Aubrey Brain’s professional career began at the age of eighteen when he was appointed by Sir Landon Ronald principal horn of the New Symphony Orchestra, in 1911. 1 For over thirty years, he contributed his distinctive brand of horn-playing to numerous orchestral recordings and a handful of solo and chamber recordings that remain as bench marks of achievement for future horn-players to aspire to and to emulate. One of the orchestral recordings has Aubrey Brain’s name mentioned on the label: Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Dr Adrian Boult – a clear indication of his reputation as a virtuoso and popularity as a musician with the public. That this reputation was gained as much from performance as in recordings cannot be doubted for he was much in demand for concert engagements with the various London orchestras. It is regrettable that he did not record more of the solo repertoire but we must be grateful for those that he did – notably two complete recordings of the Brahms Horn Trio and a third (incomplete) recently issued by Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd in 2007. 2 Apart from a handful of chamber music recordings, and an abridged recording of Mozart’s Second Concerto (see Solo and Chamber section), there is also Mozart’s Third Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr Adrian Boult. This was still available in ’78 form as late as 1955. 3 The following extract from the National Gramophonic Society’s 1934 Catalogue confirms Aubrey Brain’s unassailable position as the foremost horn player of his day:
The Society was fortunate in securing for the recording of this great work the services of Mr. Aubrey Brain, prince of horn players, Mr. York Bowen and Mr. Spencer Dyke, and the result has been completely satisfactory. The horn in particular has never been better recorded; and that, in this particular work, is a great delight, for Brahms pondered over that lovely instrument’s capabilities, and wove the texture of its timbre into the music, so that the work presents one of the finest examples of writing for the horn in combination (a rare one) with a keyboard and a stringed instrument. If you hear the Trio in its alternative form, with the horn part arranged for viola or ‘cello, you will at once hear the difference in significance: the music, still fine, loses something of its essential life without the bloom of the horn tone to beautify it. 4
Technical advancements in remastering old 78 rpm and 80 speed recordings for CD has made it possible to hear sounds that could hardly be enjoyed to the same degree in the first issues.
The discography is divided into two: Solo and Chamber and Orchestral. These are commercially issued recordings. Any known surviving radio broadcasts of solo or orchestral recordings are listed in Appendix B, unless they have subsequently been issued on CD, in which case they are included in the Orchestral section. This is not exhaustive and as far as orchestral works are concerned, there is a high degree of risk in including items with an absence of documentary proof. Inclusion depends upon two principal criteria: Aubrey Brain’s participation as first horn with the orchestras listed at specific periods in their history, and the evidence of his distinctive horn sound on the records. Small horn parts or orchestral works requiring the horn section playing together, may not have had Aubrey Brain as the principal. It is assumed for the purpose of this discography that unless there is a long or difficult solo, his participation is doubtful. I have tried to be as thorough as possible in including matrix numbers and recording dates. Incomplete recording dates are roughly calculated according to the catalogue number, informed by any documentary evidence of his presence on any given recording. 5
With regard to Aubrey Brain’s concert career and participation in tours with various opera companies and orchestras, research is still in its early stages. Robert Elkin’s book, Royal Philharmonic gives Royal Philharmonic Society concerts during Aubrey’s engagement as third horn (August 1920-October 1922), and first horn (October 1922-13 March 1930). Elkin also mentions Charles Gregory as the first horn in “40 records” made before 1932 but presumably these were made after March 1930 when Aubrey ceased to play for the Society. 6 He was appointed first horn for the Denhof Opera tour of 1913. The tour is described in Alan Jefferson’s book, Sir Thomas Beecham a Centenary Tribute (1979, pp.131-132). 7 The itinerary is reproduced in Appendix D but only the concerts conducted by Sir Thomas are listed in any detail. With regard to entries of concerts and tours, these are included where they fall within Aubrey Brain’s periods of service with particular orchestras but can only be speculative except where it is known he was engaged. Any scholar wishing to learn more about his concert performances would benefit from listings of broadcasts and concerts of first performances in Kenneth Thompson’s book, A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Composers (1973). According to Kenneth Young (1968,p.172) Aubrey Brain played concertos with the Margate Municipal Orchestra and he also took part in the Torquay Festival but not as stated in 1913 but in 1914. 8
The other material presented on these web pages is intended to give the reader some light relief. The author has been fortunate in having much of Aubrey Brain’s collected materials pertaining to his long career to refer to and to use to illustrate these pages. They include his copy of the programme for the Titanic Band memorial Concert, 24th May 1912, a menu for a Covent Garden dinner, 27th June 1926, signed all over the front and back by members of the orchestra and management, preserved from his years as principal horn of the Royal Opera Orchestra, Covent Garden. Also published here in entirety are his two articles on the French horn. Other ephemera, include photographs and press notices for Aubrey’s wife, Marion. In Appendix E, I have included a few reminiscences by colleagues and pupils that confirm Aubrey’s importance as an orchestral player, soloist and teacher.
