Lord Byron and the Hebrew Melodies
Michael Rosen explores why some of Byron's best-loved works, including She Walks in Beauty, first appeared not as poems but as lyrics to Jewish melodies by composer Isaac Nathan.
Michael Rosen explores why some of Byron's best loved works, including She Walks in Beauty, first appeared not as poems but as lyrics to Jewish melodies by composer Isaac Nathan.
He visits a Synagogue in Central London to hear the songs performed and meets some of those who've recently brought this little known story to public attention. How did Lord Byron become associated with such an important document in the history of Jewish music?
In 1815, Lord Byron published one of his most famous pieces, She Walks in Beauty. But it didn't appear as part of a collection of poems - in fact it was produced as one of a number of songs in the collection Hebrew Melodies. Byron, tiring of the formula that had brought him huge success in earlier works like Childe Harold's Progress and The Corsair, was approached by Jewish composer Isaac Nathan, who asked him to write religious lyrics to musical settings that were a mixture of contemporary and ancient Synagogue tunes.
Excited by the prospect of examining the Hebrew culture and putting his own deep knowledge of the Old Testament to good use, Byron took up the challenge. He was also keen to impress his future wife, a deeply religious woman who disapproved of his insalubrious lifestyle.
Byron and Nathan struck up a strong relationship and, over the course of the collaboration, produced 29 songs.
Unfortunately for Nathan, Byron's standard publisher, John Murray, wasn't keen to lose their grip on the poet whose work was funding their expansion and, as Michael Rosen discovers, took steps to minimise public recognition of the musical venture, leaving Nathan out of pocket and - for a long time - written out of the Byron story.
A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.