Continuing the theme (from August, argh, maybe I don’t have a 5★ life) of music written by dead guys, and in this case also played by a dead guy. The dead composer is Mozart, the performer Dennis Brain. I refer to Brain’s 1955 recording of the Mozart horn concertos with the assistance of Von Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra. You already know this music. You may not think so, but trust me, as soon as it starts playing you’ll think “Oh, yes”. I’m not sure whether it’s everyone actually having heard it, or whether Mozart tapped into something so smooth, polished, and elemental as to convince us that we’re on familiar and well-loved territory. Nobody could call this obscure, it’s sold a kazillion copies; but perhaps not in recent decades. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.)

The Context · Dennis Brain, who died when I was two years old, probably still remains the ideal to which classical horn players aspire.

Dennis Brain

David Terry, a friend and colleague with whom I’ve lost touch, came from a BBC family, and told me that his mother told him that Dennis Brain was a party animal, would drink till dawn and somewhere along the way play these tunes on a vacuum-cleaner hose just for fun. The Wikipedia entry says that he even brought the hoses out in public once.

Dennis Brain plays Mozart concertos with Von Karajan\

The Music · This recording first came into our family, on LP of course, when I was a really little kid; and I can remember the cover, in white and yellow and gold, a celestial being standing inside the loop of the horn it was playing.

In my Dad’s later years, after I dug this up on CD, we put it on late one night and drank some whiskey and didn’t say much; I said “Remember the white and gold album with the angel in the loop of the horn?” and he said “Oh, yes” and we both smiled.

Look, it’s not adventurous or subversive or dangerous or complex. Doesn’t challenge any traditions or push any envelopes. It’s just exceptionally smooth and beautiful. Mr Mozart wrote as many lovely tunes you can hum along with as anyone who’s lived before or since, and Mr Brain, he could play the horn as well as anyone who’s ever been recorded. What else might you want?

Sampling It · I remain convinced that Compact Discs remain the best way to buy music; high-quality, DRM-free, and they constitute their own backup once you’ve ripped ’em. But on this one, the recording quality is only average (which doesn’t matter if the music is good enough). So given that Mozart, Brain, Von Karajan and probably anyone else who contributed creatively to this recording are long, long dead, I’d find it hard to find a moral basis for disapproving of grabbing a decent copy online if you can find one.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Tony Fisk (Oct 15 2007, at 22:54)

Did Mr Brain's antics inspire Flanders and Swann?


From: Paul Clapham (Oct 16 2007, at 08:38)

I thought it was a garden hose, not a vacuum cleaner hose (the Wikipedia article doesn't specify either). But I think the garden hose would suit a horn player's embouchure much better than the vacuum cleaner hose.


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October 15, 2007
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