Saturday, May 17, 2008

Happy Birthday

...to Dennis Brain.

Dennis Brain was one of the most well-known French horn players of the 20th century, and his recordings of the Mozart horn concertos are still regarded as "top shelf." Horn teachers will tell you, when studying the Mozart concertos, to listen to Brain's recordings and aim to play them the way he played them. It's an impossible goal to achieve, but it's good to have a goal that is always just out of reach even on tip toes. That way you'll never stop trying.

Brain came from a long line of successful horn players—his grandfather, father, and uncle were all well-known in the UK and in the States, and his mother wrote the cadenzas that his father played when performing. He was also an accomplished pianist and organist, and he was fond of fast cars.

I have heard several generalizations about horns players. One of the traits I've heard is common among professionals is alcoholism because it takes a great deal of nerve to play the horn. It's a difficult instrument to figure out, and there is no guarantee you'll hit the right note when you blow air through the thing. Sometimes the valves serve only as helpful hints. I have also read that horn players tend to be adventuresome and are likely to choose something like sky diving as a hobby. I think someone must have made that one up, coming from the horn player who is afraid to put her head under water. I did make an attempt to learn to ride a Honda Silverwing for a couple of summers, though, so maybe there is some truth to the adventure thing.

I have never read that Brain was a drinker, but I have read that he liked to race and was known to keep racing magazines on his music stand while playing his music from memory. When he was 36, Brain was driving back to London after a gig in Edinburgh, and he crashed his Triumph TR2, killing him and smashing up his horn. Brain was always careless with his horn and never minded that it was covered with dents and scratches. After he died, a horn manufacturer restored the horn, and now it's beautifully on display at the Royal Academy of Music. Seems to me they should have left it alone and put it on display as is. He might have liked it that way as a testament to his approach to life.

5 comments:

dive said...

What a cool way to go!
I am currently listening to Dennis playing Mozart's 2nd, horn concerto, having having delved for the CD when I started reading your post, Robyn.
Thank you for reminding me and Happy Birthday, Dennis!

Maria said...

Being the most unmusical person around, I had not heard of Dennis Brain. But, I agree that it would have been fitting (although probably not as visually pleasing) to show his horn as it was...

I like his face. I am sort of a face reader by trade and if I had to analyze it, I would say that he looks as if he is capable of great concentration but also of great mischief.

Shan said...

Hmmm... I don't know about that brave adventurous theory but maybe the horn and I weren't the best match. You do always make me want to try it again though and that makes me feel an inch more brave.

MmeBenaut said...

36 is such a young age to hit the road when you're a musical genius. I haven't heard of Dennis Brain either but then I'm a novice when it comes to horn playing.
This is a particularly nice tribute to your hero, Robyn.

Eric said...

It was for Brain that Benjamin Britten composed the "Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings" which the Tuscarawas Philharmonic will be performing this season.

Brain should have lived much longer, if only so Britten would have composed what would surely have been the greatest horn concerto of the 20th century for him.

Mischief: there are some wonderful anecdotes of his "taking charge" in a rehearsal or performance, just to point out to the conductor who it was that was really making the music at any given moment.