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Havergal Brian

Havergal Brian

Havergal Brian


William (Havergal) Brian (1876–1972), was an English composer. William Brian (he adopted the name "Havergal" from a local family of hymn-writers) was born on 29th January 1876 in Dresden, a district of Stoke-on-Trent, and was one of a very small number of composers to come from the English working class. After attending an elementary school he had difficulty finding any congenial work, and taught himself the rudiments of music. For a time he was organist of Odd Rode Church just across the border in Cheshire. Read more on Last.fm
William (Havergal) Brian (1876–1972), was an English composer. William Brian (he adopted the name "Havergal" from a local family of hymn-writers) was born on 29th January 1876 in Dresden, a district of Stoke-on-Trent, and was one of a very small number of composers to come from the English working class. After attending an elementary school he had difficulty finding any congenial work, and taught himself the rudiments of music. For a time he was organist of Odd Rode Church just across the border in Cheshire. In 1895, he heard a choir rehearsing Edward Elgar's King Olaf, attended the first performance, and became a fervent enthusiast of the new music being produced by Richard Strauss and the British composers of the day.

Through attending music festivals he made the lifelong friendship of his near-contemporary composer Granville Bantock. In 1907 his first English Suite attracted the attention of Henry Wood who performed it at the London Proms. It was an overnight success, and Brian obtained a publisher and performances for his next few orchestral works. Why he never succeeded in maintaining his success is a matter for debate, but it was probably due to his shyness with strangers and lack of confidence on public occasions. Whatever it was, the offers of performance soon dried up. At this point a development unusual in British twentieth-century musical history transformed Brian's life, for better or for worse has never been decided.

He was offered a yearly income of £500 (then a respectable lower-middle-class salary) by a local wealthy businessman, Herbert Minton Robinson, to enable him to devote all his time to composition. It seems Robinson expected Brian soon to become successful and financially independent on the strength of his compositions. This never happened. For a while Brian worked on a number of ambitious large-scale choral and orchestral works, but felt no urgency to finish them, and began to indulge in hitherto-undreamt-of pleasures, such as expensive foods and a trip to Italy. Arguments over the money and an affair with a young servant led to the collapse of his marriage.

Brian fled to London and although Robinson deeply disapproved of the incident he continued to provide Brian with money until his own death, though most of the allowance went to Brian's estranged wife. The affair became a lifelong relationship. Gradually Brian began composing again, and, living in conditions of the most basic poverty, eventually obtained work of a musical kind, copying and arranging, and writing for the journal Musical Opinion. Nothing was a success for Brian; even his war service was short and farcical, though it gave him the material for his first opera The Tigers. In the 1920s he at last turned to symphonies, though he had written more than ten before one of them was first performed in the early 1950s.

This was due to his discovery by Robert Simpson, himself a significant composer and BBC Music Producer, who asked Adrian Boult to programme the Eighth Symphony in 1954. From then on Brian composed another twenty-two symphonies, many of the later ones short, single or two-movement works, and several other pieces. In 1961, Brian's largest surviving work, the Gothic Symphony, which had been written between 1919 and 1927, was first performed at Central Hall, Westminster, in a partly amateur performance conducted by Bryan Fairfax, and in 1966 the first fully-professional performance was given at the Royal Albert Hall conducted by Boult, both occasions largely the result of Simpson's lobbying. The latter performance was broadcast live and many people heard their first music of Brian that evening. This encouraged considerable interest, and by his death six years later, on 28th November 1972, several of his works had been performed and the first commercial recordings had begun to appear.

For a few years after Brian's death, while Simpson still had influence at the BBC, there was a revival of interest with a number of recordings and performances; two biographies and a three-volume study of his symphonies appeared. The reputation of his music has always been restricted to enthusiasts and has never achieved the popularity of, say, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..

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