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The Influential Life of Dennis Brain

By Amy Saad

On the 17th of May in 1921, the remarkable British French Horn musician, Dennis Brain, was born in London to a very gifted family. His grandfather, father and two uncles were all horn players, while his older brother played the oboe and cor anglaise. Dennis Brain’s father, Aubrey, was the main horn player of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from its commencement in 1930. Aubrey encouraged and taught Dennis who made his first debut in late 1938 while he was still a student at the London Royal Academy of Music.

During World War II, both Dennis and his brother joined the Royal Air Force. Luckily, his band duties allowed him time to engage in other musical opportunities. In 1942, the conductor Sidney Beer founded an ensemble that became known as the National Symphony Orchestra. At this time, Brain started recording as a soloist for EMI’s Columbia level at the request of the producer Walter Legge. When the war ended, Legge moved to founding the Philharmonia Orchestra with the best instrument players. The public debut was in October of 1945 where Dennis Brain was first horn. Dennis also became the first horn the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Brain played in both orchestras from 1946 to 1954, when he decided to part from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and remained devoted to the Philharmonia for the three remaining years of his life. By this time, he became very well-known and sought after, setting the benchmark for horn players around the world. (

Brain’s life tragically ended when he was driving home overnight from the 1957 Edinburgh Festival and his car crashed into a tree on the outskirts of London. His death brought great sadness to everyone he met especially Andrew McGavin who played second horn in Philharmonia. His legacy has lived on and inspired his late niece Tina Brain to pursue the horn.

From a very young age Tina was encouraged to play horn “it seemed to be accepted in my family that at a suitable age I would just take up the horn and become a horn player. The story goes my father put the horn to my mouth when I was three and I played a perfect note. I don’t remember.” Tina continued to play horn and she studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, the same as her uncle. Tina started teaching in Sydney in 2001 and has continued since her passion for “inspiring young players to excel and choose their own path on the horn” has allowed her to teach at many schools around Sydney including Loreto Normanhurst, Barker, Abbotsleigh and Knox.


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