Monday, October 02, 2006

Obituary of John Braham

Feb 17. Aged 82, John Braham esq.
the veteran vocalist.
This favourite of three generations was
born in London in 1774. By descent he
was a German Jew; was left an orphan;
it is said that in his boyhood he sold pen-
cils in the public streets. However, he
was still very young when he became the
pupil of Leoni, and Italian singer of cele-
brity; and his first appearance in public
took place nearly seventy years ago, on an
occasion of which the following is a record:
“For the benefit of Mr. Leoni, at the
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, on Sa-
turday April 21 1787, will be performed
the Comic Opera called the Duenna:
Ferdinand, Mr. Johnstone; Isaac, Mr.
Quick; Don Jerome, Mr. Edwin; Antonio
Mr. Davies; Lopez, Mr. Wewitzer; Carlos,
Mr. Leoni; The Duenna, Mrs. Wilson;
Louisa, Mrs Martyr; and Clara, Mrs.
Billington. At the end of Act I. ‘The
Soldier tired of War’s Alarms,’ by Master
Braham, being his first appearance on any
stage.” And again, after the first act of
the farce, he sang the favourite song of
Ma chere Amie. At the opening of the
Royalty Theatre in Wellclose-square on
the 20th June in the same year,” Between
the acts of the play, ‘The Soldier tiered
with War’s Alarms; was sung with great
success by a little boy, Master Abram,
the pupil of Leoni,” according to the
Chronicle; and another paper said, “ Yes-
terday evening we were surprised by a
Master Abraham, a young pupil of Mr.
Leoni. He promises fair to attain per-
fection; possessing every requisite ne-
cessary to form a capital singer.”
When he lost his boyish voice his future
prospects appeared doubtful, -- Leoni who
had fallen into difficulties, about that time

leaving England, but John Braham found
a generous patron in Abraham Goldsmith,
and became a professor of the piano. On
his voice regaining its power he went to
Bath, and there, in the year 1794, made
his appearance at some concerts that took
place under the direction Rauzzini, who,
appreciating his talent, gave him musical
instruction for three years. In 1796 young
Braham was engaged by Signor Storace
for Drury-Lane Theatre, and his debut
(which was in an opera called Mahmoud)
was so successful, that in the year fol-
lowing he was engaged for the Italian
Opera-house. Hoping, however, to achieve
a reputation more permanent than could
be obtained by any other course, he re-
solved to visit Italy, and there to complete
his musical education. Florence was the
first city at which he appeared in public;
then he went to Milan, and afterwards to
Genoa, at which latter place he studied
composition under Isola – performing with
another great English artist, Mrs. Billing-
Taking leave of Italy in consequence of
numerous solicitations form his own coun-
try, where the intelligence of his success
had awakened a lively curiousity, he re-
appeared at Covent Garden in 1801. This
is the pint form which may be dated that
triumphant career during which he created
a constant furore, the effect of which has
lasted in some degree even to our own
days. The opera in which he made his
first appearance after his return was a work
by Messrs. Mazzinghi and Reeve, entitled
The Chains of the Heart. For a series of
years, terminating in 1816, he sang at the
King’s Theatre, in concert with Mesdames
Billington, Foder, and Grassini. In 1809,
having been engaged for the Theatre Royal,
Dublin, for fifteen nights (for the sum of
2,000 guineas), he was so successful, that
his performances were prolonged to thirty-
six. When Weber composed his opera
Oberon for the English stage, Braham was
the original Sir Huon.
At the commencement of the present
century, a vocalist who was a the same
time an accomplished musician was a rare
personage; and for many years Braham
was without a competitor. After his voice
had lost its original power, he was suc-
cessively engaged at several theatres on the
mere strength of a reputation which seemed
immortal; and his proficiency in singing
Handel’s works was universally acknow-
ledged when his career as a popular vo-
calist had reached its termination.
Of his capabilities, it was said that from
the simplicity of “There was a Jolly
Miller”, to the difficulties of “Amid a
thousand racking Woes,” he had no equal.
His compass extended to about nineteen
notes; and his falsetto, from D to A, was
so entirely within his control, that it was
hardly possible to distinguish where his
natural voice began and ended.
But, after all, the unbounded popularity
which Braham so long enjoyed was derived
not so much form his scientific skill as
from the fact that he expressed, in his
well-known songs, with wonderful force
and fire, the national feelings of his time.
While his triumphs as a vocalist were
without precedent, Mr. Braham was also
successful as a composer. Not only did
he wrote several of the most popular songs,
but he composed a tolerably long list of
entire operas. Of these the most cele-
brated were perhaps The Cabinet and The
Devil’s Bridge, relics of which will be
found in every old-fashioned music-book.
The only vocation which Braham at-
tempted without success was that of ma-
nager. The St. James’s Theatre, which
he built as an opera-house, and which was
first opened in 1836, never fully answered
the purpose for which it was first intended.
He also leased the Coliseum in the Re-
gent’s Park, which proved an equally un-
successful speculation.
In private life Mr Braham was gene-
rally respected. He moved in good so-
ciety; and among his acquaintance his
fame as a man of extensive information,
and as a humorous retailer of anecdotes,
was scarcely inferior to his reputation as a
vocalist. The large fortune which his
genius and energy had once aimed was
lost by unfortunate speculation; but his
declining years have been passed in the
most cheerful comfort, secured to him by
the care of his daughter, Lady Walde-
grave. She married, first, John James
Henry Waldegrave, esq.; secondly in 1840
George Edward, seventh Earl of Walde-
grave; and thirdly, in 1847, George Gran-
ville Vernon Harcourt, esq. eldest son of
the late Archbishop of York. Three of
Mr. Braham’s sons have adopted his own
profession. Their mother was Miss Bolton,
of Arwick near Manchester, to whom he
was married in 1816. HE had previously
lived for some years with the daughter of
his old master, Anna Selina Storace, who
accompanied him to Italy, and by that lady
he had a son, who became a minister of
the Church of England, to which Braham
himself had conformed.

Source: The Gentleman’s Magazine, January to June inclusive 1856, pp. 540 - 541

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