Julian Bream: Nocturnal After John Dowland (conclusion) (Benjamin Britten, op. 70)


Julian Bream (who died today, age 87, in Wiltshire, England) grew up in a musical household, and certainly made the most of it. His father, a commercial artist, was a jazz guitarist who also played the piano. As a child, the young Julian would sit by the radio, trying to strum along on his father’s guitar. Lessons followed on both guitar and piano. Winning a piano competition at age 12 gave Julian entry into the Royal College of Music. He made his début recital on the guitar at age 13, and made his Wigmore Hall début at age 17. His father bought him a lute, which he taught himself to play. In 1960, he founded an original-instruments group with himself as lutenist, bringing Elizabethan music to widespread public awareness. England’s most important composers, Benjamin Britten, Sir William Walton, and Sir Michael Tippett wrote pieces for him, as did dozens of other composers.

Here he is in a video from 2003 (I believe), playing the penultimate and final movements of Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland. Britten’s Nocturnal is not so much a set of variations as an 18-minute reconstruction of a deconstructed “Come, Heavy Sleep,” by John Dowland.

In sharp contrast to the usual variation sets that start with the melody and get more complicated as they go on, Britten inverted that agenda. The piece starts with the variation most remote in character; each successive variation is closer to the original tune, and the work ends with Dowland’s original lute song (which was published in 1597). So, here we have the final variation, and then the statement of the melody.

There were giants in the earth in those days…

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One Reply to “Julian Bream: Nocturnal After John Dowland (conclusion) (Benjamin Britten, op. 70)”

  1. Jim Tavegia

    Thanks for sharing and glad you are back. I was getting worried, pandemic and all.

    I had read many Bruce Catton novels in middle school and even a novel on Adolph Eichmann which was horrifying to me at 13 as no one in my family had ever mentioned the holocaust. I had just watched again, “The Pianist” with Adrian Brody to remind myself of the inhumanity of man. There are many movies about that time and I own them all. The Civil War was terribly brutal as was WW1 and then dealing with their pandemic at the same time made an unthinkable situation even worse. Young people today have no idea what pain, suffering and sacrifice is. Enough of that…..

    Look forward to your gear reviews and I understand that JBL has also remade the L82 which I would love to hear one day once we get back to going out. I did buy a Project S2 DAC based off the review in Stereophile and find it a bargain at $300 ( no headphone amp did I need) . Brought new life to one of my old Sony SACD disc spinners. I only use my Yamaha S1800 for SACDs anymore as it is far superior.

    Thanks for the music and I have been enjoying a few more releases from Cedille Records and they are well recorded.

    Regards, Jim

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