Friday, 29 July 2011

Monster Monster Monster

Before I depart for a darkened room, I'll leave you with a snippet of Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony. And no, I haven't accidentally reversed his names, he decided that 'William' wouldn't do.

As if being called Havergal wasn't enough, he was a working-class lad from Stoke. He wasn't a famous composer in his lifetime - most of his 32 symphonies were composed in his 80s and 90s, and as an unashamed Romantic, he was deeply unfashionable.

His real claim to fame is the Gothic - triumphantly performed at the Proms this year, only the 7th performance since he completed it in 1927. It's nowhere near his best piece, but it's famous for the massive orchestra and choir needed. It takes two hours, and requires a hugely augmented symphony orchestra, four extra brass orchestras, four soloists, a children's choir and four adult choirs.

I've a huge soft spot for Brian. He had no advantages, managed to wreck his life every time things looked like they were going well, but he triumphed: he had a vision and pursued it. Even the Gothic, which is a curiosity really, is strangely wondrous, especially the violin solo and the wordless choirs. Sprawling, dysfunctional, dark and brooding, it's the perfect soundtrack to Gormenghast.

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