A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Braham, John

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BRAHAM, John, born in London of Jewish parents in 1774, was left an orphan at an early age, and in such humble circumstances that he is said to have sold pencils about the streets for a living. He was still very young when he became the pupil of Leoni, an Italian singer of celebrity; and his first appearance in public was at Covent Garden Theatre, April 21, 1787, for the benefit of his master. In the bill it is announced—'At the end of Act 1, 'The soldier tired of war's alarms,' by Master Braham, being his first appearance on any stage.' After the first act of the farce, he sang the favourite song of 'Ma chère amie.' At the opening of the Royalty Theatre in Wellclose Square, on June 20 in the same year, between the acts of the play, 'The soldier tired of war's alarms' 'was sung with great success by a little boy, Master Abram, the pupil of Leoni'; and another paper said 'Yesterday evening we were surprised by a Master Abraham, a young pupil of Mr. Leoni. He promises fair to attain perfection; possessing every requisite necessary to form a capital singer.' When he lost his boyish voice the future prospects of young Braham appeared doubtful; Leoni had fallen into difficulties, and about that time left England; but he 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 in 1794 made his appearance at some concerts there under the direction of Rauzzini, who, appreciating his talent, gave him musical instruction for three years. In 1796 he was engaged by Storace for Drury Lane, and his début (in an opera called 'Mahmoud') was so successful that in the year following he was engaged for the Italian opera-house [App. p.560 "the Oratorios, and the Three Choir Festival"]. Hoping, however, to achieve a more permanent reputation than could be obtained by any other course, he resolved to visit Italy, and there complete his musical education. Florence was the first [App. p.560 "Italian"] city at which he appeared in public; then he visited Milan, and afterwards Genoa, where he studied composition under Isola.

Taking leave of Italy in consequence of numerous solicitations from his own country, he reappeared at Covent Garden in 1801. From this point may be dated that triumphant career during which he created a constant furore, the effect of which has hardly yet passed away. The opera in which he made his first appearance was a work by Mazzinghi and Reeve, entitled 'The Chains of the Heart.' The music, however, was so feeble in the serious, and so commonplace and vulgar in the comic parts, that it lived only a few nights, and was succeeded by ' The Cabinet.' In this opera Braham was the composer of all the music of his own part, a custom to which he continued for several years to adhere, and seldom has music been more universally popular. Among the operas with which he was thus connected we may name 'Family Quarrels,' 1802; [App. p.560 "'The Siege of Belgrade,' 1802;"] 'The English Fleet,' 1802 [App. p.560 "1803"]; 'Thirty Thousand,' 1804; 'Out of Place,' 1805; 'False Alarms,' 1807; 'Kais, or Love in a Desert,' 1808; and 'The Devil's Bridge,' 1812 [App. p.560 "'Nareusky,' 1814, and 'Zuma' (with Bishop), 1818. At the Lyceum he appeared in 'The Americans,' 1811; 'Isidore de Merida,' 1827, and 'The Taming of a Shrew,' 1828". To follow Braham in all his engagements would exceed the limits of this notice; it is sufficient to say that in the theatre, concert-room, or church, he had scarcely a rival. Non ce in Italia tenore come Braham was the frequent exclamation of foreigners. 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. After his voice had lost its natural power he was successively engaged at several theatres, on the mere strength of a reputation which seemed immortal; and his proficiency in singing Handel was universally acknowledged when his career as a popular vocalist had reached its termination. When Weber composed his opera 'Oberon' for the English stage (1826), Braham was the original Sir Huon. [App. p.560 "An American tour, undertaken with his son Charles in 1840, was unsuccessful, and his last appearance took place at the Wednesday concert in March 1852."]

In 1831 however the tide of fortune changed. In that year he purchased, jointly with Yates, the Colosseum in the Regent's Park for the large sum of £40,000. Five years afterwards he opened the St. James' Theatre, which he had erected at a cost of £26,000. The large fortune which his genius and energy had gained him was lost by these unfortunate speculations. He died Feb. 17, 1856.

In private life Braham was much respected. He moved in good society; and among his acquaintance his fame as a man of information, a humourist, and a raconteur, was scarcely inferior to his reputation as a vocalist. As a composer he completely attained the object he aimed at in his numerous songs, duets, etc., many of which attained the highest popularity. As a national song his 'Death of Nelson' has pleased and continues to please a vast majority of the inhabitants of the British Isles; it has therefore accomplished its purpose. (Dramatic Biography; Gentleman's Magazine; etc.).

[ E. F. R. ]