born May 17, 1921. died September 1, 1957.
One of the premier french horn players of the 20th century, Dennis Brain was born into a family of performers. His father, uncle and grandfather had all played the french horn professionally so it was perhaps inevitable that the young Dennis would do the same.
His early musical training was on the piano, followed a few years later by the organ. Though quite an accomplished keyboardist, he prowess on those instruments would be overshadowed when he started learning the french horn during his teenage years. He went on to study at St. Paul's School for the Royal Academy of Music with his father during the mid 1930's. His debut was made on October 6th, 1938 at the age of 17 where he and his father performed Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #1 with the Busch Chamber Players in Queen's Hall. The performance recieved much praise, and was the beginning of a distinguised career in music for the young Dennis.
During Britain's involvement in World War II, Dennis joined the Royal Airforce Central Band as principal horn. During this time he played concertos all over Britain, and gained much popularity and notoriety. After the war, he recieved many invitations to play in orchestras, many in America. He ended up taking the position of principal horn in the Royal Philharmonic and later was the principal horn player in the elite Philharmonia Orchestra, both in Britain.
It was around this time that Dennis began his recording career. Many of these recordings are now considered classics, and cover everything from concertos by Mozart, Strauss and Hindemith to numerous chamber works and recital pieces. He also inspired composers of the day, who wrote much new literature for the horn due to Brain's impeccable technique. Paul Hindemith, Benjamin Britten, Malcolm Arnold, York Bowen, Elisabeth Lutyens and many other (even more obscure) composers wrote pieces for Brain.
On the evening of September 1st, 1957, Dennis Brain was killed in a car accident while driving home to London after a performance at the Edinburgh Festival with his wind quintet. Of that night, Benjamin Britten had this to say:
" ...it has robbed us of an artist with the unique combination of superb technical command of his instrument, great musicianship, a lively and
intelligent interest in music of all sorts, and a fine performing temperament, coupled with charming personality."
Other miscellaneous quotes about Dennis Brain
- no one has ever played more sensitively and with such musical phrasing and melancholy
- no matter what brand of horn he played, it sounded great
- his use of air, phrasing and overall musical integrity made him without equal
- there were and are many technically great horn players, but his taste gave him an edge
- he was superb; no one has ever surpassed him; everything he played seemed to be easy
- one of the extraordinary hornists of our time; his technique was the finest and cleanest of anyone of his era.
The car he wrapped around a tree was an E-Type Jag, I believe. He loved good cars and would have a car magazine on his music stand.