View Full Version : Havergal Brian's Mind-boggling "Gothic" Symphony

December 11th, 2012, 06:22 PM
The obscure but fascinating English composer Havergal Brian (1876-1972 ) never had much success during his long life . He came from a poor working class English family , was almost entirely self-taught as a composer and had to work
in less than remunerative jobs for his whole life rather than as a successful proffessional composer .
But that didn't stop him from writing no fewer than 31 symphonies and a wide variety of other works .
But after his death 40 years ago, his music began to attract the attention of a number of well-known coductors , critics and kmusicologists , a Havergal Brian society was founded in England , and a number of recordings of his symphonies began to be made .
His most famous work is his gargantuan first symphony, the so-called "Gothic" symphony , work which calls for staggeringly large forces , orchestral and choral, and which lasts nearly two hours . Naturaly, live performances have been extremely rare, as it's rather impractical to gather 600 performers and find a space large enough to contain them all for performance .
An enormous orchestra with outsized woodwind and brass sections is called for, plus four brass bands, no fewer than four choruses and one for children, plus four vocal soloists . The work cosists of a lengthy purely orchestra part ,leading to a setting of the Te Deum . It is meant to conjure up the spirit of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe .
Brian's muswical style is rather difficult to describe ; it's not ocnventionally melodious and you don't exit whistling his tunes , and his harmonies, while tonal, are rather ambiguous . The Gothic symphony is thus a work which requires repeated hearings to grasp ; but it's definitely worth th eeffort .
I've been listening to what is so far the only studio recording of the work on Naxos, formerly Marco Polo,
with Slovak conductor Ondrej lenard leading not one, but two orchestras of Bratislava, the radio orchestra and
Slovak Philharmonic and assorted Slovak choirs etc . There is a new liv eone on Hyperion from the London Proms last year with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC symphhony et al , but I have not heard it . There is amuch older live BBC symphony recording with Sir Adrian Boult conducting on Testament .
The Gothic symphony is like nothing else you have ever heard ; it's the mount Everest of music !

January 4th, 2013, 11:47 PM
He wrote over thirty symphonies, too!