About this Recording
8.223280-81 - BRIAN: Symphony No. 1, 'Gothic'

Havergal Brian (1876 -1972)

Havergal Brian (1876-1972)

Symphony No. 1 'The Gothic' (1919-1927)


Disc 1

Part I:   I. Allegro assai [1]-[4]

II. Lento espressivo e solenne [5]-[7]

III. Vivace [8]-[14]

Part II:  IV. Allegro moderato (Te Deum Laudamus) [15]-[25]


Disc 2

V. Adagio molto solenne e religioso (Judex) [1]-[6]

VI. Moderato e molto sostenuto (Te ergo quaesumus) [7]-[21]


The life and works - but especially the works - of Havergal Brian constitute the strangest phenomenon in 20th century British music. A contemporary of Vaughan Williams and Hoist, he was born in 1876, to working-class parents, in the Staffordshire Potteries: the kind of background from which, in those days, major creative artists simply did not come. He left school at 12 and started work; for a coal mine, for timber firms, and as a carpenter's apprentice. But he had a good if haphazard musical education and, filled with an unquenchable desire to write music, he persisted against all odds throughout a very long and often hard life. He died at Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, in 1972 at the age of 96. For roughly 80 of those years he had been composing: one of the longest creative careers ever. He had known sudden success (in the 1900s), then personal crisis, social rejection, hard times, disappointment, and - for most of his last 50 years - obscurity. He was never absolutely forgotten (and his music won acclaim from, among others, Elgar, Tovey, and Richard Strauss), but he was commonly regarded as one of the generation that had had their chance, and failed to justify it, before World War I.


Since the 1950s there has been a spasmodic, but unmistakeable, growth of interest in Havergal Brian's music, accelerating in recent years with the appearance of several fine recordings of, amongst others, his Third, Seventh and Ninth Symphonies. His First Symphony, however, The Gothic, remains his most famous work: some might say his most notorious. This on account of its length and the gigantic forces employed, which have earned it an entry in the Guinness Book of Records under "Largest Symphony". Nevertheless it is in many ways his most personal and crucial work, the one that cost him most in the writing, the massive keystone of his copious creative oeuvre. Before it came his songs and choral works, short orchestral pieces and the satirical opera The Tigers; after it came the long line of Symphonies Nos. 2-32, none of them on the same scale as The Gothic, but all affected by the experience of writing it.


Brian seems to have composed The Gothic at various times through a period of seven or eight years, and he was over 50 when he completed it. It unites two long-contemplated schemes - a work on Goethe's Faust and a setting of the Te Deum - in a symphonic vision of the Gothic Age (1150-1550) as a period of almost unlimited expansion of human knowledge, both secular and spiritual, both glorious and terrible. The first three movements, for large orchestra, form Part I, which relates in a general way to Goethe's Faust, Part I (Faust as the archetypal Gothic-Age man, seeker after hidden knowledge and aspiring mystic). But in a sense Part I is only a prelude. The fourth, fifth and sixth movements constitute Part II, twice the length of Part I, and here Brian's inspiration was the mighty Gothic cathedral and the music that was sung in it. Part II is a gigantic setting of the Te Deum for four soli, two large double choruses, brass bands, and a much enlarged orchestra. (The score's requirements, taken literally, of 32 woodwind, 24 brass, two timpanists, percussion needing 17 players, celesta, two harps, organ, and an enlarged string section, outdo the most extreme demands of Mahler, Strauss or Schoenberg. In addition, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, two tubas and one timpanist are specified for each of the four extra brass bands: a total of nearly 200 players.) It attempts a new, freely evolving conception of structure while making use of the widest possible range of stylistic resources. It spans a great arch from neo-medieval vocal polyphony to shattering brass outbursts of purely 20th-century barbarity. The Gothic is in fact the most extreme example of what Sir Michael Tippett has called 'the famous hybrid work': the perilous genre which Beethoven initiated with his Ninth Symphony.


But it is more than that. It is also a tribute to all the music that Brian had known and loved, and all the people he cared about. 'This work', he wrote to his friend Granville Bantock on 27 June 1926, 'has been inside my heart for a lifetime and naturally there is inside it all those who have been very dear to me - who helped and moulded me'. On another occasion he spoke of the fifth movement (the 'Judex') as his personal memorial to Hans Richter, whose conducting of the Hallé Orchestra had been such an inspiration to Brian in his youth. So The Gothic is an acknowledgement of debts to the past, and a manifesto for the future - a massive reaffirmation of the idealism of the' English Musical Renaissance' which had been so cruelly shaken by the 1914-18 War. We may speculate, too, that its moments of violence and terror relate directly to the experience of the War, which Brian had already reflected obliquely and satirically in The Tigers.


