2020-08-21 23:36:21 UTC
By Allan Kozinn
Julian Bream, the English musician who pushed the guitar beyond its
Spanish roots and expanded its range by commissioning dozens of
works from major composers, and who also played a crucial role in
reviving the lute as a modern concert instrument, died on Friday at
his home in Wiltshire, England. He was 87.
His representatives at James Brown Management announced his death in
a statement but did not give a cause.
Mr. Bream was the most eloquent guitarist of the generation that
came of age soon after Andrés Segovia carved out a place for the
guitar in the mainstream concert world.
It could be argued, in fact, that Mr. Bream, even more than Segovia,
established the guitar's credibility as a serious solo instrument.
He updated the technical standard of classical guitar playing and
replaced the Romantic, rubato-heavy phrasing that Segovia preferred
with a more modern style. And he undertook a significant renovation
of the repertory.
While Segovia, a Spaniard, devoted himself largely to music that
naturally emphasized the guitar's Spanish and Latin American roots,
Mr. Bream showed that the instrument was equally suited to German,
French and English works and to some of the thorny contemporary
styles that the more conservative Segovia avoided.
While Mr. Bream did not ignore the Spanish and Latin repertory, he
created an alternative and just as durable one through research,
transcription and commissioning.
He was the first to revive major works by Fernando Sor of Spain and
Mauro Giuliani of Italy, two important 19th-century
guitarist-composers. His transcriptions included Bach suites and
Scarlatti sonatas, as well as works by Purcell, Cimarosa, Diabelli
But his most enduring legacy is most likely to be the large
collection of pieces he commissioned, many of which he also
recorded. The scores written for him that are now staples of the
guitar literature include Benjamin Britten's "Nocturnal" (1963);
William Walton's Five Bagatelles (1971); and concertos by Malcolm
Arnold (1959) and Richard Rodney Bennett (1970). Hans Werner Henze,
Peter Maxwell Davies, Michael Tippett and Toru Takemitsu also wrote
works for him.
"I do think there is a valid reason that Segovia commissioned the
composers he did," Mr. Bream said in a 1983 interview with The New
York Times. "He was very much a pioneer, and what he wanted was a
very listenable repertory. But I'm interested in different aspects
of the guitar, and of music. And while I think it would have worried
Segovia that certain works might not go down too well, as often
happens with modern music, that doesn't worry me."
Mr. Bream also had an antiquarian streak that made him an important
figure in the modern revival of the lute. He took up the Renaissance
lute in 1950 in order to play works that were written for it by
Morley, Dowland and other Elizabethan composers.
He was not the first to do so, but his predecessors had sat on the
scholarly edge of the early music world. Mr. Bream, by contrast,
hoped to make the lute as popular as the guitar, and he set about
searching libraries for little-known works that might illuminate the
instrument's expressive strengths.
In 1959, he formed the Julian Bream Consort, a string, wind and lute
ensemble, to perform and record Elizabethan ensemble music. At
recitals, he often played the lute before the intermission and the
guitar in the second half of the program.
Mr. Bream's success as a lutenist inspired a generation of young
musicians, including Paul O'Dette, Stephen Stubbs and Hopkinson
Smith, to set aside the modern guitar and concentrate on the lute
and other early stringed instruments. In the early 1980s, Mr. Bream
followed their lead in taking up early forms of the guitar--the
Spanish vihuela and the Baroque guitar--while preparing his video
series "Guitarra!," which traces the guitar's history.
And when research by younger lutenists suggested that Mr. Bream's
lute technique was inauthentic, he stopped playing the instrument
publicly so that he could catch up with the latest scholarship. By
the time he began giving lute performances again, he had not only
revised his technique but had also taken up the larger Baroque lute.
Julian Alexander Bream was born in London on July 15, 1933, to Henry
and Violet Jessie (Wright) Bream. His father was a commercial
artist, his mother a homemaker. His parents divorced when he was 14.
Julian played the piano and the cello as a child but was inspired to
take up the guitar after hearing the virtuoso jazz guitarist Django
Reinhardt. His father, an amateur jazz guitarist, gave him his first
lessons, and when Julian heard some Segovia recordings in the
mid-1940s, he decided to study classical guitar music.
"When my father saw that I was interested in following such a
career," Mr. Bream was quoted as saying in "Life on the Road," a
1982 biography by Tony Palmer, "he had many reservations. His
feeling was that there was no chance to earn a livelihood unless I
played jazz or something similar. And to prove it he did say to me
one day that if you take into account the whole population of the
world, and given that there's only one world famous classical
guitarist so far, the chance of success for a second guitarist must
be very slender. But that remark made me all the more doggedly
The persistence was necessary. At his audition for admission to the
Royal College of Music in London, Mr. Bream played the guitar first,
even though the instrument was not taught there, and then the piano.
The school admitted him as a pianist, cellist and composition
student, and he was advised not to bring his guitar into the
But because he was giving late-night performances and playing for
film soundtracks to earn money, he brought his guitar to the college
anyway. When word got around that he could be heard playing Bach on
it in one of the practice rooms, the school's director asked him
again to leave the guitar at home. Mr. Bream left the school
After 3 œ years in the army, Mr. Bream tried to establish his career
in earnest. He continued playing for film soundtracks and in the pit
bands for radio plays, as well as an accompanist for singers on BBC
programs. He also began giving radio concerts on the lute.
He made his London debut at Wigmore Hall in 1951 and immediately
toured England. His first continental concerts followed in
Switzerland in 1954, and he made his American debut in 1958, at Town
Hall in New York. Thereafter, he toured annually through the 1990s,
mostly in Europe and the United States.
An automobile accident in 1984, in which he broke his right elbow,
required reconstructive surgery that limited his bending the arm. He
had his surgeon set it in the optimal position for plucking guitar
strings, and after relearning his technique to account for the loss
in flexibility, he continued to perform and record.
His final formal recital was in Norwich, England, on May 6, 2002,
but he continued to play privately, occasionally giving recitals at
churches near his home until 2011, when injuries he sustained after
a neighbor's dog knocked him to the ground made playing impossible.
Mr. Bream's honors included the Order of the British Empire in 1964,
Commander of the British Empire in 1985 and the Villa-Lobos Gold
Medal (he gave the world premiere of the Villa-Lobos Guitar
Concerto) in 1976.
He married Margaret Williamson in 1968. After their divorce, he
married Isabel Sanchez in 1980. That marriage also ended in divorce.
Mr. Bream is survived by his sister, Janice, and his brother
Anthony, an artist. Their youngest sibling, Paul, died in 2006.
Mr. Bream recorded for Westminster, Decca and EMI Classics in the
1990s, but was mainly with RCA Records. Starting in 1959, he
recorded nearly 40 discs for the label, covering a vast array of the
lute and guitar repertory. In 2013, to celebrate Mr. Bream's 80th
birthday, Sony Classical (which had acquired RCA Red Seal) issued a
boxed set with all the RCA discs, as well as two DVDs offering a
documentary film and television appearances.
Mr. Bream was fussy about sound, preferring to record late at night
in an empty chapel near his home. He said, however, that modern
recording techniques could not match the sound he heard on the old
shellac discs of his childhood, played on a windup gramophone with a
large horn and thorn needles.
"What do I think of digital recording?" he once mused at a cocktail
party in New York. "Well, it's all right. But those old thorn
needles, now, that was a sound."