Braham, John

About 1774-1856

Renowned Jewish tenor singer, whose real name was Abraham. He was born in London, about 1774, and at an early age left an orphan. He made his living, it is said, by selling pencils about the streets. Opportunity came to study under Leoni, a celebrated singer of his own race, and in the year 1787 he made his first public appearance, at the Covent Garden Theatre, singing The Soldier Tired of War's Alarms. When his boyish voice failed he found a patron, under whom he secured training, to fit him to become teacher of the piano, but returned to the stage, when his voice allowed of singing in public again, and in time became a great favorite, especially in London. He appeared in opera at Drury Lane, in 1796, then sang in Italian Opera, and oratorio, following which he went to Italy for a course of study, and sang in opera in various Italian towns. He remained two years at Milan, and reappeared in England, in 1801, at Covent Garden, London. Now began his great success. He attained immense popularity in roles, for which he wrote the music himself, as well as in songs and ballads of his own composition. Mention should be made of his Death of Nelson, the national song that has delighted generations of Englishmen. He created the role of Sir Huon in Weber's Oberon. Grove says that Braham had scarcely a rival in the theatre, concert room or church. "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 that seemed immortal." He accumulated a large fortune, which he lost in unfortunate business enterprises, and an American tour, made late in his career, was not successful. In private life he was much respected and very popular, and he had a good social standing in London.