The E-BNR aims to build a comprehensive & unique cross-artform guide to
the British neo-Romantic tradition,
from 1880 to the present day.
While the British Romantics of 1789-1824 have spawned a vast industry of
publishers, conferences & tourism, the later neo-Romantic traditions
remain largely neglected. The E-BNR is aimed at bringing this hidden
tradition to light.
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WHAT IS NEO-ROMANTICISM ?
Neo-Romantic artists have drawn their inspiration
from artists of the age of Romanticism or earlier.
Characteristic themes in their work include a
mystical approach to the British landscape...
ENTRY: Brian, Havergal.
William (Havergal) Brian (b. January 29, 1876 – d. November 28, 1972)
was a British composer.
He acquired an almost legendary status at the time of his rediscovery in the 1950s and 1960s
for the number of symphonies he had managed to write (thirty-two,
an unusually large number for any composer since Beethoven), and
for his creative persistence in the face of almost total neglect
during the greater part of his long life. Even now none of his works
can be said to be performed with any frequency, but few composers
who have fallen into neglect after an early period of success have
continued to produce so many serious and ambitious works so long
after any chance of performance would seem to have gone for good.
William Brian (he adopted the name "Havergal" from a local family of hymn-writers)
was born in Dresden, a district of the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and was one of a
very small number of composers to originate 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 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 (1868 – 1946).
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.
Brian moved to London and 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.
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 Sir 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 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, Vaughan Williams.
In the 1970s his music began to be recorded and issued on records, and since
the 1980s much of his music has been published.