Musicians and Singers (1770 - 1810)

John Braham,  1774 - 1856

Born in London in 1774, of Jewish parentage, Braham became one of the leading singers in Europe.  His long career as a tenor, singing throughout the British Isles and in Europe, demonstrates social mobility and the esteem afforded talented performers.

Braham’s precise origins are uncertain although it known that he was Jewish.  There are no records of his birth but it is recognised that he was left as an orphan at an early age.  He became a descant singer at the Great Synagogue and was discovered by the tenor Lyon, who appeared at Covent Garden under the name Michaele Leoni.

Braham’s first stage appearance was at Leoni's Covent Garden 1787 benefit, when he sang Thomas Arne's The soldier tir’d of war’s alarms. He next appeared at the Royalty Theatre, with Leoni.

After 1788 we know of no public performances until he appeared at Bath in 1794.  His teacher, after the death of Leoni, was the male soprano Venanzio Rauzzini, who was a leader in Bath’s musical society. During this period he was supported by the Goldsmid family, influential financiers who used him as entertainment at their soirées.  Braham remained with Rauzzini for two years and it is believed that the Goldsmid family financed his studies.

Rauzzini's pupils included the Irish tenor Michael Kelly who created the role of Don Basilio in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Braham certainly benefited from Rauzzini's influence and promotion, and acquired from him the basic precepts of the old Italian school and a virtuoso technique which was thought by some to be surpassed only by the soprano Angelica Catalani.

The 1794 performance in Bath saw Braham’s first encounter with the Storace family. Stephen Storace (1762-1796), the son of an Italian musician based in Dublin was an accomplished composer; and his sister Anna, known as Nancy (1765-1817), was a former student of Rauzzini and a talented soprano. They both had considerable experience of working in Italy and Vienna where, in 1786, Nancy created the first Susanna in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro At Braham’s début at Bath, Nancy also performed, as a soloist and in a duet with him.

Braham took the leading role in Storace's new opera Mahmoud in 1796. Later that year he sang lead roles at the Italian Opera in London, an extraordinary attainment for a Briton. In 1797 he appeared in the role created for his mentor Leoni, as Carlos in Sheridan's The at Covent Garden.

With these successes, Braham's career was launched.  Over the coming years he and Nancy sang in every major continental house as well as in Britain and it was the starting-point of a liaison which was to last for over twenty years.  In 1801, when they returned to London after their first continental tour, Anna Storace was pregnant. Their son William Spencer Harris Braham was born on May 3, 1802.

Despite a lack public support when he broke with Anna Storace, Braham’s reputation remained strong until at least the mid-1820s, when he created in London the role of Huon in Weber’s opera, Oberon and sang in Mozart’s Requiem at Weber’s funeral service. But in the 1830s critics began to dispute whether his voice still served, and he began to abandon tenor roles for baritone parts.

In 1840, when under financial pressure, he sang in Mendelssohn's Second Symphony (Lobgesang) at Birmingham under the composer's baton, and subsequently undertook a tour of America with his son Charles Braham. His last public performance was given in London in March 1852 (that is, when he was probably 78 years old) and he died there on 16 February 1856.

Links with Ayrshire:

It is known that Braham appeared at the Theatre Royal in Ayr.

[Text based on the Dictionary of Musicians 1824]


John Braham as "Lord Aimworth", steel line engraving (1818) by Thomson from a drawing by Foster (1791-1857).  3⅛" x 4⅝".  original of this version from University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection.  [Image in the public domain].  magnify

John Braham Esq (1774- 1856).   Painting by John Opie R.A. 1761 - 1807,  Oil on canvas.  Formerly framed as an oval, 60cm x 58c. [Image in the public domain].   magnify

Nicolo Paganini, 1782 - 1840

Nicolò Paganini (27 October 1782 – 27 May 1840) was an Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer. He was one of the most celebrated violin virtuosi of his time, leaving his mark as one of the pillars of modern violin technique. His caprice in A minor, Opus 1 No. 24 is among his best known of compositions, and serves as inspiration for many prominent artists.

Born in Genoa, Italy, the third of the six children of Antonio and Teresa Paganini. Paganini's father was an unsuccessful trader, but he managed to supplement his income through playing music on the mandolin. At the age of five, Paganini started learning the mandolin with his father, moving on to the violin by the age of seven. His musical talents were quickly recognized and he gained numerous scholarships for violin lessons.

The young Paganini studied under various teachers, including Giovanni Servetto and Giacomo Costa, but he soon outpaced their abilities. Paganini and his father then travelled to Parma to seek further guidance from Alessandro Rolla. But upon listening to Paganini's playing, Rolla immediately referred him to his own teacher, Ferdinando Paër and, later, Paër's own teacher, Gasparo Ghiretti. Though Paganini did not stay long with Paër or Ghiretti, the two had considerable influence on his composition style.