The discography sections are intended as a starting point for more detailed research. In particular, more needs to be discovered of the extent to which private enthusiasts were able to capture live broadcasts that were not preserved by the BBC. After his retirement from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he played second horn (his son first horn), in Jack Coles’s Orchestre Moderne, which broadcast light music repertoire in the mornings in Home Service. He also broadcast with several ensembles in chamber music, after his retirement from the BBC. The Radio Times indicates that programmes of Orchestre Moderne were recorded but whether any survived is not at present known. It made no commercial recordings. Archives of Aubrey’s solo or chamber recordings from broadcasts do not appear to have survived but one enthusiast, Kenneth Leech, made a recording off-the-air from a broadcast in 1936 of the Smyth Concerto, accompanied by Antonio Brosa (violin), the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.9
Stephen Gamble, revised 1 November 2008
1 Alan Civil, Aubrey Brain, sleeve notes to the Pearl (Pavilion Records Ltd.) LP 805 (1982), of a selection of Aubrey Brain’s solo and chamber recordings. See also Sir Landon Ronald’s autobiography Myself And Others. Written Lest I Forget. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. [n.d.] p.27
2 For the solo and chamber recordings mentioned here, see Solo and Chamber section. Other examples of orchestral records with Aubrey Brain’s name on them include the abridged editions of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, conducted by Joseph Batten and others, made by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1930 and 1931, although the horn solos in the operas are of negligible significance. A typing error in the HMV Catalogue for 1935-36 gives Aubrey Brain’s name on a 10 inch record of Cimarosa’s Overture, Matrimonio Segreto with the BBC SO conducted by Boult (DA 4404) but this was in fact a record with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Dr Leo Blech. It appears that the compiler was confusing the Cimarosa entry with Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (DA 1318) with the BBC SO conducted by Dr Boult. The first recording made by Aubrey Brain of the Brahms Horn Trio Op.40 was with Spencer Dyke (violin), and York Bowen (piano). It was first issued by the National Gramophonic Society (nos.49-56) in 1926 and issued on Pearl LP 805 in 1982. The second recording of the Brahms Trio was with Adolf Busch (violin) and Rudolf Serkin (piano), recorded on DB 2105-2108, 13 November 1933. It has been issued several times on LP and on CD. Recently an incomplete Trio recording made earlier in 1933 with the same personnel was issued on CD (see Solo And Chamber discography) APR5543.
3 The Mozart Concerto No.3 K.447 recording has most recently been issued on EMI CD CDH 7 64198 2. It was still in the HMV catalogue as 78’s in 1955, together with Mendelssohn’s Nocturne with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. The K447 78’s sound splendid as well but the CD is an excellent remastering by Michael Dutton and John Holland (1992). It was included by Lyndon Jenkins in a BBC Radio 3 Mainly For Pleasure programme about music-making in Bristol, shortly before the CD became available.
4 The National Gramophonic Society Catalogue of Records 1934, p.9.
5 For recordings with Albert Coates, I have used Christopher Dyment’s comprehensive Albert Coates Discography (Recorded Sound, lvii-lviii, 1975, pp.386-405. For the D, L and C series, I have used discographies by Ronald Taylor and Michael Smith.
