19 Chapters
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Chapter 1 The Early Years (1921–1939)

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The Early Years


Dennis Brain was born into a musical family and was expected to become a musician. He studied horn with his father at home and as a student at the

Royal Academy of Music. Information on Brain’s childhood and student days is scarce; however, we know that he showed early promise and that by the end of his studies at the Academy, he was performing and recording professionally.


The Brain family name is synonymous with the horn—his father, Aubrey

Brain (1893–1955) uncle Alfred Brain (1885–1966) and grandfather A. E.

Brain (1860–1929) were all distinguished horn players.

Brain’s mother, Marion Brain (1887–1954), was a contralto (Pls. 1–3 ) and under her maiden name, Beeley, sang in Wagner’s Ring at the Royal Opera

House, Covent Garden until the late 1920s. Before World War I, Sir Edward

Elgar had written “Hail, Immemorial Ind!” in his opera The Crown of India especially for her. Judging from the few recordings available, she possessed a voice of great warmth and power. She had superb breath control and could sustain a long phrase without taking any unmusical breaths, a characteristic that was later to be one of the key attributes of her son’s horn playing.

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Chapter 4 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

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Royal Philharmonic


Brain was principal horn in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra starting with its founding in 1946. His participation declined because of other obligations, particularly to the Philharmonia Orchestra, and in his last years was only sporadic.

Formation of the Royal Philharmonic

Brain had already been principal horn of the Philharmonia Orchestra for about eleven months before Sir Thomas Beecham (Pl. 1) formed the Royal

Philharmonic Orchestra. Brain continued his commitments to the Philharmonia and by very skilful scheduling was able to maintain steady solo and orchestral activities in both for some years. He played at the RPO’s first concert at the Davis Theatre, Croydon, on September 15, 1946 (Pl. 2). The horn section at the outset was Norman Del Mar, Roy White, and Frank Probyn in addition to Brain. The music critic of the Monthly Musical Record gave the following enthusiastic account of the first two concerts:

Sir Thomas Beecham, having parted company with the London Philharmonic, has organized a new orchestra, The Royal Philharmonic by name, which was launched at a concert given in the enormous Davis Theatre at

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Appendix D Articles

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French Horn Playing

By Dennis Brain

The Conductor 3, issue 10 (October 1954): 3, 8.

The Quarterly Journal of the National Association of Brass Band Conductors1

Dennis Brain, at the age of thirty-three, stands at the head of his profession. French horn playing and his name are almost synonymous. Son of Aubrey Brain, also a famous horn player,

Dennis has been the principal soloist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra since 1946. He has played concertos in Switzerland, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and U.S.A. and has recorded most major works for the horn. A number of works has been specially written for him, notably those by Benjamin Britten, Hindemith and Gordon Jacob. He has also been awarded the coveted Cobbett medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians.

Bandsmen will gratefully recall his wonderful playing at the concert following the “Daily

Herald” Contest at the Empress Hall in 1952 when he was accorded a tremendous ovation by the crowded audience.—Ed.

To write an article for a Brass Band Journal on an instrument which does not appear in a Brass

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Chapter 9 The Legacy—Horn Players Look Back

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The Legacy—Horn Players

Look Back

Horn players who have either known Brain or have been influenced by his example have offered tributes and recollections of him. Their words describe Brain’s many-faceted talents as a musician as well as a horn player. Over fifty years after his death, Brain has continued to influence new generations of horn players around the world,. In his lifetime, he was an international figure in the world of classical music, and today that status is magnified rather than diminished.

Brain had a captivatingly beautiful tone. So did his father, who some critics are willing to say had an even more attractive tone than his son.1 Both father and son possessed a bright and penetrating, compact sound that is rarely heard in other players.

Brain’s horn sound was like pure gold, the result of many years of hard, practical exertions. His phrasing was subtler, more elegant, and more musical than that of any other horn player, which, combined with his beautiful tone and brilliant technique, made him the greatest of the great.

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Chapter 11 Horns, Mouthpieces, and Embouchures

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Horns, Mouthpieces, and Embouchures

Dennis Brain owned and experimented with no fewer than eleven horns varying in form, functionality, and tonal characteristics, most of which he ultimately disposed of for one reason or another. He often visited the Alexander firm in Mainz, Germany, which built a number of horns for him to his specifications. In 1951, he adapted an Alexander single B-flat Model 90 that he had earlier purchased and experimented with, replacing his French-type

Raoux-Millereau. He used the Alexander almost exclusively for the remainder of his life.

Brain reveals his relentless pursuit of the ideal horn in his publication The

French Horn, printed after his death: “As a point of interest, I must confess that I am at the moment negotiating for the manufacture of a five-valved instrument of my own design.”1

Alexander ceased manufacturing this horn after Brain’s death. The instrument, termed the “Brain Model,” was kept in a warehouse for several years until a player in the Munich Bach Orchestra worked with Alexander and completed the instrument. The horn was a B-flat/high E-flat descant, thus with a secure high range. The leadpipe reportedly fit directly into the inner rotary valve. The bell was yellow brass and the main body was gold brass.

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