When the French invaded Genoa in March 1796 the Paganinis fled to their country property in Ramairone. By 1800, Paganini had reached Livorno, where he played in concerts. In 1801, Paganini, aged 18 at the time, was appointed first violin of the Republic of Lucca, but most of his income was from freelance work.

In 1805, Lucca was annexed by Napoleonic France, and the region was ceded to Napoleon's sister, Elisa Baciocchi. Paganini became a violinist for the Baciocchi court, while giving private lessons for her husband, Felice. In 1807, Baciocchi became the Grand Duchess of Tuscany and her court was transferred to Florence. Paganini was part of the entourage, but, towards the end of 1809, he left Baciocchi to resume his freelance career.

Paganini returned to touring in the areas surrounding Parma and Genoa. Though he was very popular with the local audience, he was still not very well known in other parts of Europe. In 1813 he played a concert at La Scala in Milan. The venture was a success, and Paganini attracted the attention of other prominent musicians across Europe. However, his concert activities were limited to Italy for the next few years.

His fame spread across Europe when he embarked on a tour that started in Vienna in August, 1828, stopping in every major European city in Germany, Poland, and Bohemia, finishing in February, 1831 in Strasburg. This was followed by tours in Paris, Britain and Ireland. His technical ability and his willingness to display it received much critical acclaim. In addition to his own compositions, theme and variations being the most popular, Paganini also performed modified versions of works (primarily concertos) written by his early contemporaries, such as Rodolphe Kreutzer and Giovanni Battista Viotti.

For much of his life, Paganini was in poor health. He was diagnosed with syphilis as early as 1822, and his remedy, which included mercury and opium, resulted in serious health and psychological problems. In 1834, while still in Paris, he was treated for pulmonary tuberculosis. Though his recovery was reasonably quick, his future career was marred with frequent cancellations due to various health problems, from the common cold to depression, which lasted from days to months.

In September 1834, Paganini put an end to his concert career and returned to Genoa, devoting his time to the publication of his compositions and violin methods. He accepted students, of which two enjoyed moderate success: violinist Camillo Sivori and cellist Gaetano Ciandelli. In 1835, Paganini returned to Parma, this time under the employ of Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, Napoleon's second wife. He was in charge of reorganizing her court orchestra but had little success in this venture.

On May 27, 1840, Paganini died from internal haemorrhaging before a priest could be summoned. It was on these grounds, and his widely rumoured association with the devil, that his body was denied a Catholic burial in Genoa. It took four years, and an appeal to the Pope, before the body was allowed to be transported to Genoa, but was still not buried. His remains were finally put to rest in 1876 in a cemetery in Parma.

Links with Ayrshire:

It is known that Paganini appeared at the Theatre Royal in Ayr and in Kilmarnock in 1834. The performances are described by Morris.

[Text based on The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (Kennedy and Bourne) and other published sources.]


Portrait drawing of Nicolo Paganini (1782 - 1840) c. 1819 by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, (1780 - 1867).   Charcoal on paper, signed.  [Image in the public domain].  magnify

Portrait of Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840), artist 19th century Italian School, oil on canvas. [Image in the public domain].  magnify

John Sinclair, 1791-1857

John Sinclair (1791–1857), vocalist, son of David Sinclair, cotton-spinner, was born in Edinburgh on 9 December 1791. He became a clarinet player in Campbell of Shawfield's regiment, and, going to Aberdeen in that capacity, engaged in music teaching until able to purchase his discharge.

Being fond of the stage and having a fine tenor voice, he went to London in search of an engagement. On 7 September, 1810, he appeared at the Haymarket Theatre as Cheerly in Shield's Lock and Key. Subsequently, he became a pupil of Thomas Welsh and was engaged for seven years at Covent Garden, where he created the tenor rôles in Bishop's Guy Mannering and the Slave, Davy's Rob Roy, and other works. He was the first to sing Bishop's Pilgrim of Love, and he acquired great popularity in the part of Apollo in Midas.

In 1819, with a view to further musical study he went to Paris, where he had lessons from Pellegrini, and to Milan, where he was under Banderali at the Conservatoire.

In May 1821 Sinclair sang to Rossini at Naples, received some instruction from him, and in 1822–3 appeared in operas at Pisa, Bologna, Genoa, Florence.  At Venice, Rossini wrote the part of Idreno in Semiramide for him.

Returning to England with his voice much improved, he reappeared at Covent Garden on 19 November 1823 as Prince Orlando in The Cabinet.   From 1828 to 1830 he was engaged at the Adelphi and Drury Lane, and after a short visit to America in the latter year, he retired to Margate,

Sinclair married in 1816.  A daughter Catherine was married to Edwin Forrest, the American tragedian.  He died at Margate on 23 September 1857.

Links with Ayrshire:

It is known that Sinclair appeared at the Theatre Royal in Ayr and in Kilmarnock.

