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(why do i and everyone keep recalling him as Brian Havergal)
The more i'm finding out about Brian, the better he sounds.
He was mainly self-taught, and was a creative free spirit - sounds
like my kind of composer. It may also say why he did not gain as
much popularity during his 'quick' time.
He took symphonic form and other forms, threw them out the window, and expressed himself as he saw fit.
His music has been called continuously restless, with frequent mood
changes; and favoring textures with lots of brass and percussion.
Plus throwing in a lot more instruments than is usual for a symphony,l
large choral groups, and organist (or two?), just in one work.
He wrote a staggering 32 symphonies, which became shorter
in duration as he progressed.
The most famous one is his Gothic symphony, formerly called his Second symphony, and later renumbered as his First.
The Gothic was dedicated to Richard Strauss, whom Brian admired greatly, but it would be difficult to find any music less like Strauss.
When we think of composers who have written the most lengthy
and elaborate symphonies, usually Bruckner and Mahler come to mind. To them we can add:
Leon Dudley Sorabji, and
One good description of Brian's
Gothic Symphony is from the academic view
Another description from the practical view of listening
(the Gothic is about 111 minutes long) and getting familiar with it
is given by Kenneth Woods
The article by Woods had these comments:
"the Gothic really struck me as not just the least symphonic
symphonyi'd ever heard, but possibly the least symphonic piece
of music in any genre i'd ever heard....it is anti-Mahler in approach"
"The whole piece seems like an essay in stasis and discontinuity......
ideas appear and disappear with disconcerting frequency - about
as far from Beethoven's rigour as you can get"
"Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony is often cited as an example of a
non-developmental symphony, but Messiaen's approach to form
and motivic development is highly structured and easily heard."
The Gothic symphony and others have benn recorded on LP's and CD's. Has anyone heard them?
(recently i got the 8th and 14th symphonies to try out)
Let me note Felix's post #70 over on the Brian Ferneyhough thread,
where he gave some good observations on Havergal Brian.
We have two Brian's under discussion lately - hope no one is getting
confused. This series is for Havergal, unless you want to put in a
Brian Ferneyhough (or someone else) note to compare.
Brian and Charles Ives
Wanted to roughly compare these two composers, so i played these two works back to back, for starters.
Havergal Brian - Symphony No. 8 (1949)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Myer Fredman
22 min. long
Charles Ives - Symphony No. 4 (1910-1916)
the John Alldis Choir and
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jose Serebrier
this piece was another long delayed premiere -
on 26 April 1965 by the N.Y. Philharmonic conducted by Stokowski
33 min. long
I don't know if Havergal Brian and Charles Ives ever met each other.
I think they would have shared a lot of common beliefs on how
music should be created and sound like.
Only three years between Ives finishing his Fourth Symphony and
Brian starting his Gothic (No. 1) Symphony.
Both use free forms. The themes last a little longer/more extended
Both like lots of colour and intricate textures, all creating an
unforgettable listening experience.
Brian's use of definite pitch percussion is exemplary throughout
the Eighth Symphony.
At times there is a church music feel in both, with an exalting
and glorifying manner.
Ives has a higher level of dissonance on occasion, between
these two pieces.
Conductor Serebrier met maestro Stokowski in 1957,
when Stokowski had planned a premiere then of Ives' Fourth
with the Houston Symphony.
But it was too difficult (to rehearse) for the orchestra,
so Stokowski replaced it with Serebrier's First Symphony.
Jose Serebrier wrote:
"Ives' Fourth Symphony, considered by many his most important
work, is a unique and truly original statement, the product of one
of the most original minds in American history.
Perhaps this is because of his isolation from the musical world
and possibly because of his detachment from performance
considerations and any need of pleasing the public."
Sounds quite similar if not nearly identical to Havergal Brian.
"Would Ives have written differently had he been able to hear his music properly? Could he actually have heard all those different sounds and rhythms in his mind?
The only professional performance he ever heard of one of his orchestral works in its entirety was the broadcast of his
Second Symphony, conducted by Leonard Bernstein with the
New York Philharmonic in 1951.
Before that, it was as far back as 1927 when he heard the only performance of the first two movements of the Fourth Symphony.
The small orchestra, made up of 50 members of the New York
Philharmonic, fought against every note.
The conductor, Eugene Goossens, tried apologetically to fix
all the "wrong" notes, while Ives made a futile attempt at explaining
that he meant it the way he wrote it.
The audience rioted, but two influential critics drew attention to
the originally of the music."
I dont think either composer is seen frequently on program lists.
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