Horns in mourning: Dennis Brain’s widow has died

Horns in mourning: Dennis Brain’s widow has died


norman lebrecht

August 02, 2021

The family has announced the death of Yvonne Brain, 64 years after the car smash that killed her husband, the epic horn player Dennis Brain. Dennis was 36.

Yvonne was a pianist. They had two children together.

May they rest in peace.


  • Robin Del Mar says:

    2 children. Tony and Sally

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Dennis also had a brother who played in a US orchestra. I didn’t know that until quite recently.

    • Paul Anthony Kampen says:

      Are you sure that this is correct? Leonard Brain was a very well-known London oboist.

    • will says:

      His uncle Alf(red) emigrated to the USA in the 1920s and became the most-recorded horn player in the world, on account of his being the leading horn player of the Hollywood studio orchestras. Dennis’s oboist brother Leonard, who played in the Brain Quintet, stayed in the UK, playing with several London orchestras.

  • Craig in LA says:

    There is very little about the Brain’s wife and children online, but I did find the story below, which originally appeared (in Polish, and in some awkward English here) in the December 1993 issues of Horn Magazine.


    Yvonne Brain – “A Very Nice Person”
    By Przemyslaw Siuta

    “He was a very nice person, what more can you say about him?” – recalls her husband, Dennis, Yvonne Brain. The rest of us would probably add that he is still considered the greatest horn player of all time, the man who inspired an entire generation of performers, who made the instrument famous, and who created an atmosphere in which modern horn players can mature.

    Yvonne and Dennis first met in 1944 over coffee at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she studied piano and where Dennis, a former student, paid frequent visits. Dennis had seen her in the entrance hall several times before. He also learned a few things about her from the great accompanist and colleague Denis Matthews. Matthews took lessons from Harold Craxton, who also taught Yvonne. She already knew Pauline, who became the wife of Norman del Mar. A year later, Dennis and the young pianist were married at the bride’s ancestral home in Petersfield, Hampshire.

    Yvonne recalls Dennis’s travels with orchestras, as many wives did at the time. One of them was the wife of the famous clarinetist, Jack Brymer. Yvonne remembered, “I liked it very much. We traveled from one city to another, catching up with all the foods we missed during the war! Of course, we also had a chance to listen to some good orchestras, until the babies, Tony and Sally were born in 1952 and 1955.”

    Yvonne accompanied the Philharmonia Orchestra on their travels. Dennis’s free time was severely limited during their years of marriage. The Brains met with the Del Mars regularly. Dennis also undertook renovation of his cars – his love for cars is legendary – but it was all “just a matter of time.” Yvonne, however, stated that “he was a very good mechanic.”

    The passion they shared was, of course, music, not necessarily classical, which can be seen by anyone who heard Dennis on the Desert Island recording. Frank Sinatra was especially liked by them. When recalling her husband’s playing, Yvonne mentions more often such performances as Flight of the Bumblebee with Eric Robinson’s orchestra or an extremely entertaining concert at the Hoffnung Festival in November 1956 (where Dennis played the Concerto for Alpine Horn by Leopold Mozart on a garden hose), rather than the more obvious works of Mozart or Richard Strauss. Yvonne didn’t see Dennis practicing often, but “the fact that he played a lot” must explain that. Dennis Brain’s Quintet – Dennis, his brother Leonard (oboe), Tom Wightman (bassoon), Stephen Waters (clarinet) and Garteh Morris (flute) – rehearsed at the Brain’s large Victorian house in Frognall.

    On one of his few days off, Dennis was working in the garden when the phone rang. Yvonne answered. On the line he heard a request from a local amateur orchestra, which, for lack of a last-minute musician, called the best French horn player in the country to ask if he was able to help them. Yvonne called Dennis from the garden, who “agreed right away.” He was interested in everything if he was wanted and had free time. “That’s what Dennis was, of course. He would help anyone if he could.” This story illustrates the modesty that Yvonne Brain describes as one of Dennis’s most endearing traits. “I just got married to a very nice person. He had a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh. He was just a happy person and he would remain so, whatever he did.”

    Yvonne also recalls “being simple, which is hard to come by these days ”. His French horn mates did not feel competitive, “because everyone liked him so much.” “I think Dennis inspired people.” He certainly inspired composers. There are many well-known works in the repertoire that were written especially for him. Serenade Britten, Still Falls the Rain, Concerto Hindemith, 2 Concert Malcolm Arnold, Romance and Rondo Ernest Tomlinson are well known and likeable songs. “He was very fond of Gordon Jacob (Concerto for French horn and strings),” says Yvonne. She also remembers the countless unreleased works that aspiring composers sent to Dennis. Although many of them had little artistic value, “he always checked them all.” Yvonne still has the manuscripts, as she does one of Raoux’s piston French horns and Alexander’s B-French, so meticulously restored at Paxman’s headquarters after Dennis’s tragic accident.

    The story of Dennis Brain has become legendary. Yvonne believes, however, that perhaps some of the stories may be simply apocryphal. Did Dennis really have Autocar magazines on the desktop during Mozart concerts with Herbert von Karajan? Yvonne is not sure about this. Dennis took auto magazines with him to rehearsals, and if the story is not true in this case, it must have happened elsewhere, although it is impossible for him to read these magazines at times other than breaks and long pauses.
    In this way, he adds, the story continues, and the stories show the Dennis Brain whom we have all learned to admire. Yvonne would like to refer those wishing to know more about the unfortunately now unpublished biography of Dennis by Stephen Pettitt. “The 1950s was a great era with so many great musicians,” concludes Yvonne Brain. Dennis was a perfect example of this that should be remembered not in a gloomy way for his accident, but for the joy he brought to the French horn.

  • Robin Blech says:

    I met Yvonne not long after Dennis’s death at a lunch at the Del Mar home. Years later we met again when Norman conducted a 70th birthday concert in Dennis’s memory at the Wigmore Hall. Yvonne also allowed my sister Joy to use her piano for practising. A very gracious lady.