NATHAN, Isaac (1790-1864)

NATHAN, Isaac (1790-1864)
was born at Canterbury, England, in 1790. He was intended for the Jewish ministry and was sent to Cambridge university to continue the study of Hebrew. His love of music, however, was so great that his parents allowed him to give up his course and study under Domenico Corri, a well-known musician of the time. He was introduced to Byron the poet by the Hon. Douglas Kinnaird, and wrote the music for his "Hebrew Melodies". In 1816 when Byron left England he gave Nathan £50 (Byron's Letters, vol. III, Murray's 1899 Ed., p. 283, note). In 1823 Nathan published An Essay on the History and Theory of Music, which brought him under the notice of George IV who appointed him musical historian and instructor in music to the Princess Charlotte. He wrote several songs, some of which were successful, and appeared at Covent Garden as a singer, but his voice was not strong enough for so large a theatre. His comedy with songs, Sweethearts and Wives, was played at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, in 1823, a comic opera, The Alcaid, on 10 August 1824, and in 1827 an operatic farce, The Illustrious Stranger, was produced at Drury Lane.
In 1829 Nathan brought out Fugitive Pieces and Reminiscences of Lord Byron, in 1836 appeared Memoirs of Madame Malibran de Beriot, and about this period he undertook some work of a secret nature for William IV. Nathan was promised "consideration, protection and indemnity from his Majesty's Ministers", but when he subsequently put in a claim for £2,326 he was unable to recover more than the odd £326. He consequently became financially embarrassed, and about the end of 1840 emigrated to Australia. Landing first at Melbourne he went on to Sydney and became well known there as a musician and conductor. On 7 May 1847 his Don John of Austria, the first opera to be written, composed and produced in Australia, was performed at the Victoria theatre, Sydney. He also established a high reputation as a teacher. He published in 1846 The First, Second and Third of a Series of Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Music, and, probably early in 1849, The Southern Euphrosyne and Australian Miscellany. This has sometimes been dated 1848, but a note on the last leaf shows that the book could not have been issued until after the news of the death of Lord Melbourne had reached Sydney. Nathan had done a useful piece of work in recording some of the songs of the aborigines, which, put into modern rhythm and harmonized, are printed in this volume. He continued in high repute as a musician and teacher until he was accidentally killed when alighting from a tram on 15 January 1864. He married (1) Elizabeth Rosetta Worthington and (2) Henrietta Buckley. He was survived by sons and daughters. One of his sons, Dr Charles Nathan, was a well-known Sydney surgeon.
C. H. Bertie, Isaac Nathan, Australia's First Composer; J. H. Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates; The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 and 21 January 1864; Notes and Queries, 11th series, vol. IX, pp. 71, 197; I. Nathan, The Southern Euphrosyne, pp. 161-7; Olga Somech Phillips, Isaac Nathan Friend of Byron.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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