Sadness at the death of Julian Bream

Sadness at the death of Julian Bream


norman lebrecht

August 14, 2020

The outstanding British guitarist of the post-War period – possibly the most important since the Elizabethan age – died on August 14 at his home in Wiltshire, aged 87.

Battersea born, he dazzled teachers at the Royal College of Music and, after army service, set up his own consort. He was hugely influential in reviving composers of the Tudor age and his virtuosity attracted new works from Britten, Walton, Tippett, Henze and others.  He made copious recordings on both guitar and lute.

A rather shy man, he shunned the hurly-burly of musical careerism.



  • takis says:

    Great musician, not only guitarist ( those are separate), and great ant interesting personality- like a character of a Shakespearean play, wit and British phlegm. I consider him the best regarding the acme of classical guitar in the 2nd half of 20th c.

  • Digita Rodderbuckle-Cluff says:

    No! Make the devastation stop. COVID must be cured, at ANY cost.

  • Scott says:

    RIP. Listening to his 1982 disc, Dedication, containing works commissioned by Bream: Bennett’s Five Impromptus, Walton’s Five Bagatelles, P.M.Davies Hill Runes and Henze’s Royal Winter Music.

  • Leo Samama says:

    He was not only a great musician (on either the lute and the guitar, but also a marvelous human being… I have fond memories of him and his playing influenced many of my own guitar works too….

  • DML says:

    Sad news. I was honoured to have known him and to have had a piece commissioned my him.

  • barney says:

    He was the only guitar player who was worth listening to. Mr Bream was a stirling advocate for his instrument and the composers whose music he played, he will be much missed. RIP.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Your first sentence is rather foolish, as there are many excellent guitarists out there. But there’s no doubt that Bream paved the way and left us a dazzling recorded legacy that I treasure.

    • I agree. In many ways, the only one worth listening to.

    • V. Lind says:

      I thin there were some other guitarists of note, but he was the gold standard, certainly. He towered over it, and got airplay at a time when classical music was getting less and less. A sad loss — one of the last mega-stars. R.I.P.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Truly sad news.
    I heard him play sometime in the 1970s at that big old barn of an auditorium in San Francisco, the Masonic on Nob Hill.
    He was exquisite, and you could hear a pin drop. It was the quietest audience I have ever been a part of.
    Except for the applause – THAT was deafening!
    R.I.P., dear Julian.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Sad to hear. Both he and John Williams seemed to be on the tv a lot when I was growing up. No one to replace them.

  • Sadness :( says:

    Oh, how sad. I remember a wonderful concert I heard when I was a Freshman undergraduate. As a very, very small-town boy, I was able to get a mega-cheap student ticket. This experience was invaluable for me, and Mr. Bream’s musicianship is still in my memory. What a gift. God speed, and thank you.

  • Doug says:

    RIP, master.

    he shunned the hurly-burly of musical careerism

    If only we can say that about nearly ANYONE anymore.

    Two characteristic in complete lack and disregard today: humility and gratefulness.

  • matteo says:

    A true inspiration may he rest in peace.

  • Una says:

    Another one gone that was always there as a young professional and when I was a music student. He was so inspiring. May he rest on peace.

  • Arthur Serating says:

    Bream was one of my earliest influences and champion of classical guitar.

  • Joel Lazar says:

    In 1958 he gave an all-Dowland program on lute at Harvard—the then-chairman of the Music Department, John Ward, was an expert on Dowland.

    Bream began the program by saying to the audience that it was quite possibly the first all-Dowland concert given since Dowland himself retired from playing in the 1620s…

    A memorable and mesmerizing evening…to a silent audience of about 1200.

    A wonderful artist, an essential part of my personal music landscape growing up.

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I never met Julian Bream nor heard him in person; but, I always admired his recordings and his self-effacing manner during interviews. Here’s a story that I enjoy.

    Lady Susana Walton (1926-2010), widow of Sir William Walton, told the story of a performance of Walton’s Bagatelles one evening in their garden, Giardini La Mortella (, on the island of Ischia, Bay of Naples, Italy.

    The performance began after sunset with candles floating on a pond and a small group of invited guests duly lubricated on prosecco and other adult beverages. After a few measures, a cacaphony of beastly sounds began. Apparently it was mating season for the frogs, and Bream’s dulcet tones incited a chorus of amorous amphibians. After a few more minutes, Sir William and Lady Susana decided to move the performance indoors to avoid the mating hallelujahs of the creatures.

    Please read “Behind the Facade” by Lady Walton for more juicy details of her incredible life.

