Virtuoso horn players of the calibre of Dennis Brain are rare. He was born in London on 17 May 1921 and taught by his father, Aubrey Brain, also a fine player. Having heard his virtuoso playing, many composers (such as Benjamin Britten, Malcolm Arnold and Michael Tippett) were inspired to write for Dennis. His famous recordings of the Mozart horn concertos with Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra are still considered definitive by some.
Brain was tragically killed in a car crash whilst driving his Triumph TR2 back to London from a performance with the Brain Wind Quintet at the Edinburgh Festival on 1 September 1957. Within a week of the horn player's death, Francis Poulenc, who was visiting Britain at the time, had written an Elégie for Brain. The first performance was by Neill Sanders, the Philharmonia Orchestra's second horn, with Poulenc at the piano, in a BBC broadcast on 17 February 1958
The late M&V contributor Howard Smith noted that the 1950s era proved a decade when several of the twentieth century's most prodigious musicians died while travelling: air crashes robbed the world of French violinist Ginette Neveu (1949, aged thirty, in the Azores), American pianist William Kapell (1953, aged thirty one, in San Francisco) and conductor Guido Cantelli (1956, aged thirty six, in Paris).
CD Spotlight. Thoroughly Delightful - Geoff Pearce listens to chamber music by Poulenc. '... the performers are all very fine ...'
CD Spotlight. Priceless Music-making - The horn playing of Dennis Brain, heard by the late Howard Smith. '... a sheer delight ...'
CD Spotlight. Farrago of Fun - The Hoffnung Music Festival Concert, recommended by Howard Smith. '... though these show their age, the sound remains adequate.'
CD Spotlight. Haunting Beauty - Britten song cycles, heard by Robert Anderson. 'Nothing can detract from the magic ...'
CD Spotlight. Faultless Performances - Beethoven from The Nash Ensemble, welcomed by Howard Smith. '... a class of its own.'
CD Spotlight. A Surefire Winner - A recital by Lin Jiang and Benjamin Martin, recommended by Howard Smith. '... superbly performed.'
Record box - Trawling for treasure. Dennis Brain on BBC Legends