The Library's music division collection is remarkable in scope, quality, and beauty. From this rich lode, we cull a dozen nuggets: works by Jewish composers on Jewish themes. All but two are manuscripts in the authors' own hand.
The first great Jewish musical figure was the biblical King David, to whom Lord Byron paid tribute in one of his "Hebrew Melodies," a series of poems written at the request of the poet's friend, the Honorable D. Kinnaird, to be set to music by Isaac Nathan (1790?-1864).
THE HARP THE MONARCH MINSTREL SWEPT
It may well be that young Nathan himself initiated the project, and indeed in 1815 the poems were simultaneously published, with their musical edition, A Selection of Hebrew Melodies, Ancient and Modern, with Appropriate Symphonies and Accompaniments, by J. Braham and I. Nathan; The Poetry Written expressly for the work by the Right Honorable Lord Byron. The work was "published and sold by 1. Nathan," to whom Byron had generously granted the copyright to his "Hebrew Melodies," of which he wrote to Nathan in January 1815:
The Hebrew Melodies was then Nathan's project, and a Jewish project he meant it to be. in the Preface to this two-volume work, Nathan wrote:
What is described here in elegant Georgian English is what cantorial creativity does to melody. The signatories to the Preface, J. Braham and 1. Nathan, were both sons of synagogue musicians. Braham, the son of the chorister of London's Great Synagogue, had prepared for the cantorate; Nathan, son of the cantor of the synagogue in Canterbury, studied for the rabbinate. Braham became one of the leading singers of his time, Nathan a respected musicologist. To the music of the "Hebrew Melodies," Braham contributed no more than his already well-known name, The work was all English-born Nathan's who, after a career as a music teacher in England, emigrated to Australia to become that continent's first resident professional composer. The Library's copy has the signatures of both Braham and Nathan on the engraved title page of volume 1, and that of Nathan in volume 2.
Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).