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Braham, John

BRAHAM, JOHN (c.1774-1856), English vocalist, 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 chère 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 début 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 Mahmoud. Such was his success that he obtained an engagement the next year to appear in the Italian opera house in Grétry's Azor et Zémire. 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. On the way he gave some concerts at Paris, which proved so successful that he was induced to remain there for eight months. His career in Italy was one of continuous triumph; he appeared in all the principal opera-houses, singing in Milan, Genoa, Leghorn and Venice. His compass embraced about nineteen notes, his management of the falsetto being perfect. In 1801 he returned to his native country, and 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 Freischütz, and he was the original Sir Huon in that composer's Oberon in 1826. Braham made two unfortunate speculations on a large scale, one being the purchase of the Colosseum in the Regent's Park in 1831 for £40,000, and the other the erection of the St James's theatre at a cost of £26,000 in 1836. 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. There is, perhaps, no other case upon record in which a singer of the first rank enjoyed the use of his voice so long; between Braham's first and last public appearances considerably more than sixty years intervened, during forty of which he held the undisputed supremacy alike in opera, oratorio and the concert-room. Braham was the composer of a number of vocal pieces, which being sung by himself had great temporary popularity, though they had little intrinsic merit, and are now deservedly forgotten. A partial exception must be made in favour of "The Death of Nelson," originally written in 1811 as a portion of the opera The American; this still keeps its place as a standard popular English song.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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