Isaac Nathan (1792-1864) and Emerging Musical Identity  in Late nineteenth-century Australia:  A Foundational Fusion of Musical Traditions 

Isaac Nathan (1792-1864) was an Anglo-Jewish émigré Australian singing teacher, music scholar, and composer.  In this thesis, I draw upon four pillars to argue that Nathan made a pivotal contribution to Australian music.   

First, Nathan institutionalised the Neapolitan bel canto singing tradition of Nicolo Porpora (1686-1768). I draw upon Nathan’s theoretical works and his pedagogical lineage to argue that the Porpora tradition did not end with Ansani, Corri, and Nathan. Instead, I argue that Nathan propagated the tradition in his vocal studio, and why his pedagogical lineage includes celebrated Australian singers in the late nineteenth century.   

Second, in keeping with aspirations of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), Nathan embedded speculative discussions about the Jewish influences on mystical religions, corpus hermetic literature, and music throughout the history of human civilisations in his theoretical works. Nathan believed that music can hold sovereign power over the passions of living beings. I argue that Nathan used symbolism derived from mystical religions and draws established constructs in his compositions and pedagogical practice to promote virtue and morality for modern civilisation.  

Third, Nathan composed Australia’s first contemporary song cycle and Australia’s first operas. In his Australian Melodies, Nathan attempted to create a representative musical style by blending musical traditions into his compositions. I argue that Nathan's compositions and their reception offer insight into the social and political complexities of society at the time and that his Australian Aboriginal Melodies may be considered a metaphorical Acknowledgement of Country. Building on scholars like Sheila A. Spector, and Ruth Ha Cohen, I show how themes like Secular Nationalism versus Jewish Zionism emerge as a thread throughout the corpus of Nathan’s catalogue.   

Fourth, Nathan industriously and energetically invested in community music appreciation, music literacy, vocal training, concert life, choral societies, vocal pedagogy, opera and orchestral music. I argue his work laid foundations for others to build upon later in the century.  

 I conclude that the underlying ethos of Nathan’s overall contribution was his Haskalah inspired aspirations of Emancipation, Equality, and Education. Nathan used music and symbolism as tools to rhetorically engage in contemporary social and political ideas and to promote a modern moral position for Australian civilisation. 

Advisory team: A/P Denis Collins, Dr Simon Perry

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