6 Robert Elkin, Royal Philharmonic, p.111. I am grateful to Mr Martin Prowse for drawing this to my attention.
7 Alan Jefferson, Sir Thomas Beecham, A Centenary Tribute, pp.131-132, 136. Jefferson states (op.cit, p.131) that the Denhof opera company “was the largest ever to tour the British Isles. There were twenty-seven principal singers and a chorus of a hundred; a ballet of twenty-four; and eighty-piece orchestra and ten management staff.” When Beecham took control of the tour in Manchester due to financial losses by Denhof, the name changed to “the Denhof-Beecham Grand Opera Company”.
8 For the Royal Philharmonic Society concerts during Aubrey Brain’s tenure as third and first horn, see Robert Elkin (1948), pp.148-60. For a mention of Aubrey Brain as a soloist with the Margate Municipal orchestra, see Kenneth Young, 1968, pp.198-99.
9 Re. post-war chamber ensemble broadcasts with Aubrey Brain, these are too many to list here. Re. Jack Coles and Orchestre Moderne (established in 1946) I am grateful to composer, Ernest Tomlinson, for mentioning to me that Jack Coles told him that Dennis and Aubrey Brain were the horns in this orchestra. Precise dates when they played are not known. Re. Dame Ethel Smyth Concerto with Aubrey Brain and Antonio Brosa, I am grateful to Yukihiro Okitsu for his discovery of this recording and for drawing my attention to to it. The performance is preserved in the collection of the National Sound Archive, British Library, St Pancras. The catalogue details are as follows: collection title: K H Leech, catalogue no. 30B 5868. The recording was made from a BBC broadcast of 8 November 1936. It consists of the slow movement and part of the last movement. This recording is not to be confused with another of the Smyth Concerto, also recorded by Mr. Leech, of Dennis Brain with Frederick Grinke (violin), Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Goossens. In Dennis Brain’s recording of the Smyth Concerto, the National Sound Archives gives the BBC Symphony as the orchestra but Radio Times (5 November 1946), indicates that it is the Liverpool Philharmonic. National Sound Catalogue no. 30B5874. Recorded 5 November 1946 from a BBC Third Programme broadcast. Unfortunately, as with the recording of Aubrey Brain, the performance is incomplete. I am grateful to Yukihiro Okitsu for first drawing my attention to this recording.
movt. = movement
Record Labels (78 rpm unless otherwise stated)
B = HMV plum label, 10 inch
C = HMV plum label, 12 inch
D = HMV black label 12 inch
Col. D = Columbia blue label 10 inch (for example: Delius: Summer Night on The River with Old RPO conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, D 1638.)
DA = HMV red label, 10 inch
DB = HMV red label, 12 inch
DR = HMV red label, 10 inch
DX = Columbia black label 12 inch
E = HMV black label, 10 inch
L = Columbia blue label 12 inch 78 or 80 speed rpm record
Col. = Columbia black label 10 inch
Columbia 900 Series = 12 inch
Columbia 5000 Series = 10 inch
Columbia 9000 Series = 12 inch
LX = Columbia blue label, 12 inch
NGS = National Gramophonic Society, 78 or 80 rpm speed records
(V) = US Victor
AX = Columbia acoustic recording
WAX = Columbia 12 inch 78 electrical recording
WRAX = Columbia 12 inch 78 electrical recording
WA = Columbia 10 inch 78 electrical recording (eg. Col. D 1638)
Cc = HMV 12 inch 78
BBC SO = BBC Symphony Orchestra
BBC WSO = BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra
LSO = London Symphony Orchestra. Also designated on record sleeves “Orchestra”.
NQHO = New Queen’s Hall Orchestra
NSO = New Symphony Orchestra
Old RPO = Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (pre 1946)
QHO = Queen’s Hall Orchestra
RAHO = Royal Albert Hall Orchestra