JOHN BRAHAM Esq (c 1764- 1856)
John Opie R.A.
Oil on canvas
Formerly framed as an oval
60cm x 58cm (23” x 19”)
Original label with sitter’s name
PROVENANCE:By family descent:
Frances Braham (daughter), Lady Waldegrave
Christies 10th February 1900: Waldegrave sale.
Hampton and Littlewood, Exeter, 27/04/05 lot 464
Currently badly overpainted and in need of conservation work.
An old photograph shows the painting, already in deteriorated condition, in an ornate gold frame, described as 'No 110 of the Waldegrave List/ Description of portraits vol 4 No. 13' A note adds "This is almost certainly the portrait at Sutton Court. See DO Strachie 1976 No 16" (Heinz Archive, National Portrait Gallery).
JOHN BRAHAM was a singer, perhaps one of the greatest tenors in British history. He 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 chere 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 debut 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 Maimoud. Such was his success that he obtained an engagement the next year to appear in the Italian opera house. 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. With him went the Italian/English soprano Anna Selina Nancy Storace. She was eleven years older than him.
First, they went to Paris, where they arrived the day preceding the 18th Fructidor.. The performances of Braham and Signora Storace in the French capital, were listened to with eager delight; and the courteous attentions they received, induced them to prolong a visit of three weeks, to a stay of eight months.
During this time, they received increasing testimonies of public and private esteem, and the concerts they gave were crowded at the price of a louis d'or each ticket, although the general admittance to concerts was only six francs. When Mr. Braham quitted France for Italy, he was provided with letters of recommendation, in the strongest terms, and protection from the French Directory, to the ambassadors of France, in the several states of Italy. He sang at Milan, Leghorn and Genoa.
When at Florence, the celebrated vocal performer, David, invited Mr. Braham to dinner, and in the evening they sung several airs together. One of Braham's was a bravura, composed for him by Rauzzini. When he had concluded, David said, 'In my youth I could, have done the same;' and being asked who he thought the best tenor singer in Italy, he answered, 'Dopo di me, l' Inglese.' 'Next to me, the Englishman.'
At Venice, the celebrated composer Cimarosa was summoned from Naples, expressly to write an opera, for the display of Mr. Braham's extraordinary powers; and when he was introduced to him, Cimarosa expressed his his opinion of his vocal abilities, by saying, he would compose for him such a scena as had never yet been heard in Venice. IT was one of Cimarosa's last compositions.
By the time Braham returned to London in 1801, Anna Storace was pregnant. Their son William Spencer Harris Braham was born on May 3, 1802
Braham appeared once more at Covent Garden in the opera “Chains of the Heart”, by Mazzinghi and Reeve. This was such a success that Braham decided to cancel a proposed tour to Vienna and to continue his career in Lonodn.
In 1821 Frances Elizabeth Anne Braham was born. She was later to become Lady Waldegrave.
In 1824 he sang the part of Max in. the English version. of Weber’s Der Freischutz, 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 Regents Park in 1831 for £40,000.
He had acquired a considerable fortune by the 1830's and decided to invest it, for his retirement, in building a new theatre. Braham bought a property in King Street, St. James's that had most recently been a hotel, for £8,000. A further £18,000 was invested in renovations. The new 'St James's Theatre' opened on 14 December 1835, although the exterior of the building was not finished until the summer of the following year. Unfortunately the theatre was demolished in 1957 to make way for an office block.
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.
“In no part of his art is Braham more distinguished, than in the use of the falsetto; his success in this respect, indeed, forms an era in singing. When in the zenith of his powers, from a facility of taking up the falsetto on two or three notes of his compass at pleasure, he had so completely assimilated the natural and falsetto at their junction, that it was impossible to discover where he took it, though a peculiar tone in the highest notes was clearly perceptible. Before his time, the junction had always been very clumsily conducted by English singers. Johnstone, who had a fine falsetto, managed it so ill, that he obtained, from the abruptness of his transitions, the cognomen of 'Bubble and squeak.' Braham could proceed with the utmost rapidity and correctness through the whole of his compass, by semitones, without the hearer being able to ascertain where the falsetto commenced” (the Percy Anecdotes”
Braham was the composer of a number of vocal pieces, which being sung by himself had great temporary popularity, though now they are largely forgotten
He made famous such songs as “The Beautiful Maid”, “Said a Smile to a Tear” and “No More by Sorrow”, all of which were printed after the success of The Comic Opera of the Cabinet and FALSE ALARMS at Covent Garden.
