Music-lovers’ maestro passes away

July 15, 2010 by J-Wire
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Members of Sydney’s Jewish community with a long-time passion of classical music will be saddened today at the passing of Sir Charles Mackerras.

Australia has lost a living treasure with the death overnight of the conductor.

Sir Charles Mackerras was a descendant of Isaac Nathan…the father of Australian music. More on Nathan at the end of this story…

Rory Jeffes, the ManagingDirector of the Sydney Symphony said: “The Sydney Symphony had a long relationship with Sir Charles. The link goes back to his earliest engagements as a casual oboist with the Sydney Symphony during World War II and then his appointment in 1946 as the Orchestra’s Principal Oboe.

A pivotal event was the opening concert in the new Sydney Opera House in 1973 in which he conducted the Sydney Symphony with soloist Birgit Nilsson.

Then, in 1982, Sir Charles became the first Australian to take up the role of Sydney Symphony Chief Conductor, a position he held until 1985.

Most recently, the Sydney Symphony welcomed home Sir Charles to conduct the Orchestra in 2007 as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations.

The relationship has continued over recent years – indeed we were looking forward to welcoming Sir Charles to our BBC Proms performance in London on August 24 as our very special guest.

The connection between Sir Charles and the Sydney Symphony has run deep for over 60 years. He was a man of great musical scholarship, talent and energy. We are all deeply saddened to have lost such an eminent conductor and a special part of the Sydney Symphony family.

Our thoughts are with Sir Charles’ loved ones at this time.”

Isaac Nathan – from Wikipedia

Born in 1792 in the English city of Canterbury to a hazzan (Jewish cantor) of Polish birth, Menahem Monash “Polack” (the Pole) and his English Jewish wife, Isaac Nathan was initially destined for his father’s career and went to the school of Solomon Lyon in Cambridge. Showing an enthusiasm for music, he was apprenticed to the London music publisher Domenico Corri. He also claimed to have had five years of voice lessons with Corri, who had studied with Nicola Porpora. In 1813 he conceived the idea of publishing settings of tunes from synagogue usage and persuaded Lord Byron to provide the words for these. The result was the poet’s famous Hebrew Melodies. Nathan’s setting of these remained in print for most of the century, although they display the sad truth that, as throughout his life, Nathan’s enthusiasm exceeded his actual talents.

The Hebrew Melodies used, for the most part, melodies from the synagogue service, though few if any of these were in fact handed down from the ancient service of the Temple in Jerusalem, as Nathan claimed. Many were European folk-tunes that had become absorbed into the synagogue service over the centuries with new texts (contrafacta). However they were the first attempt to set out the traditional music of the synagogue, with which Nathan was well acquainted though his upbringing, before the general public. To assist sales, Nathan recruited the famous Jewish singer John Braham to place his name on the title page, in return for a share of profits, although Braham in fact took no part in the creation of the Melodies.

The success of the Melodies gave Nathan some fame and notoriety. Nathan was later to claim that he had been appointed as singing teacher to the Princess Royal, Princess Charlotte, and music librarian to the Prince Regent, later George IV. There is no evidence for this, although his edition of the Hebrew Melodies was dedicated to the princess by royal permission.

Nathan claimed to have undertaken some mysterious services for the royal family, but the Whig government under Lord Melbourne refused payment to him, leading to his financial embarrassment. He emigrated to Australia in 1841 where he became a leader of local musical life, acting as music adviser both to the synagogue and to the Roman Catholic cathedral in Sydney. He gave first or early performances in Australia of many of the works of Mozart and Beethoven. On 3 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.[2] He was also the first to research and transcribe indigenous Australian music.

Nathan’s extraordinary life ended with an extraordinary death. The London Jewish Chronicle of 25 March 1864 reports from Sydney:

Mr. Nathan was a passenger by No. 2 tramway car […] [he] alighted from the car at the southern end, but before he got clear of the rails the car moved onwards […] he was thus whirled round by the sudden motion of the carriage and his body was brought under the front wheel.

The horse-drawn tram was the first in Sydney: Nathan was Australia’s (indeed the southern hemisphere’s) first tram fatality.

He was buried in Sydney; his tomb is at Camperdown Cemetery.

Many of Nathan’s descendants became leading Australian citizens. His son Henry is credited by some with the composition of the unofficial Australian anthem Waltzing Matilda. Contemporary descendants include the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras and his brother Malcolm.

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