[Text based on the Dictionary of Musicians 1824]



Portrait of John Sinclair, (1791-1857).   Engraved by Cooper after a painting by Sharp. Published by Robinson, Chapter House Passage, St. Pauls. [Image in the public domain].   magnify

Maria Malibran 1808 - 36

Maria (Felicità) Malibran was born in Paris in 1808, of Spanish descent.  One of the leading mezzo-sopranos of the early 18th century, she studied with her father, Manuel García.

Her first stage experience was at the age of five when she sang in Paër's Agnese in Naples.  Her first public performance was in Paris 1824.  Her London opera début was at the King's Theatre in 1825 as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia.  The same year she was in new York singing leading roles in her father's Italian Opera company. While there, she married François Eugène Malibran, but this union was short-lived.

Malibran's début at the Paris Opéra was in 1828. Triumphs followed in London (Covent Garden début 1833), Naples, Rome, Bologna, Venice, Lucca, and Milan (La Scala in 1834).

In 1836 she married the Belgian violinist Charles de Bériot with whom she had lived since 1830. In April 1836 she fell from horse whilst riding in a London park, while pregnant.  Her medical treatment was inadequate and her injuries brought an early death in September. when she collapsed after singing a duet at a Manchester Festival.

Malibran's voice was notable for its colour and range, was described as ‘like the costliest gold, but it had to be mined, forged, and stamped like metal under the hammer to make it malleable’. Her roles ranged from Angelina in La Cenerentola to Norma, Maria Stuarda, and Leonore. Her lively temperament, intensity as an actress, and exciting life made her a legend.  As an opera singer, she was closely associated with John Templeton, touring Scotland with him.  In 1833 Maria Malibran had chosen Templeton as her tenor for Bellini's La sonnambula, at Covent Garden, and he continued as her leading tenor until her death in 1836.

She was a fine pianist and also composed songs and nocturnes.

Links with Ayrshire:

There is no evidence that Malibran visited Ayrshire but it is known that she was in Edinburgh and the North East of Scotland with Templeton.

[Text based on The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (Kennedy and Bourne) and other published sources.]


Portrait of Maria Malibran (c.1834). Artist unknown. Oil on canvas. Original in the collection of the Royal Academy of Music. [Image in the public domain].   magnify


Martyn Green (1899 - 1975)

William Martyn-Green, better known as Martyn Green, was a principal comedian in the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas, which he performed and recorded with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and other troupes.

After army service in World War I, Green studied singing and began to perform in musical theatre. In 1922, he joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company playing in the chorus and in a variety of smaller roles, while understudying, and often substituting for, the company's principal comedian. Beginning in 1931, he was regularly given the roles of Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance and Robin Oakapple in Ruddigore. In 1934, Green became the principal comedian, playing all the famous Gilbert and Sullivan patter roles, including Sir Joseph in H.M.S. Pinafore, the Major-General in Pirates, Bunthorne in Patience, the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, Ko-Ko in The Mikado, Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard and the Duke of Plaza Toro in The Gondoliers, among others.

At the beginning of World War II, Green left the D'Oyly Carte organisation and acted in other companies. In 1941, he joined the Royal Air Force, serving until 1945. He soon rejoined D'Oyly Carte and continued as the principal comedian until 1951. He then left the company again and moved to New York City, where he continued his career in Broadway musicals, plays, television, recordings and films.

In 1959, his left leg was crushed in a garage elevator and had to be amputated below the knee.   Greatly determined, Green was soon acting and directing again using a prosthetic limb. He continued to act and direct for the rest of his life.

Links with Ayrshire:

There is no evidence that Green visited Ayrshire but it is known that he was in Edinburgh and Glasgow with the D'Oyly Carte Company.

[Text based on Boise University information and other material in the public domain.]


Cigarette Card with Martyn Green as the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe and as himself.   Photographer unknown. Date ca 1937.  [Image in the public domain].   magnify.

Braham's Theatre

Braham had acquired a considerable fortune by the 1830's and decided to invest it, for his retirement, in building a new theatre.

Braham in Italy

A noted Italian Singer and an operatic composer compliment Braham.

Paganini in Ayr

The violinist is cheated of his fees for performances in Ayr and Kilmarnock.  He faces further dishonesty in England

Paganini, a 19th Century 'celebrity' in London

Paganini had been insistent on any trip to Britain being on his terms. He would not be anyone else’s support act.  “Behold finally, the moment has come that I have longed for so much, to see London.”

Macready on Paganini

Went to Drury Lane to see Paganini. His power over his instrument is surprising;

John Braham

Obituary by E.L Blanchard.

Braham came to London, and first appeared at Drury Lane in 1796, in Storace's opera of Mahmoud.

John Sinclair

Obituary by E.L Blanchard.

He went to Italy and studied under Rossini, and made his Italian debut at Pisa in Torvaldo in 1821.

John Sinclair in Ayr

We had also occasionally the celebrated John Sinclair, at one time a member of the band in a Scottish regiment of Militia, who, while in Aberdeen with the corps, acted as precentor to it on Sundays.

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