Braham was best known for his stirring "sea songs". His rendition of ’The Death of Nelson" written by Samuel James Arnold was his most popular song and his stock encore. Other typical Georgian songs in his repertoire include 'The Anchor's Weigh'd' , also by Arnold, and 'Twas in Trafalgar's Bay'.
John Braham is considered to have been one of the greatest tenors who ever lived. Braham’s own life was colourful and spectacular. So, in many ways, was the life of his daughter Frances.
Frances Elizabeth Anne Braham
(4 January 1821, d. 5 July 1879)
Frances Elizabeth Anne Braham married John Waldegrave firstly, then, after his death, she married his older brother, George Edward Waldegrave, 7th Earl of Waldegrave, on 28 September 1840 at Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland.
She married, thirdly, George Granville Vernon-Harcourt, son of Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt and Lady Anne Leveson-Gower, on 30 September 1847.
She married, fourth, Lord Chichester Samuel Carlingford on 20 January 1863. As of 20 January 1863, her married name was Carlingford. Carlingford was a statesman, of the Liberal Party. The influence of his wife, Frances, greatly helped his career.
She died on 5 July 1879 at age 58 at London.
Through her marriage, Frances Elizabeth Anne Braham gained the title of Countess Dowager Waldegrave. As of 28 September 1840, her married name was Waldegrave. As of 30 September 1847, her married name was Harcourt.
STRAWBERRY HILL AND FRANCES BRAHAM
In 1797 the 6th Earl inherited from Horace Walpole his famous residence, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, but his son, GEORGE EDWARD, the 7th earl (1816-1846), was obliged in 1842 to sell the valuable treasures collected there. Walpole left a life tenancy of Strawberry Hill to the daughter of his great friend and cousin, Henry Seymour Conway. That daughter, Mrs. Anne Seymour Damer, was a well-known sculptress. But finding the costs of maintenance too great, she passed the property over to Walpole’s great niece, Laura Countess of Waldegrave and moved to York House, Twickenham.
Laura died in 1816 and the property passed to her son, the 6th Earl. He had married an army chaplain’s daughter, after she had born him a son. John. Shortly afterwards she bore him a legitimate son, George. In June 1816 the baby, George, was baptised in St Mary’s Church; this was immediately followed by a second marriage ceremony for the Earl and his wife
The 6th Earl died in 1835 and George inherited the title.
His elder brother, John, in 1839 married Frances Braham,John Braham’s daughter. Both the brothers were handsome but wild. John was an epileptic, and died early.
George, the younger brother but legitimate, then married Frances (his brother's widow) in Scotland in September 1840, thus avoiding the prohibitions of the Marriage Act of 1835. Frances thus became Lady Waldegrave.
The Earl, however, was already in trouble with the police, and in 1841 was committed to Newgate prison for 6 months "for riotous behaviour". He had assaulted a policeman in Kingston, the worse for drink, and was committed to the Assizes by the Twickenham Bench. In prison, Frances joined him in a comfortable apartment with servants aplenty. They returned to Strawberry Hill in November 1841.
The 'Great Sale'of 1842
The Earl, pressed by debts and out of sympathy with Twickenham, then decided to sell off the Walpole treasures and to abandon the house. 'The Great Sale' of 1842 lasted for 32 days in all, starting on 25 April 1842. They kept the portrait of her father, Braham.
After travelling abroad the Waldegraves returned to England in 1844, going down to Harptree Court in Somerset. Two years later the Earl died, leaving Strawberry Hill to Frances. Frances, Lady Waldegrave, was now mistress of Strawberry Hill, but she had seen the house losing its treasures.
In 1847, she married the elderly Liberal MP, G.G. Harcourt, and became a leading Liberal hostess. In 1855, she decided to restore Strawberry Hill and turned it into a place for the great political receptions of the time. She extended the house, building what is today known as the Waldegrave Drawing Room.
Her father, John Braham, died in 1856.
In 1861, her 3rd husband Granville Harcourt died.
A year later, Lady Waldegrave married her fourth husband, Chichester Fortescue MP, an Irishman, who became Lord Carlingford. The Strawberry Hill receptions reached their zenith, but Lady Waldegrave died in July 1879 aged 58.
Carlingford inherited the estate and put it up for sale in 1882.
Strawberry Hill was bought by an American Hotel Company with a view to conversion but sold on in 1883 to Baron de Stern. His son, created Lord Michelham in 1905, inherited in 1887 and when he died his widow sold the property to the Catholic Education Council. It is now part of a university college.
Sutton Court still stands.