Singers and Musical Personalities ~ John Braham (1774 - 1856)

1.  Braham

John Braham 1774 - 1856

1.   John Braham as "Lord Aimworth", steel line engraving (1818) by Thomson from a drawing by Foster. 3⅛" x 4⅝".  This version from University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection.   [Image in the public domain]..

The character Lord Aimworth appears in The Maid of the Mill, a comic Opera written by Isaac Bickerstaff.  Published in 1765, it was written in the style of Gay's Beggars Opera, with dialogue broken by the occasional 'Airs'. It appears that the piece was performed at the Drury Lane theatre and at Covent Garden. A version of the text, based on the Theatre-Royal Covent Garden prompt book, was published in 1791.

The music for this piece was by Samuel Arnold, (1740 - 1802) and Charles Dibdin (1745 - 1814).  Dibdin took the role of Ralph in the first production of the opera.  A copy of the text, which is out of copyright, is held in the library of the University of California, Los Angeles

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Braham became the first English male singer to command a European reputation. By 1809 he could command a fee of 2000 guineas for fifteen concerts in Dublin.

Describing his singing, Robinson wrote in 1811: His trills, shakes and quavers are, like those of all the other great singers, tiresome to me; but his pure melody, the simple song clearly articulated, is equal to anything I ever heard. His song was acted as well as sung delightfully; I think Braham a fine actor while singing; he throws his soul into his throat, but his whole frame is animated, and his gestures and looks are equally impassioned.

The tenor Michael Kelly, who had a long professional association with Braham, remarked in 1826 that 'he is, decidedly, the greatest vocalist of his day.

James Morris , part owner of the Theatre Royal in Ayr, writes:

Superior artistes in the vocal art visited Ayr, and performed in the theatre, viz., the veteran Braham, a genuine British singer, eclipsed by none in all the parts he undertook (barring Incledon, the greatest tenor of his day); nor has any native singer yet appeared to fill his place.

Some of Braham's compositions are destined to 'live,' and will continue to be sung by such vocalists as may be capable of executing them in something like the style of their gifted composer. I allude in particular to his 'Polacca', and his fine duet, 'When thy bosom heaves the sigh', — while other compositions, requiring fine taste and brilliant execution, lost nothing in his hands.

James Morris, Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809. Ayr Advertiser 1872, Carnegie Library Local Collection.


2.  John Braham

John Braham 1774 - 1856

2.   John Braham Esq (c. 1764- 1856) by John Opie R.A. 1761 - 1807, Oil on canvas.  Formerly framed as an oval, 600 x 580mm.  Original label with sitter’s name. Provenance: by family descent: Frances Braham (daughter), Lady Waldegrave.   (Currently badly overpainted and in need of conservation work.  An old photograph shows the painting in good condition, in an ornate gold frame and has a handwritten note "Harptree Court".)  [Image in the public domain].

John Braham was a singer, perhaps one of the greatest tenors in British history. He was born in London about 1774, of Jewish parentage, his real name being Abraham. His father and mother died when he was quite young.

Having received lessons in singing from an Italian artist named Leoni, he made his first appearance in public at Covent Garden theatre on the 21st of April 1787, when he sang “The soldier tired of war’s alarms” and “Ma chere arrive”. On the breaking of his voice, he had to support himself by teaching the pianoforte. In a few years, however, he recovered his voice, which proved to be a tenor of exceptionally pure and rich quality.

His second debut was made in 1794 at the Bath concerts, to the conductor of which, Rauzzini, he was indebted for careful training extending over a period of more than two years.  In 1796 he reappeared in London at Drury Lane in Storace’s opera of Maimoud. Such was his success that he obtained an engagement the next year to appear in the Italian opera house (His Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket.) He also sang in oratorios and was engaged for the Three Choir Festival at Gloucester.

With the view of perfecting himself in his art he set out for Italy in the autumn of 1797. With him went the Italian/English soprano Anna Selina Nancy Storace.

First, they went to Paris, where they arrived the day preceding the 18th Fructidor, travelling on to Italy after a stay of eight months.  By the time they returned to London in 1801, Anna Storace was pregnant. Their son William Spencer Harris Braham was born on May 3, 1802

Braham appeared once more at Covent Garden in the opera “Chains of the Heart”, by Mazzinghi and Reeve. So great was his popularity that an engagement he had made when abroad to return after a year to Vienna was renounced, and he remained henceforward in England.

In 1824 he sang the part of Max in. the English version. of Weber’s Der Freischutz, and he was the original Sir Huon in that composer’s Oberon in 1826. In 1838 he sang the part of William Tell at Drury Lane, and in 1839 the part of Don Giovanni. His last public appearance was at a concert in March 1852.  He died on the 17th of February 1856.


3.   Nancy

John Braham 1774 - 1856

3.   Anna Selina Storace (1765 – 1817) opera singer ca. 1790, by Benjamin van der Gucht (1753–1794). Oil on canvas, 764 × 630 mm.  Copyright on original, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, expired.   [Image in the public domain].

Nancy Storace (1765 – 1817), long time partner of John Braham.

Nancy (Anna) Storace was a gifted child, and born into a world filled with music and nature. She was the daughter of an Italian musician, Stefano Storace, who immigrated to Ireland. Her mother was Elizabeth Trusler, the daughter of the proprietor of Marylebone Gardens, the pleasure garden of an old manor house near London.

She received voice lessons from Venanzio Rauzzini, a a renowned castrato, composer, pianist, singing teacher, and concert impresario. Under his tutelage, she made her first singing appearance when she was eight-years-old at the London Haymarket Theatre. To further develop her voice, Anna’s parents took her to Venice, where she studied with Antonio Sacchini.

Anna made many friends, including the Irish tenor Michael Kelly, castrato Marchesi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Joseph Haydn.  During this period, composers wrote operas specifically for her and her voice, assuring considerable success in numerous opera houses in Vienna, Milano, and Venice.

Storace worked so closely with Mozart, that it was rumoured they had an affair, although this has never been proven. He played the piano for some of her concerts.   However, she damaged her vocal chords, leading to a complete loss of voice midway through a performance.  For five long months, she was unable to utter a sound. Mozart tried to come to her aid and wrote a short cantata for her return to the stage, but her voice was not yet fully recovered. Mozart stepped in again and rewrote passages of The Marriage of Figaro at a lower pitch just for her.

In March 1784, with great pomp and elaborate display, she married John Abraham Fisher, a violinist. Not long into their marriage, Fisher began to treat her badly, bullying her and striking her. The abuse soon became public and Fisher suffered much loathing by the public at large. The emperor banished Fisher who fled to Ireland and the couple were soon separated. Anna gave birth to his child, a daughter who lived less than 6 months.

[Text based on History and Women, Biographies and Fiction about the World's most fascinating women.]


Braham Anecdotes

Top  ~  In Venice  ~   In Florence  ~  Braham's Patriotic Ballads  ~  Vocal Attributes

Storace Anecdotes

Storace and Braham ~

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