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Havergal Brian, Symphony No. 14 (The Humboldt Redwoods State Park Community Orchestra)

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Uploaded on Dec 17, 2010

Havergal Brian acquired a legendary status at the time of his rediscovery in the 1950s and 1960s for the 32 symphonies he had managed to write, an unusually large number for any composer since Haydn or Mozart, and of which eight were completed after the age of 90.

He is also notable for his creative persistence in the face of almost total neglect during the greater part of his long life. Even now, none of his works can be said to be performed with any frequency, but few composers who have fallen into neglect after an early period of success have continued to produce so many serious and ambitious works so long after any chance of performance would seem to have been gone for good.,
Brian's music has several recognisable hallmarks: the liking of extreme dotted rhythms, deep brass notes, and various weird harp, piano and percussion timbres, and other sounds (and textures) than no-one else has conjured from the orchestra. Also typical are moments of hauntingly beautiful stillness, such as the slow harp arpeggio that is heard near the beginning and ending of the Eighth Symphony. But its most notable characteristics is its restlessness: rarely does one mood persist for long before it is contrasted, often abruptly, with another. Even in Brian's slow movements, lyrical meditation does not often structure the music for long before restless thoughts intrude. Brian's music is basically always tonal, but because of this it can be very violent, much more so than aleatory, atonal avant-garde music. Sometimes, for example at the end of the 3rd Symphony, Brian seems to be celebrating violence and the brute power of the music, but on repeated listening his music seems wiser than this — instead Brian seems to be enjoying making us think his music worships brutality. It is his comment on the world of the 1930s, racing towards world war.

However fragmentary Brian's music is, it is never directionless; he maintains strong symphonic cohesion by long-term tonal processes (similar to Carl Nielsen' 'progressive tonality', where the music is aiming towards a key, rather than being in a home key and returning to it). Although the fragmentary nature of his music militates against classical thematic unity, he often employs structural blocks of sound, where similar rhythms and thematic material allude to previous passages (as opposed to classical statement and recapitulation).

William Brian (he adopted the name "Havergal" from a local family of hymn-writers) was born in Dresden, a district of Stoke-on-Trent, and was one of a very small number of composers to originate from the English working class. After attending an elementary school he had difficulty finding any congenial work, and taught himself the rudiments of music. For a time he was organist of Odd Rode Church just across the border in Cheshire. In 1895, he heard a choir rehearsing Elgar's King Olaf, attended the first performance and became a fervent enthusiast of the new music being produced by Richard Strauss and the British composers of the day. Through attending music festivals he made the lifelong friendship of his near-contemporary composer Granville Bantock (1868--1946).

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