Welcome to the Havergal Brian Society website

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The Havergal Brian Society exists to promote the life and works of English composer Havergal Brian (1876–1972). Formed in 1975, the Society operates in close collaboration with the Brian Estate and United Music Publishing Ltd and is very active in numerous fields concerned with Brian’s musical compositions and critical writings.

We hope that you find the site interesting and stimulating. It contains comprehensive listings and writings on all of Havergal Brian’s music, including more than five hundred pages of articles distilled from past Society Newsletters, itself now at 254 issues. Published every other month, the Newsletter includes original articles and reviews on all aspects of Brian’s life and output by well-known Brian scholars, Society members, and selected relevant third-party authors.

The Society provides financial support for recordings of Brian’s music; many CD releases have been supported in the past five years, including four of orchestral music that have been conducted by the Society’s charismatic and highly-respected President, well-known British conductor Martyn Brabbins. The Society has been instrumental in the issue of Brian’s great anti-war opera The Tigers on the Testament label in late 2014. The Society has also supported the publication of two volumes of Brian’s critical writings, undertaken when the composer was music critic for Musical Opinion. The Society directly supports the promotion of Brian’s music (in particular his symphonies and vocal music) by setting scores and vocal/instrumental parts in Sibelius notational software.

Society members have access to a dedicated and secure members’ area of the website. This provides access to specific member content, plus access to back numbers of the Newsletter and the Society’s Recordings Library, available for streaming to all members. The Library itself contains many non-commercially-available recordings of Brian’s music (including many first performances) dating back to 1958.

If you would like to join the HBS, then simply use this link to email the webmaster; joining and paying the subscription is simplicity itself using PayPal. Join the many members in the UK, Europe and as far afield as the USA and New Zealand to amplify your enjoyment of Brian’s music.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information presented on this website is accurate as far as our knowledge extends, the Society accepts no responsibility for any decisions made by third parties based on the content. Where inaccuracies are thought to be present, please contact the Society so that corrections may be made.

The Havergal Brian Society Archive

Created in 1997 by the Havergal Brian Society, the HBS Archive is held at the University of Bristol under the care of composer and HBS archivist Professor John Pickard. A collection of many hundreds of Brian’s letters forms the heart of the Archive. In addition to the Simpson correspondence and the letters to the composer and writer Harold Truscott (all of them originals), the Archive holds copies of the letters to his closest friend, Sir Granville Bantock and to the writer and critic Ernest Newman. The latter correspondence has been somewhat overlooked by scholars but covers the years either side of the Great War – a crucial period in Brian’s development as a composer – and casts a fascinating light on the composition of two of his most ambitious works, the Gothic Symphony and the ‘burlesque opera’ The Tigers. Originals of the Bantock correspondence were originally purchased by McMaster University in Canada and copies were kindly made available to the Brian Archive. Likewise, the Newman correspondence originals are housed in the National Archive of the British Library.

Letters to the composer are few in number. Brian seems to have retained very little of the correspondence he received, but a few special items are preserved, including letters from Vaughan Williams, Sir Henry Wood and Richard Strauss (to whom the Gothic was dedicated). There are also letters from luminaries such as Leonard Bernstein, André Previn and Leopold Stokowski (mainly just very short handwritten notes) that Brian did not personally receive, but who people working on his behalf did. And there is a particularly fascinating piece of memorabilia in the form of Brian’s address book, which seems to date from the ’20s and ’30s when he worked for Musical Opinion. It forms a veritable Who’s Who of musical life between the wars, from John McCormack to Bartók and Schoenberg, as well as Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde’s ‘Bosie’) whose poem Wine of Summer Brian set as his Fifth Symphony in 1937.

The remainder of the ever-burgeoning collection includes books, newspaper and journal articles, photographs, scores, recordings and the archive of the Havergal Brian Society itself. For a ‘neglected’ composer, the Brian literature is extraordinarily rich: nine monographs, two edited volumes and three volumes containing substantial chapters on the composer, not to mention hundreds of articles and reviews. Most of these are held in the Archive which now contains over 1,300 separately catalogues items. It should be remembered that Brian himself was also a prolific writer on music, since this was his principal source of income for some two decades. Brian scholar, the late Malcolm MacDonald edited two very full volumes of Brian’s writings on British Music and European and American Music (Havergal Brian on Music, Toccata Press, 1986 and 2010) and a further four volumes are projected.

On disc too, Brian is increasingly well represented: many CDs of his work (including three different performances of the Gothic) are currently in the catalogue and most of these are held in the Archive along with most of the half-dozen or so deleted LPs. One of the treasures is the commercial release of the wonderful BBC recording from 1983 of his astonishing comic opera The Tigers; possibly Brian’s greatest single work. More discs are planned for the future. An important further addition to the Archive will be the inclusion of all of the extant non-commercial recordings of his works that are currently streamable from the Recordings Library. These we plan to hold as sound files on hard disc or non-volatile memory.

The Archive holds a sizeable collection of copies of Brian scores: pretty much everything that has been published and quite a bit that has not (including a copy of the MS of Part One of the Gothic; Part Two having been missing for many years). The symphonies are all available on microfiche, but we hope to acquire paper copies in due course. The original manuscripts are nearly all held in the Royal College of Music library, though a few items are at the British Library. One important item not to be found in any of these locations is the full score of his vast setting of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound (1937-44). Like Part Two of the Gothic, it is lost; unlike the Gothic, it was never published, so all that we have of this immense – probably four-hour – work is the vocal score. And that is how things will probably remain ... unless you know different ...

The Havergal Brian Society thanks the Bristol Institute for Research in the Arts and Humanities (BIRTHA) for its generosity in jointly funding the digitisation of the entire catalogue. This massive process is now complete.