Havergal Brian

Born on January 29, 1876, in Dresden, Staffordshire in the UK, not the one in Germany! He was to live a long life, dying only in 1972 at the advanced age of 96. He was composing pretty much up until taking his last breath and his longevity, together with a penchant for churning out music at a prodigious rate, is probably why 32 numbered symphonies are attributed to him: a ludicrously large number, compared with pretty much any of his contemporaries. He also managed to pen 5 operas and a handful of other orchestral works, choral works and songs, including violin and cello concertos. Unfortunately, nearly all this music went unperformed in his lifetime, and has pretty much sunk into obscurity after it -though there was a brief flurry of performances of some works around the late 1950s. The CD recording industry has been relatively kind to him, however, and quite a few of his works are now available on that medium. It remains the case, however, that Brian may legitimately be regarded as a bit 'weird': highly idiosyncratic and something of a cult for those 'special people' in the know!

He is probably most famous as the composer of the Symphony No. 1 Gothic: composed between 1919 and 1927, it lasts around two hours and requires a cast of thousands (orchestras, soloists and multiple choirs) to perform. It's probably the longest symphony ever written and the one that requires the largest forces to perform -which is why, presumably, it has so seldom been performed since its professional premiere in 1966. Saying that it has a 'sprawling structure' is something of an understatement! David Nice wrote of it that it was a "terrible, inchoate mess, [being] big, long, and very short on great ideas"; Andrew Clements of the Guardian similarly wrote that it had "moments of striking originality, but much more is either entirely unmemorable or simply grotesquely odd, and often hopelessly over-scored. Ideas come and go; for a work that lasts nearly two hours, the music is surprisingly short-winded." The composer Robert Simpson was enthusiastic about Brian's work, though, and championed performances of it from the 1950s on: conductors like Boult and Stokowski were keen to program his work as a result. Opinion on the man and his music is thus suitably divided!

He is today amongst a select handful of British composers with their own promotional society.

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(since January 9th 2021)

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Date of PlayTime of PlayGenreCompositionLengthPlay Count