Three different levels of musical argument - dramatic, tonal, motivic - create the work's musical logic. On the expressive plane Part I is dynamic in the familiar symphonic sense, a demonstration of artistic continuity with the recent past, a logical development from the achievements of Wagner, Bruckner, Strauss, Elgar and early Schoenberg (Brian knew almost nothing of Mahler at this time). Part II, however, is cultural drama, an evocation of the totality of Western Music around one great familiar unifying text. From the doubt - ours and Brian's - whether the post-1918 world will respond to such heroic idealism stems the individual drama of the artist, who is heard still praying for the strength to continue in ever more personal tones as the Te Deum moves to its racked and agonized but not-quite-despairing conclusion.


The score is prefaced by two lines in German from Goethe's Faust:-


He who ever strives with all his might

That man we can redeem


The entire work is sustained by a simple yet original tonal plan, whose principal feature is the overall move from an initial D minor to a final E major. In Part I the move is from D minor to D major, with occasional emphases on E major and its near relative C sharp. Part II begins in D, but in the course of movement IV works round to E major, and E minor/major remains the tonal focus for the rest of the Te Deum, though frequently threatened by other keys, particularly C sharp. The keys are, however, often interpreted very freely, exercised by chromaticism or modal inflection, and the whole process is a strikingly rich and dramatic example of what is sometimes called 'progressive tonality'.


The vast array of melodies and figures heard in the work (many of them, especially in the Te Deum, are heard once only), for all their variety, are unified into huge 'families' of related ideas through their inheritance of common characteristics: just as an entire Gothic cathedral may be built from an innumerable series of bays with the same basic form of rib vaulting, though the actual proportions of every bay may be different. Two extremely simple melodic cells are the 'vaulting' of The Gothic's thematic argument - their various manifestations are marked (a) and (b) throughout the music examples below. (a) is the shape of a rising minor or major triad, with frequent returns to the bass-note as if to gather strength for each further leap. In the latter stages of the symphony the shape is often distorted into a rising augmented triad, or simply leaps of a fifth or minor sixth. (b) is even simpler: a pattern of three notes, the first and third at the same pitch, the second a tone or semitone lower. The recurrence of these features gives highly contrasting kinds of music, widely separated from one another in the symphony, the feeling that they partake nonetheless in an overall organic unity.


Disc 1


Part I, the purely orchestral movements, are the finest 'pure' music Brian had yet written. Within themselves they display a steadily increasing mastery which builds to a stunning climax in the third movement.


The first movement opens [1] with a superb orchestral gesture that was to haunt Brian in many guises for the rest of his career.


There ensues a modified sonata form, with a terse, wiry first subject in D minor and a more lyrical 'folklike' second idea, announced by a solo violin in D flat [2] and later turning to D major. The contrast between these two themes is extreme, and foreshadows. Brian's later love of the unexpected juxtaposition and the apparent non sequitur. A tough development section [3] seizes fragments; the orchestration shows the first signs of a fantastic, haunted quality that will be much exploited later. Apparently new ideas combine the basic shapes (a) and (b). Brian finds it expedient to replace the space-filling second subject tune with a briefer, simpler theme - this is hinted at just before the recapitulation starts with a beautiful violin cadenza [4] which recalls the original second subject in E major and is heard, more fully afterwards. Recapitulation and coda are thereafter all rushing excitement, and the first grandiose entry of the organ is a coup de théâtre which Brian reserves for the final bars.


The slow second movement [5], a grand processional in 5/4 time, is Brian's first totally mature and personal symphonic statement. Two main elements - ­a dotted-note rhythm on tubas and timpani at the outset, and a noble, subtly flexible march-melody stated by violas and cellos immediately afterwards - are developed both in association and in competition.


The music passes through some strange territory (one blizzard-like episode [6] seems to anticipate Vaughan William's Sinfonia Antartica by 30 years) and rises to great climactic statements of the march theme. The last of these [7] is a passage of granitic splendour - most of the orchestra hewing out the theme in even crotchets in E flat minor while six horns bay it in original rhythm and its original key. This final climax subsides suddenly into the shadows, and after a softly reminiscent coda for horns and tubas, a bass clarinet leads directly into the third movement, a Vivace scherzo-finale for Part I [8].


