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ClassicsOnline Home » BRIAN: Symphony No. 1, 'Gothic'
Havergal Brian (1876-1972)
Symphony No. 1 'The Gothic' (1919-1927)
Part I: I. Allegro assai -
II. Lento espressivo e solenne
III. Vivace -
Part II: IV. Allegro moderato (Te Deum Laudamus)
V. Adagio molto solenne e religioso
VI. Moderato e molto sostenuto (Te
ergo quaesumus) -
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
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
The score is prefaced by two lines in German from Goethe's
He who ever strives with all his
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
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.
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  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  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  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
 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 , 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  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  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 .
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 .
Eventually the accumulated tension gathers to a head in a
violent, warlike development full of march-and-fanfare images . Then, in an
astonishing passage, the movement acquires, instead of any recapitulation, a
further, fantastic development, weirdly scored , with a bizarre xylophone
cadenza  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  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 . 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
, based on Ex. 5, introduces first the choruses, then the vocal soloists.
After a big orchestral fanfare , the full forces are
unleashed in a fantastic, bell-like heterophony of multitudinous rejoicing
. 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'  that builds
to another carilloning climax. 'Pleni sunt coeli...'  follows as a bold
march-like passage accompanied by timpani; it introduces a quiet setting of 'Te
per orbem...'  for unaccompanied choirs. March-music takes over again for 'Patrem
immensae majestatis'  rising to a brief climax at 'Paraclitum Spiritum'.
Magical distant trumpet-calls  accelerate into a fierce fanfare, bringing a
jubilant setting of 'Tu Rex gloriae Christe' . The same words are then
treated reflectively by an a cappella chorus , 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' , brings a majestic conclusion that affirms the music's decisive
move into E major.
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'  .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 ; and then the orchestra enters
for the first time in the movement with a grim juggernaut of a march . After
this the four choruses, each supported by a separate brass band, proclaim the
text in different ways with intervening orchestral refrains . A vigorous
orchestral development follows , more brightly scored and optimistic in
mood, but gradually becoming more intense. Eventually the voices join in again
 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
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 
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 , brilliantly and brightly scored, with
wordless participation from the choirs. The solo soprano sings the same line ('Aeterna
fac...') , 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'  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...' ; the men take over grandly at 'Et rege eos' ; and
children's voices smoothly and sweetly at 'Per singulos dies...'. Now a jaunty
marching song is heard on 9 clarinets, supported by percussion .
More wordless vocalising follows , 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' 
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
The mood now darkens for an anguished, imploring bass aria
('Dignare, Domine, die isto')  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'
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  - 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 .
The profoundly moving coda, with its impassioned cello line
, is as desolate a cry from the depths as any in music. The final choral
murmur of 'Non confundar in aeternum'  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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
Last Albums Viewed
BRIAN: Symphony No. 1, 'Gothic'