Havergal Brian: The Wrap Up of the Gothic

I have no witty entry to this blog.  My brain is fried.  I’m tired.  I’m… lost for words… completely.  That is of course excepting the ones I have thus far used to articulate the fact that my perspicacity has expired.  Why?  You may ask.  Because my poor tiny brain is yet to recover from the mammoth task of participating in the first production of Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1 in 30 years.  So, with that in mind, I cautiously begin…

The Gothic Symphony: The Wrap Up

The Gothic Symphony

OK, first things first.  What the hell is a Gothic Symphony?  Well, long, long ago a man named Havergal Brian decided he loved the Gothic era architecture but at the same time hated musicians & singers.  What to do, what to do?  Then, genius (& perhaps sadism) struck.  He would write the world’s most hardest-est piece of music that ever there was & hope when you listened to it you thought of gargoyles & big pillars.  The following 8 years gave rise to his first symphony, The Gothic Symphony, & is widely regarded as the world’s hardest piece of music to perform.  I have to admit that when you perform this piece you really don’t think of gargoyles all that much.  You more think of the devil himself sitting at a desk covered in manuscript saying to himself “ooooooh Luke is so going to regret not giving $2 to that armless, legless, homeless, hatless orphan last Christmas.”

Now that you know what we’re talking about, let’s talk about it.  When I first heard that we were doing a production of the hardest piece of music in existence I wasn’t particularly surprised.  I’ve known the chorusmaster for some time now (I’ll get to her later) & nothing she does is particularly surprising anymore.  I swear, if she had rocked up to rehearsal wearing a Woody the Cowboy costume with a squid for a hat I would have just assumed she couldn’t find her lederhosen.  That is to say, she isn’t one to back away from something just because nobody else seems to want to do it.  In all honesty I can’t say I know why I signed up to be in the chorus.  Perhaps it was because I was looking for a new project, perhaps it was just because it seemed like the thing to do.  All I know is that I never imagined myself not being part of it.  I love music & I love insanity so doing an insane piece of music was kind of a no brainer.

No brainer or not, I have to admit that when I was asked to be the tenor soloist I came out with the complete rainbow of colourful language.  I was terrified but how can you turn an opportunity like that down?  Thankfully, my fear was completely unwarranted.  The more I worked on the project the more I discovered that no individual part was really that difficult.  Yes every part was a challenge but not insurmountably so.  The only people who really had ridiculously impossible tasks were the chorusmaster (Alison Rogers), her assistant (Dane Leeson), the maestro (John Curro) & the répétiteur (David Mibus).  The thing about each of these jobs was the fact that they had to worry about everybody, not just themselves.  How they managed to keep going through it all I will never know but there is a quote I love:

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends It gives a lovely light! – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I think this is a statement that will always ring true of those four people, perhaps with the exception of the “it will not last the night” part.  Those guys partied much longer into the night than I after the show.  Perhaps we should amend it to “it will not last past 4am on a school night.”

A few days after the symphony I was thinking about how well it all went & where it would go from here.  It hasn’t been done for 30 years.  Would it be that long until it is done again?  To be honest, I don’t think so.  One of the biggest things we fought throughout the whole ordeal was ourselves & our attitude towards what we were doing.  Yes, we were all committed but almost everybody, myself included, started out with a defeated outlook & had to prove themselves wrong before they truly got onboard & I think that’s why it has been so long since anybody has attempted it.  (If that makes any sense.)  Now, however, it hasbeen done.  It’s no longer this impossible undertaking attempted only by the foolish & the damned.  I think the real curse of the Gothic is The Curse of The Gothic.  It has become a self fulfilling prophecy because the first thing everybody hears when someone mentions it is that this is the hardest piece of music in the world, it’s impossible & it’s cursed.  Hopefully, when people bring up The Gothic Symphony now, they will hear that it was done by a tiny group of committed music lovers just for the hell of it.

I guess that’s it.  Nothing more to say except that I hope everybody had a great Christmas & I’m sorry for not blogging for so long.  (I’ve been a little pre-occupied.)  Farewell for now & always remember, if at first you don’t succeed, kill everybody who knew you were involved & deny, deny, deny.

Unless there is a next time,
Goodbye forever.

Luke Venables
Half-Baked Ideas Merchant
(Half-microwaved ideas available for those on the go.)

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3 Responses to “Havergal Brian: The Wrap Up of the Gothic”

  1. Ruth Fiedler Says:

    “Hopefully, when people bring up The Gothic Symphony now, they will hear that it was done by a tiny group of committed music lovers just for the hell of it.” Yes Luke, and committed is key word followed by “music lovers” Why – the hell of it. No ideals of money making, record deals, TV documentaries, fame, stepping stones to something greater, just the old fashioned “sounds like a good idea”. And the outcomes was not just the satisfaction of completing it, but it touched many lives. That is the wonder of “commitment” shown by lovers of The Arts, doing things “just for the hell of it” in that them impact the community and individuals in ways they could never imagine.

    I am very proud of you Luke. You truly understand what it is to really really live.

  2. I sat in on chorus rehearsals & sat in on chorus rehearsals & you know, it never once crossed my mind to look this thing up & get some idea of what Brian thought he was doing. I had no idea when I went to the working rehearsal just how big a sound was going to be coming my way. [So glad we sat way up the back under Alison!] It was wonderful to hear the whole thing right through. Accolades your way. Loved your solos ~ but then you like the *big sound8 pieces don’t you? I want to know what devilish thing Alison plans for an encore. Just so I know to run now. ☺

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