This ranks among Brian's greatest symphonic inspirations. After a sinister opening paragraph over a rushing Brucknerian ostinato in D minor, the movement begins to develop through a series of contrasted episodes at different speeds, which slowly disclose a huge, relentless, underlying momentum. The principal motive is turned into a mysterious, glowing horn-call, and becomes a base for stormy developments [9].


Eventually the accumulated tension gathers to a head in a violent, warlike development full of march-and-fanfare images [10]. Then, in an astonishing passage, the movement acquires, instead of any recapitulation, a further, fantastic development, weirdly scored [11], with a bizarre xylophone cadenza [12] that is eventually sucked into a skirling polytonal ostinato. A figure of four descending trombone pedal-notes, already heard at various points, now enters on all the low brass instruments to force tonal movement, and the music crashes into a thundering climax [13] that is the logical culmination of the earlier battlefield imagery. A crushingly decisive cadence hurls it back into D minor, and then a coda of unexpected calm ensues [14]. The mysterious horn-call is heard for the last time and the music mounts to a last shimmering triad of D major.


Part II is the huge 3-movement Te Deum. Here Brian employs the full forces in the most disparate kinds of music, and the text itself becomes a unifying force; relating the various musics to the central stream of thought. The first movement (the fourth in the symphony's overall scheme) is concerned with praise and statement of the acts and nature of God. The radiant opening [15], based on Ex. 5, introduces first the choruses, then the vocal soloists.


After a big orchestral fanfare [16], the full forces are unleashed in a fantastic, bell-like heterophony of multitudinous rejoicing [17]. Then the usual kinds of thematic development are abandoned, and the music evolves through a series of contrasting episodes which manage nevertheless to impose a formal logic on the treatment of the next. A delicate setting of 'Tibi Cherubim ...'for women's voices leads into a flowing 'Sanctus' [18] that builds to another carilloning climax. 'Pleni sunt coeli...' [19] follows as a bold march-like passage accompanied by timpani; it introduces a quiet setting of 'Te per orbem...' [20] for unaccompanied choirs. March-music takes over again for 'Patrem immensae majestatis' [21] rising to a brief climax at 'Paraclitum Spiritum'. Magical distant trumpet-calls [22] accelerate into a fierce fanfare, bringing a jubilant setting of 'Tu Rex gloriae Christe' [23]. The same words are then treated reflectively by an a cappella chorus [24], followed by syllabic chanting (interspersed by a tense chromatic canon on 'Non horruisti...') that swells to a climax at 'Tu devicto mortis aculeo'. The last section of the movement, another complex heterophony of rejoicing to the text 'Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes' [25], brings a majestic conclusion that affirms the music's decisive move into E major.


Disc 2


Movement V sets just one line of text: 'Judex crederis esse venturus' (We believe that Thou shalt come to be our judge). It opens with a very bold stroke: the four choirs singing in overlapping triads, creating dense, glowing 'chord-clusters' [1] .The solo soprano sings the complete text, and then the choirs launch into a polyphonic passage of fantasic complexity and fierce dissonance, divided into over 20 parts. A wordless vocalise for solo soprano introduces a thrilling fanfare for trumpets [2]; and then the orchestra enters for the first time in the movement with a grim juggernaut of a march [3]. After this the four choruses, each supported by a separate brass band, proclaim the text in different ways with intervening orchestral refrains [4]. A vigorous orchestral development follows [5], more brightly scored and optimistic in mood, but gradually becoming more intense. Eventually the voices join in again [6] with a mysterious accumulation of polyphonic lines that builds steadily to the movement's final climax - a thunderous outpouring of sound from the full forces (the brass bands included) that resplendently confirms the final E major.


Movement VI is the longest of all, and the one that contains the greatest contrasts of material, expression and scoring. The text is largely concerned with statements of praise and prayers for the future already adumbrated so darkly in the previous movement. A solo oboe d'amore [7] introduces a floridly expressive tenor solo ('Te ergo quaesumus...'). After the line 'Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari', a kind of celestial dance begins in the orchestra [8], brilliantly and brightly scored, with wordless participation from the choirs. The solo soprano sings the same line ('Aeterna fac...') [9], and the dance continues. Gradually Brian builds up the most texturally complex passage in the whole symphony. The outcome is a huge climax for the full forces. 'Salvum fac populum tuum' [10] brings return to antiphonal chanting of the kind heard in Movement IV. This is troubled, anxious music; but another joyful and glittering passage, for women's voices and orchestra, ensues at 'Et benedic...' [11]; the men take over grandly at 'Et rege eos' [12]; and children's voices smoothly and sweetly at 'Per singulos dies...'. Now a jaunty marching song is heard on 9 clarinets, supported by percussion [13].