    • V. Lind says:

      The title is either “Lady Susana” or “Lady Walton.” In her case, it is Lady Walton, as she got it upon his knighthood. To be Lady Susana, she would have to have been been the daughter of an Earl. She was Argentinian.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Thanks so much for your insightful corrections and royal drubbing.

        I called her Susana (at her urging), those who knew her very well called her Sue. In addition to Julian Bream, there were princes, lords a-leaping, and ladies cavorting at La Mortella from time to time including Larry, Yehudi, and of course Charlie (as Lady Walton liked to call the Prince of Wales) I believe that Hans Werner Henze also stayed there several times until he had a falling out with the Waltons.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      Thanks for the tip. I just ordered the book.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Surprised at no mention of Malcolm Arnold’s concerto on the first LP of Bream’s I heard, with Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” I think. He e hadd hair then, and mine was still dark.

    Greg Bottini, I missed Bream at Masonic onNob Hill but saw Ivan Moravec, Richter, Schmidt-Isserstedt/NDR, and Segovia there. When we were restive, Segovia chorded off,peered at us curiously and silently left the stage until we quieted. Later I saw Narciso Yepez at St. Mary’s across the Bay. Every guitarist west of the Rockies was there, filling the church.

    Bream’s Consort and lute paying are widely admired for devotion to its composers. How colorful that he had his first lute off a sailor in Charing Cross.

    • christopher storey says:

      Great Man, Great Musician , not a bad Cricketer, and a keen Classic Car man. A lovely epitaph for a lovely man

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi Edgar,
      Bream was really, really, great. He played music from the Renaissance to the 20th c., all with equal mastery.
      I am also a big fan of Narciso Yepes, both on guitar and lute. His Bach recordings on lute are not to be missed.
      I do envy you seeing Segovia and Richter.
      I’ve always wondered why guitarists (and recordists – I heard Bruggen there too) played at Masonic?
      There are (and were) other large halls in and around SF with *much* better acoustics. I’ve always thought the best large hall in the Bay Area is the Flint Center at De Anza College in Cupertino. Shoebox shape; excellent reflecting shell; all the good stuff. I’ve played there a number of times; you can hear every other musician on stage in perfect balance. And the sound is great from almost every seat in the house. The SF Symphony used to have a yearly series there before Davies Hall was built.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    He was easily the most-famous guitarist after Segovia in the USA, where he toured regularly in recital. He was the perfect model of a solo recitalist, most inspiring, artistic and satisfying.

  • NYMike says:

    I never heard him live, but I thought his recorded sound and technique were exquisite. He’s in my iTunes library both on my Mac and iPhone.

  • Thomas Dawkins says:

    I have a recording of Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day conducted by Benjamin Britten from 1967, when Queen Elizabeth II attended the opening of the Snape Maltings. The soloists are: Heather Harper, soprano; Peter Pears, tenor; Julian Bream, lute; Philip Jones, trumpet; Richard Adeney, flute; Keith Harvey, ‘cello; and Philip Ledger, keyboards. Bream’s contribution is short but incredibly elegant. I think I shall listen to it now.

  • Richard M says:

    The range of tones and colours was exquisite, as was his phrasing and he could play with real verve and panache. Took over Segovia’s mantle in widening the audience and repertoire. A great contribution to the progress of the instrument and a unique personality who could never be replaced.

    • Benjamín Rozenblum says:

      Fuente de inspiración y ejemplo para muchos principiantes amantes de la guitarra y el laúd, todos sabemos que algún día tendremos que partir ,pero cómo duele cuando llega el momento ,no al difunto pero si a quienes le conocieron.
      Descanse en paz mister Bream y gracias por su arte.

  • Kathleen King says:

    Thank you, Julian Bream. Thousands of hours of beauty past and in the future from your recordings. RIP

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    A true artist. RIP

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Stunning musician; a life well lived.

  • Vijay Hoodoo says:

    As great live as on performance on recordings.The UK never gave this world class musician the knighthood he so richly deserved.My God,the number of undeserving corrupt individuals that have got it!

  • Ian Lush says:

    When I ran the London Mozart Players we worked several times very successfully with Julian Bream, particularly in the Malcom Arnold concerto. He was a wonderful musician and a real character too, and audiences loved him.

  • Lindsay Addie says:

    RIP Julian Bream,
    I had the privilege of seeing Mr Bream twice live, once a concert where he performed the Concerto de Aranjeux. The other a solo recital where his playing of one of the J S Bach Lute Suites was magisterial and spell binding.

