Alfred Bruneau

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

The death of Alfred Bruneau, the French composer, brings to mind the lively disputations current in the 'nineties, when his operas were performed at Covent Garden1. Some of the things then said would today have brought an award of at least two thousand pounds and costs: but it could all have been boiled down to the fact that the vocal few did not like his music, while the many took what was on the menu and were thankful. Bruneau was contemporary with both Debussy and Dukas, but he was not of their company. I have been looking through the scores of some of his operas and of his Requiem Mass, and noted the grace of his melodic line, and how his harmony is devoid of impressionism, clear and transparent. He had the facile gift for continuity of thought in writing music, just as his friend Zola in literature never lapses in order and incident. I was very charmed with some of Bruneau's songs, written after the manner of traditional French songs and dances. There is no finality in taste: who knows but that in a little while the barometer will set fair on French opera and that of other nationals pass to dull?’

  1. Bruneau (1857-1934) was once a well-known composer, but now seems almost entirely forgotten. Brian’s reference to Zola is due to the fact that Bruneau was principally noted for his operas based on Zola’s stories and novels - in fact Zola often collaborated with him directly as librettist. His first opera, La Rêve (1891), was the work that made his reputation. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, July 1932, pp. 861–2