From today’s Composers Datebook:
In the Guinness Book of World Records, the record for the biggest, longest, most massively orchestrated symphony of all time is held by the “Gothic Symphony “of the British composer Havergal Brian.
This Symphony was composed between 1919 and 1922, but didn’t receive its first performance until some 40 years later, on June 24th in 1961, when Bryan Fairfax conducted it for the first time in Westminster.
Brian was born in 1876, to working class parents, and despite his talent and the encouragement of his fellow English composers Edward Elgar and Granville Bantock, and the leading German composer of his day, Richard Strauss, to whom Brian dedicated his “Gothic” Symphony, Brian’s musical career never caught hold. Perhaps it was class discrimination, or simply poverty resulting from the personal disruption of two marriages and several children.
Whatever the reason, for most of his life Brian toiled on in obscurity. With the deaths of Elgar and Bantock, Brian lost what little collegial support he had. Only late in his life did his work start to attract attention, when composer and BBC music producer, Robert Simpson, discovered his music and arranged for some performances.
By the time of his death in 1972, Brian had completed 32 symphonies. Although the BBC had committed to performing all of them, not a note of his music was commercially issued on record during his lifetime, and Brian died without ever having heard most of his symphonies performed.
There it is. I actually acquired the “Gothic” years ago. It is a huge, sprawling, messy, glorious affair.