Brain, Dennis phenomenal English horn player, son of Aubrey (Harold) and nephew of Alfred (Edwin) Brain; b. London, May 17, 1921; d. in an automobile accident in Hatfield, Sept. 1, 1957. He received piano lessons as a child and took up the bugle in his school cadet band. In 1936 he began studying the horn at home with his father, who continued as his teacher when he entered the Royal Academy of Music in London that same year; he also had instruction there in piano, organ, and conducting. While still a student, he launched his professional career in 1938 playing second horn to his father in a concert under Adolf Busch in London. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force and played principal horn in its sym. orch. for the duration of the conflict. In the meantime, he completed his training at the Royal Academy of Music in 1940. From 1942 to 1947 he was principal horn in the National Sym. Orch. in London; he also was a valuable member of the New London Orch., the London Wind Players, and the London Baroque Ensemble. In 1945 he became principal horn of the Philharmonia Orch. in London, a post he held with great distinction for the rest of his life. He also served as principal horn of the Royal Phil, in London from 1946 to 1948, and again from 1950 to 1954. From 1949 he was principal horn of the London Mozart Players. In addition to his various orch. duties, he toured as a virtuoso soloist and was active with his own wind quintet and trio. Brain was duly recognized as the foremost horn player of his time, and following his tragic death he became a legend. His lips were insured for £10, 000. Among his legendary performances captured on recordings are the 4 Mozart and the 2 Strauss horn concertos, all of which were classical best-sellers in his lifetime and remain unsurpassed for their perfection of execution. From 1942 several noted composers wrote works especially for him, among them Britten (Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings), Seiber (Notturno for Horn and Strings), Hindemith (Horn Concerto), Jacob (Horn Concerto), Arnold (2nd Horn Concerto), and Searle (Aubade for Horn and Orch.). It can only be imagined how profoundly the modern horn repertoire would have been enhanced in succeeding decades had Brain lived an average lifetime.
S. Pettitt, D. B.: A Biography (London, 1976).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Dennis Brain, 1921–57, British horn player. Brain studied with his father, Aubrey, at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He played principal horn with first the Royal Philharmonic and then the Philharmonia orchestras. He was killed in an automobile accident. Brain's extraordinary artistry has been preserved on many orchestral and solo recordings. Works were written for him by Hindemith, Britten, and other composers.