Shelley House’s programme of week-end events continues apace. Thanks to the efforts of its proprietors Luca and Rebecca and the support of the comune, together with the assembly of writers that live in its vicinity, Bagni di Lucca will, no doubt, soon be crowned with the title town of poets.
Here is the current programme for May and the summer is filled with more literary events which I will post later.
Bagni di Lucca has already been summer home to many previous poets and authors from all corners of Europe. Just to take a few examples: there’s Heine from Germany, Montaigne from France, Pascoli and D’Annunzio from its own homeland and Shelley, Byron and the Brownings from England.
Shelley and Byron became friends on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1816 where Shelley’s second wife, nineteen year old Mary, wrote that spine-chilling novel Frankenstein (with a little help from her husband, it should be stated). They met again in Italy and both stayed at Bagni di Lucca (though not at the same time).
Robert Browning fully recognized Shelley’s stature as a supreme lyric poet and celebrated him in his early collection of poems Pauline, published in 1833.
Is there any other connection between the triad of poets consisting of Byron, Shelley and Browning apart from Browning’s Pauline and a posthumous respect?
Fascinatingly there is and one has to go to Australia to find it. In 1815 Byron published his Hebrew melodies to considerable acclaim. The melodies include one beautiful poem which has become particularly well-known:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.
The Hebrew melodies were published in two editions: one with the lyrics but without the music, the other with both lyrics and music – an edition that has become something of a rarity.
Who wrote the music? The father of Australian music himself, Isaac Nathan. Born in Canterbury, UK in 1790 Nathan was a music teacher, music publisher and opera composer. In 1815 he collaborated with Byron in his first major success, the Hebrew Melodies which adapted ancient Jewish chants to Byron’s lyrics.
Nathan wrote several books on music including the Essay on the History and Theory of Music and On the Qualities, Capabilities and Management of the Human Voice. This last so captivated Robert Browning that he chose Nathan as his music teacher and declared that he’d never had such a good vocal mentor in his life. It would have been most interesting to have had a recording of Browning singing. Evidently, he had a very good voice.
In 1841 Isaac Nathan hit financial difficulties forcing him to emigrate to Australia. There he became choirmaster of St Mary’s cathedral, Sydney and composed many songs including Australia wide and free in 1842. Nathan also composed Australia’s first opera ‘Merry freaks in troublous times’ in 1843.
Isaac Nathan was also a pioneering ethnomusicologist and transcribed the first collection of aboriginal music including Koorinda Braia.
Max Bruch now enters into the connection. The German composer, famous for his lovely first violin concerto (whose popularity he came to loathe), also composed the elegiac Kol Nidrei based on two Jewish chants, the second of which was composed by Isaac Nathan for Byron’s Hebrew Melodies.
‘Only Connect’, as E. M. Forster famously wrote in his preface to Howard’s End. It’s a little astonishing that one has to go down under to find a person that connects the three great English poets who resided in Bagni di Lucca, Shelley, Byron and Browning plus the German composer who became chief conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra. But that’s yet another story….