More wordless vocalising follows [14], first from the basses and tenors seated, then the altos, and then all the choirs. This introduces a joyously tuneful setting of 'Et laudamus nomen tuum in saeculum saeculi' [15] which builds to a roof-raising climax of forthright, strongly rhythmic splendour. After a tremendous E major culmination the clarinet march returns as a kind of 'recessional'.


The mood now darkens for an anguished, imploring bass aria ('Dignare, Domine, die isto') [16] followed by a beautiful, quietly supplicatory double-fugue exposition for choirs alone, a subject that harks right back to the opening of the symphony with (a) in its purest form - 'In te, Domine, speravi' [17].


This passage cadences sadly into E minor, and then all Hell is let loose. The full brass of orchestra and bands, with 6 timpanists and much percussion, unleash two diabolically dissonant assaults upon the ear [18] - in a style paralleled, if at all, only by the music of Varèse - and provoke two agonized choral cries of 'Non confundar in aeternum'. The joyous visions of the earlier parts of the Te Deum have vanished into utter darkness [19].


The profoundly moving coda, with its impassioned cello line [20], is as desolate a cry from the depths as any in music. The final choral murmur of 'Non confundar in aeternum' [21] is in E major, serene and unaffected - a far-off, mysterious radiance that 'abides as alight in the night'.


© 1990 Malcolm MacDonald


Text For Part II


IV Te Deum Laudamus (Allegro moderato)

Te Deum laudamus: te Dominum confitemur.

Te aetermum Patrem omnis terra veneratur.

Tibi omnes Angeli, libi Coeli et universae Potestates.

Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim incessabili voce proclamant:

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra majestatis gloriae tuae.

Te Gloriosus Apostolorum Chorus,

Te Propheterum laudabilis numerus,

Te Martyrum candidatus laudal exercitus

(Dominus Deus Sabaoth).

Te per orbem terrarum sancta confitetur Ecclesia.

Patrem immensae majestatis,

Venerandum tuum verum et unicum filium,

Sanctum quoque poraclitum Spiritum.

Tu Rex gloriae Christe;

Tu Patris sempiterus et Filius.

Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum.

Tu devicto mortis aculeo, aperuisti credentibus Regna coelorum.

Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes, in gloria Patris.

We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.

All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.

To thee all Angels cry aloud; the Heavens and all the Powers therein.

To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry:


Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.

Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.


The glorious company of the Apostles,

The goodly fellowship of the Prophets,

The noble army of Martyrs praise thee (Lord God of Sabaoth).

The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee,

The Father of an infinite majesty,

Thine honourable, true and only Son,

Also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.

Thou art the King of glory, O Christ;

Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.

When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.

When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the Kingdom of Haven to all believers.

Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.



V Judex Crederis (Adagio molto solenne e religioso)

Judex crederis  esse venturus

We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge.



VI Te Ergo Quaesumus (Moderato e molto sostenuto)

Te ergo quaesumus tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemisti,

Aeterna fac cum Sanctis tuis in gloria numerari.

Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic haereditate tuae,

Et rege eos et extolle eos usque in aeternum. Per singulos dies benedicimus te...

Et laudamus nomen tuum in saeculum et in

saeculum saeculi.

Dignare, Domine, die isto sine peccata nos custodire;

Miserere nostri, Domine, fiat misericordia tua super nos, quem ad modum speravimus in te.

In te, Domine, speravi.

Non confundar in aeternum.

We therefore pray thee help thy servants, whom thou hadst redeemed with the precious blood.

Make them to be numbered with thy Saints in glory everlasting.

O Lord, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance,


Govern them and lift them up for ever.

Day by day we magnify thee...

And we worship thy name, for ever and ever world without end.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin;


O Lord, have mercy upon us; O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us, as our trust is in thee.


O Lord, in thee have I trusted.

Let me never be confounded.


Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)


The Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. The orchestra was first conducted by the Prague conductor František Dyk and in the course of the past fifty years of its existence has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief.


The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra


The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These include Vaclav Talich (1949-­1952), Ludovit Rajter, Ladislav Slovak and Libor Pešek. Zdenék Košler has also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvorák.


During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of the most distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti. The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, including visits to Germany and Japan, and has made a large number of recordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for the Marco Polo and Naxos labels. These recordings have brought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of leading international publications.


Ondrej Lenard


Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.


Lenard's work with the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for Opus operas by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.


For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Close the window