Isaac Nathan, Psalm 117

For choir and keyboard, 1849
Edited by Richard Divall
Australian Music Series – MDA014
ISBN 978-0-9923957-3-5 / ISMN 979-0-9009643-3-5


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Isaac Nathan, musician, journalist and composer was born in Canterbury, England, the son of a Polish Jewish cantor. A pupil of Domenico Corri, who composed the ballad opera on the South Seas, Pitcairn Island, Nathan came to prominence with his publication in 1815 of the two volumes of Hebrew Melodies, set to the poetry of Lord Byron. Financial difficulties caused Nathan to leave England, and he arrived in Sydney in April 1841. There through his self-promotion he became a well-known musical figure in early Sydney. Together with William Vincent Wallace he was the best known musical identity in the early life of the Colony of New South Wales. Nathan worked as a musician at the embryonic St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, then under the Benedictine Bishop [later Archbishop] John Bede Polding, as well as having an association with St James’ Anglican Church.

Nathan is suppMDA014 pic3osed to have written the first opera in Sydney, Don John of Austria, which was presented on 7 May 1847 at the Victoria Theatre, Sydney. Nathan composed in several genres, songs, sacred music and especially music written about the indigenous inhabitants of the Sydney region, some of the texts set in the native language spoken around Port Jackson. He died in 1864 as the result of an accident on the newly introduced horse drawn tram in Sydney. Very few of his manuscripts survive, presumably because his widow burned them after his untimely death.

The three sacred works in this series were all composed by Nathan in Sydney. The Anthem ‘O Praise the Lord all ye Heathen’ was an arrangement of the anthem of the same text by Henry Purcell (Z43), and reproduced in John Chetham’s A Book of Psalmody, first published in 1717. Nathan ‘revised, corrected and arranged’ the original Purcell and in the style of the time, improved upon the original work, making it into a five part anthem. It was printed in Nathan’s curious book of essays, The Southern Euphrosyne and Australian Miscellany which was published in Sydney in 1849.