English composer. His works (many unperformed, and most unpublished) include five operas (among them a Faust after Goethe), songs, and choral music (including settings of Blake and of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound). He wrote 32 symphonies in visionary Romantic style, including the Gothic (1919–27) for large choral and orchestral forces; he wrote the last 21 between the ages of 81 and 92.
Brian was born in Dresden, Staffordshire. The son of a potter, he was self-taught in composition but before World War I was regarded as a leading ‘modern’. He became an organist and music teacher in Staffordshire and wrote criticism in Manchester from 1905. Later he moved to London, where he made a precarious living under great difficulties. Some of his early music was conducted by Henry Wood and Thomas Beecham, although he did not hear any of his 32 symphonies performed until 1954 at the age of 78, when his eighth symphony was produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The largest symphony, no. 1 The Gothic, was not performed until 1961. Despite the meagre prospects of hearing his own works performed during the early years – most of his symphonies are still unpublished – Brian continued to compose.
WorksOperaThe Tigers (1916–29; first performance BBC, 1983), Turandot (1950), The Cenci (1952), Faust (1956), Agamemnon (1957).
Orchestral 32 symphonies (1919–68); three English Suites, Hero and Leander, overtures For Valour (Whitman) and Dr Merryheart, Festal Dance, Fantastic Variations on Old Rhymes, symphonic poem In Memoriam for orchestra.
VocalBy the Waters of Babylon, The Vision of Cleopatra, and a setting from Shelley's Prometheus for chorus and orchestra (1937–44); Heine's Pilgrimage to Kevlaar for chorus and orchestra; songs; part songs.