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Isaac Nathan

(1790—1864) composer


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(1790–1864), musician and musical librarian to George IV, was born in Kent of Polish-Jewish parents. A friend of Lord Byron, he persuaded him in 1814 to write a series of poems on Hebrew subjects, which he set to adaptations of ancient Jewish chants and titled Hebrew Melodies (1815). Deprived of patronage by Byron's flight from England in 1816 and the death of his pupil, Princess Charlotte, Nathan composed musical comedies and operatic pieces such as Sweethearts and Wives (1823) and The Alcaid (1824). His An Essay on the History and Theory of Music (1823) acquired a European reputation and in 1829 he edited Fugitive Pieces and Reminiscences of Lord Byron. By 1837 Nathan's financial state was precarious and, unable to obtain payment for secret services he had rendered William IV before his death, he left for Australia. In Sydney he rapidly acquired the status of leading musician and composed several odes to mark public events, including ‘Australia the Wide and Free’ (1842), ‘Currency Lasses’ (1846) and ‘Leichhardt's Grave’ (1846). In May 1847 his romantic opera Don John of Austria, the first opera to be composed and produced in Australia, was performed in the Victoria Theatre. Another Australian achievement of note is his miscellany The Southern Euphrosyne and Australian Miscellany (1849), which includes sections on Aboriginal music. Studies of Nathan include those by C.H. Bertie (1922) and O.S. Phillips (1940) and Catherine Mackerras's The Hebrew Melodist (1963).

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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