More on Isaac Nathans and dinner at St Andrews College!

Apologies for not posting this blog yesterday, but it means today you get two for the price of one!

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Letter from Caroline Lamb to Isaac Nathan, MLMSS 6152/Item 2X , MLMSS 6152/Box 3, NSW State Library

So I spent yesterday at the NSW State Library, doing a little more digging around for information on Isaac Nathan (1790-1864). During my PhD I had tried to do a little research into Nathan, as he was said to have been apprenticed to Domenico Corri, fellow impresario and friend of Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810). If you don’t already know, my PhD was all about Rauzzini and his opera singing students, which is available online to read! Unfortunately, apart from a few bits of information and some published songs including his Hebrew Melodies – a collaboration between Nathan and Lord Byron – at the time, I didn’t find out any more detailed information. However, I did know that papers relating to Nathan and his family were in Sydney before I arrived, so I just had to take some time out to see what there was here.

There is indeed a wealth of material relating to the Nathan’s family, but the bulk of it is Charles Mackerras’ work into his family tree (Nathan was his great-great-great grandfather!) The family tree is very interesting, but it didn’t give me any real information about Nathan’s thoughts on music education or indeed the Academy of Music he was said to have established in Australia. There were a few letters, manuscripts and pieces of information that I am sure will be useful but nothing of real substance. Alas, this is a case where my expectations were not quite met. But that does not mean I have given up my interest in Nathan!

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Story of Isaac Nathan from 1971! ‘Mackerras family correspondence and papers, ca. 1819-1984′, MLMSS 8390

He is known as the first person to pioneer music education in Australia – Western musical education of course – and seems to have been a master in self-marketing. Most of the early pieces he composed and published in Australia were connected to a large, notable event. But his main claim to fame is that he composed and performed the first opera in Australia ‘Don John of Austria’. Some of the manuscript can be found in the Mackerras family papers, though it is not complete. After a quick google search, there have been some modern performances with Mackerras’ orchestration since the original parts have since been lost. As for Nathan’s music, it all seems a little bland in comparison to what I know of early 19th-century tastes. If we look to his master, Corri went to great lengths to provide a detailed account of late 18th-century vocal styles by including notated ornamentation in his musical score. Nathan has opted not to do this, so one could assume that he expected singers to improvise their ornamentation, though there is no information as to how much or indeed what the ornamentation was. This is where more information about his academy of music would prove useful, to really find out what he was advising!

But another more pressing question is who was he teaching? Did they go onto teach or perform? What was his musical impact other than what we can see in his self marketing? Did he uphold the traditions typical of early 19th-century British polite society? Or did he come up with an alternative way of working to suit the diverse groups of people living in the NSW colony? Alas, these are questions that for the moment my go unanswered (that is until I find the time to really look at this in depth!)


During lunch, I took a jaunt over to the Hyde Park Barracks. I won’t go into too much detail about my experience at the museum in this blog, as I will be uploading a vlog video all about it very soon! Oh yes – that reminds me – I alluded to a little project I was undertaking in my previous blog post and that was my first venture as a vlogger! I have been wanting to do a vlog for a while, partly because I find them to be a much more dynamic way to show what I have been up to. The Sydney vlog series will focus mainly on my trips to the many museums this city has to offer (with some divergence into my research interests!) I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to film, edit and upload a vlog but I found the first experience really quite enjoyable, so I am planning to do a few more. Do check out my YouTube channel if you are interested.


Finally, I was invited to dinner at St Andrews College by Professor Ian Jacks, who is the senior archivist at the college. I had been in touch with Ian because of the connections between St Andrews College and William Purves, husband of Lucy Havens. I have already written a post all about Lucy’s music collection, but I have been doing more extensive research on her family and life in NSW. She is a fascinating character but more on that in the next post!


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Rev. William Purves, St Andrews College




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