Musical Times, Octber 1957

Notes and Comments

By Harold Rutland

Dennis Brain

That Dennis Brain's astonishing career should have been cut short at the age of thirty-six is both shocking and tragic. He once told me that his chief interest, apart from music, was driving fast cars; preferably, he said, abroad, 'where the roads are better'. It has been conjectured that he may have fallen asleep before his accident: he had, after all, been driving most of the night. But he was certainly a first-class driver, as his brother Leonard has testified.

   Sir Thomas Beecham described him as a prodigy. And a friend of mine, who played the horn with him in the R.A.F. Band during the war, called him a phenomenon, and confessed that it was almost alarming to sit near him during a performance. Whereas most horn-playes prepare themselves and their instrument in good time before they are called upon, Dennis Brain would sit there quite imperturbably until time came for him to play, when he would raise the instrument to his lips only a few seconds before, and exactly the right sound would come out at the right moment without any apparent effort. He himself said in his unassuming way, that he had simply been lucky. He was certainly lucky to be born into the right kind of family. His grandfather, his father and two of his uncles, all played the horn. Aubray Brain, his father, is of course, a famous horn player, he was principal horn of the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra from 1930, when it was founded, until 1945. And Alfred Brain, Dennis's uncle, was for many years principal horn in the Queen's Hall Orchestra under Sir Henry Wood; for the past thirty years or so he has lived and worked in America. In spite of this family tradition, the pressure was brought to bear on Dennis to take up the instrument; he did so, of his own free will, when he was fifteen. It may be worth putting on record what Hindemith wrote in Dennis Brain's copy of the Horn Concerto he composed for him, after its first performance at Baden-Baden in 1950: 'To the unsurpassed Urauffuhrer of this piece. A grateful composer'.