and in the last verse used to secure considerable effect by falling on one knee at the words, " A Sail! A Sail! " On this occasion a barrier had been erected on the audience side of the platform ; so, of course, he disappeared from view. The assembly rose as one man, thinking he had fallen down a trap door ; and when he got up, received him with roars of laughter. Braham gave us English Jews the distinction that one of us con? tributed to the enrichment of our country's national music. Braham frequently appeared in the character of a sailor. The song Mr. Solomon is good enough to sing was thus contributed by him to S. J. Arnold's play, " The Americans." It will ever remain a national melody, because alike of its sentiment and its stirring tunefulness ; and by this patriotic air will that amiable singer be longest remembered. Many a Briton has first heard of Nelson's immortal signal through this song; and while Englishman and duty are terms that may with propriety and fairness be intimately connected, so long will this song keep green the memory of John Brabam. Regit. &amp; Aib . . " The Death of Nelson "... Braham. Mr. S. J. Solomon. Braham was a very witty man, and ready at repartee. His wit was often Rabelaisian in flavour; but some jokes related thirty years after by his friend Nathan may be repeated. Once at a dinner in aid of some charity, Braham subscribed twenty pounds, and placed his twenty notes upon the stewards' plate. Abraham Groldsmid was also present, and subscribed twenty guineas. When after dinner Braham had sung, his health was enthusiastically drunk. On rising to return thanks, he said that that evening he must yield the palm to Mr. Goldsmid, who it would be noticed had gone one note above him. On another occasion, at rehearsal, another of the singers worried him with complaints about the terrible cold in the head from which he was suffering, and kept on interrupting Braham by ejaculating, " Oh ! my poor nose." At last Braham turned on him and shouted, " Oh ! blow your nose." Braham fully recognised that some of the songs he sang were trivial to excess. Once when the Duke of Sussex was dining at</page><page sequence="5">SOME ANGLO-JEWISH SONG WRITERS. 5 his house, he sang a noble song with the perfection of artistic style. "Why, Braham," said the Duke, " don't you always sing like that ? " " If I did," responded Braham, 441 should not have had the honour of entertaining your Royal Highness to-night." I am afraid that some of the songs I have placed on the programme, but which Mrs. Cohen feels are too trivial for her to sing before an audience like this, must be reckoned among the pot-boilers to which Braham thus alluded. I have selected the duet which follows in order to introduce to you one of Braham's less kuown naval songs, the moral of which holds good in our days even more than in his. Although two sopranos sing it to night, it is intended for two tenors. Like the better known duet, 44 All's Well," it is taken from the very successful " English Fleet in 1342," produced in 1803, the words being by Dibdin, and the music entirely by Braham. Duet . . " Albion, on thy Fertile Plains" . . Braham. Mrs. F. L. Cohen and Miss Z. Cohen. Isaac Nathan, the other musician we discuss, was born at Canter? bury in 1792. His father was a man of considerable familiarity with Rabbinical literature, in which he took care to ground young Isaac. He intended his son to become a Chazan, as I gather that he himself was. He grounded him well in synagogal melody and Jewish ritual, both of which Isaac championed in the fairly numerous books of musical theory which he afterwards wrote. Nathau seems to have felt a warm pride in his Jewish origin and accomplishments. He was a well read man, having been sent to Cambridge to study in 1805. But music and the stage were too powerful a magnet for him, and he in time became the fashionable singing-master of his day, numbering many pupils of exalted position. He was on terms of some intimacy with persons of distinction, among them Lord Byron, very many of whose lyrics he set to music, but not so, it must be confessed, as to render them immortal as songs. Braham was a master of the noble art of self-defence. His friend Nathan was also a ready boxer. He promptly knocked down Lord Langford on account of a notorious scandal in con? nection with which a scurrilous caricature had been issued as early as 1820. The details of this scandal are to be found in the daily papers for October 28th, 1835. Nathan became mixed up in a political</page><page sequence="6">6 SOME ANGLO-JEWISH SONG WRITERS. mission. In it lie expended all his resources ; and, although he was much complimented, he was overwhelmed with all the red-tape of the Circumlocution Office, and only succeeded at length in securing from Lord Melbourne's Government his printing expenses of ?326, about one-eighth of his claim. Disgusted, he emigrated to Sydney in the forties. There, as at home, he lectured, taught singing, wrote operas, and even displayed his indefatigability in himself cutting the music type for a periodical he issued in 1848. His end was tragi-comic. He was run over by a tramcar and killed in January, 1864, at the age of 72. Let us rather take leave of him at the height of his fame, when he had so brilliant a success with his music to Kenney's " Sweethearts and Wives." The so-called comic song in this forms our last illustra? tion, and is an excellent example of Nathan's style. He republished it the same year as a pianoforte theme with variations. It almost attained the dignity of a national song, and a new edition of it was called for as recently as 1883. Song . . "Why are yon wandering here, I pray?" . . Nathan. Mrs. F. L. Cohen. At this late hour I shall leave it to Mr. Solomon to make the concluding remark, which will take the form of a soug by a lamented Anglo-Jewish musician nearer to our own day, whose compositions are filled with the influence of the great classical song-writers who have conquered the musical world since the days when Braham and Nathan flourished. Song . . . " Alice, where art thou ?" . . Joseph Ascher. Mr, S. J. Solomon.</page></plain_text>