    He will live on via his many wonderful recordings.

  • Allen says:

    According to The Times obit:

    “….enjoyed a lifestyle that bordered on the hedonistic while engaging in frequent skirmishes with the Inland Revenue.”

    “His days started slowly, punctuated by seemingly endless quantities of women, drink and cigarettes.”

    Not so shy then, if true.

  • clive moon says:

    Also listening to ‘Dedication’ – no finer example of an artist inspiring great composition and then delivering it with the usual exemplary musicality, tone and drive – truly an amazing man, the best.

  • Jean Collen says:

    I am very sad to hear that the wonderful guitarist, Julian Bream has died. I attended a recital at Haileybury School in Hertfordshire in the 1960s with my music colleague and we were both deeply impressed by his wonderful playing. May he rest in peace.

  • Stephen white says:

    RIP Dear Julian Bream you leave us on this Earth with a rich vein of your music on you tube and CD and you will be Very missed but remembered
    As a Country true GENT!

  • ´dgar Self says:

    Good call, Greg. I heard the Alma Trio, Rubinstein and Schwarzkopf recitals in Cupertino, a fine hall.

  • Laura says:

    His playing always inspired me–

  • Debs says:

    So sad to hear of Julians passing. When we lived in Wiltshire, my husband and I spent a lot of time with Julian and his wonderful black flat coat retrievers. Had the pleasure to see him perform many times. Top memories are sitting in a box at the Royal Albert Hall listening to him perform and being on stage with him when he was honoured with the ‘big red book’ on This is Your Life. Rest in peace, your music will last forever.

  • Nick says:

    I well remember the first time I heard Bream’s playing. I was 16 and a keen electric guitar player of rock n roll etc. My father gave me Bream’s Westminster recording of about 1963 of Bach including the Chaconne. It was the first time I had heard it, and I was entranced by the music and Bream’s beautiful sound. I then obtained the Lute Suites LP which was even better! immediately abandoned the electric guitar and started trying to learn the Bouree from the E minor lute Suite by ear, but it was beyond me, and I had to learn to read music. I’ve played classical guitar more or less exclusively since then, up to Trinity College Diploma level at the age of 65. I also, of course, have the complete works of JS Bach and also those of J Bream.

  • HM says:

    In 1970 I heard Julian Bream live for the first time in Düsseldorf and sat a few meters in the middle of the 2nd row him. Even after his first lute piece, I was so deeply and pleasantly touched as by nothing
    other things in my life before … The complete devotion of Julian Bream, his spontaneous creation of his own World free of earthly negativisms, resulted in an expressive music of spherical beauty … From now on acquired I like all previous recordings, back then on LP and in the comparisons with lutenists of the time Gerwig or Dombois, the choice always fell on Julian Bream, who let the music flare up and alternate animated, as if we were walking in the most beautiful spheres of the Elizabethan age (In a way I liked Gerwig too, but you have to know how to distinguish between apples and pears, as if they were just opening different continents.). Here I got a living concept of the Renaissance, that under Breams hands experienced a second renaissance … And it touched me deeply, how Bream filled the whole of Düsseldorf ‚s concert hall, which was acoustically so dry. But even his lute-sounds floated to the furthest rows of seats, it was as quiet as a mouse …
    In the second part, among other pieces, the two Rossinians Giulianis, who turned into a bursting life swung up and lost everything that was disreputable about pregnant rinds – a wild dance that one of the breath caught, what a virtuosity ignited Julian Bream, an extremely powerful virtuoso performance…

    I will never forget a little scene before the second encore, where many listeners came to the front to experience Bream up close: A particularly bold visitor wanted to start talking to him while Bream was immediately concentrating to the famous chorus of Villa-Lobos and Bream stopped him on the spot with an almost imperceptible, but lightning-like and yet so tightly clear hand gesture and that worked …

    I often talked to the great musician in silence, although we never met, but his congenial humor was in the air if you had only heard Julian Bream in a single recording … He knew the ups and downs of human emotions like no other Second … Every note breathed a purity that I especially enjoyed on his first long-playing record dedicated only to Dowland. From then on, he became my role model, until I felt how fulfilling it is to stand on my own two feet and start to critically examine Bream’s play, which in no way affected its fascination, but taught me how comforting it is that we can interpret music in as many ways as there are mature musicians on earth, because the music never comes to a definitive result like the work of a brilliant painter, but only the multitude of different interpretations gives us an idea of how It’s attractive, after all, that every generation produces musicians who even discover fundamentally new details in previous music …