Guardian, Monday September 2, 1957


Dennis Brain

A distinguished horn player

   Dennis Brain, the horn player, whose death is reported on page 1, was born in 1921, the son of Aubrey Brain, himself one of the great horn players of his generation, who died two years ago, and of Marion Beeley, the singer. He was educated at St Paul's and at the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied the horn under his father, who was a professor there. He made his first public appearance at the Queen's Hall, London, with the Busch Chamber Players in 1938, was principal horn player in the R.A.F. Central Band during the war years, and has been for more than ten years principal horn player with the Philharmonia Orchestra, though he was often heard as a soloist or playing with chamber combinations. Several works have been composed for him, among them Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, and concertos by Elisabeth Lutyens, Gordon Jacob, and Hindemith.

   Neville Cardus writes:
   Dennis Brain was unanimously regarded here and abroad, as the most artistic and most technically gifted player of the horn of his day. It is not often that inherited gifts are improved on, but Dennis even surpassed his father in mastery of the horn and in his truly musical treatment of it. His secret was a rounded tone, never unsteady, which he could phrase in legato passages with the easeful curve of a cellist. In staccato passeges he was equally felicituous; every note, no matter how rapid the figuration, was clean with no waste of breath. The tone was concentrated yet never forced or too emphatic. His lips seemed to have the sensitive touch of a pianist's finger.

   The horn player necessarily gets little chance to reveal virtuoso and solo talents. He must assert himself in the first place from his position in the orchestra, and if he is too much the individual in the orchestra he spoils the general balance. Brain could arrest the ear without in any way disturbing poise and evenness of orchestral texture. He had a natural musician's ear for tone values and the blending of tone. By playing proportionately in orchestras, Dennis Brain made his genius felt.

   There was no surprise when he first played as a soloist and at once took his place among instrumental masters, whether of piano, cello, or violin. The bubbling humour of his quick notes in the Horn Concerto of Strauss is a memory to preserve. Perhaps the best of all tributes to him is that in Mozart especially he was without a peer on his instrument. The vacancy caused in English music by his death in the full flower of his art is as irreparable as it is grievous.