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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 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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Appendix B The Early Horn

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The Early Horn

The script for “The Early Horn” is preserved on microfilm at the BBC Written Archives near

Reading. Private recordings of most of the actual broadcast have been preserved by enthusiasts.

The following is a reconstruction of this program, using the surviving tape fragments from private sources, and Brain’s BBC script. The BBC did not preserve the recording made on July 6 and 11, 1955. Nearly all the music is preserved on the tapes, but some of the extracts and scales

Brain played, as well as part of his talk, are missing. For these missing passages, references are to the BBC script and appear in bold.1

Horn Call: Méhul 2


Raoux 1818 hand horn

Alexander B-flat single horn with valves

The instruments that you’ve just heard range from 1818 up to the present day—in fact, from the sublime to the ridiculous—the first being the most modern and cheapest; the second an old French hand-horn with the date 1818 and floral pattern inscribed on the bell; the third being my usual every-day instrument, an Alexander. In case you’re curious about the first example, the reason is simple, that I have included it to show that on any tube containing a column of air a series of notes, determined by nature, can be produced. And as that fact is almost the point of this programme, it is not inappropriate that one should begin with a common, or rather garden object, which I imagine has not been broadcast before—a hose-pipe.

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Chapter 6 A Horn Virtuoso's Letters

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A Horn Virtuoso’s


In his now famous Desert Island Discs appearance on the Home Service,

August 13, 1956, Brain mentions that he is a bad correspondent and that he would choose to take a typewriter with him to his desert island to remind him every time he wakes up that he does not have to write a letter! Yet all his correspondence was handwritten. Some of his correspondence, perhaps, will never come to light—letters he wrote to the general public, to concert agents, friends, colleagues, composers, and family.

Those letters that remain reveal much about what kind of man he was, music apart. They show that he was polite, modest, generous, with a good sense of humor. The letters also suggest that he was excellent at time-keeping and organization of his musical schedule. The time-keeping was something he also did as a challenge; when, for example, traveling from Dieppe to Nice, he would look at a notebook he kept of the times for journeys to work out his previous records for the distance traveled by car and how he could beat his own record.1

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Chapter 3 The Brain Quintet and Ensemble

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The Brain Quintet and Ensemble

Brain formed the Dennis Brain Wind Quintet in 1946, while still in the RAF.

It later expanded and was named the Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble.

Wind Quintet

Brain’s participation in new chamber music ensembles created during wartime may have given him the idea of starting his own ensemble before he was released from RAF duties. Still in uniform, he established the Dennis Brain

Wind Quintet, which after demobilization in September 1946 became very busy, giving concerts in the British Isles and occasionally for broadcast.

Brain returned from his month’s tour with the RAF Symphony Orchestra in Germany at the beginning of May 1946. He was too late to take part in the Quintet’s first concert at the Chelsea Town Hall on April 30, 1946, with

Denis Matthews at the piano. As his horn colleague Norman Del Mar remembered, he played in Brain’s place and flutist Gareth Morris (Pl. 1) also took part. Morris’s diary usually indicated “Q” for Quintet engagements, which invariably included works for other combinations. The diary is the source of many details of the Quintet’s schedule.1

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