The British guitarist and lutenist Julian Bream has died peacefully at his home in rural Wiltshire. He was 87. From unassuming suburban London beginnings in which he learned jazz guitar with the help of his father, Bream rose to become one of the very finest modern exponents of the classical instrument. His talents attracted composers of the stature of Britten, Walton, Tippett and Hans Werner Henze.
Guitarist Julian Bream, who has died today at the age of 87. Photo by Getty Images
Bream’s ardour for the playing of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt started early and never died, but he decided in an instant that classical guitar would be his future on hearing a recording of the great Andrés Segovia in the later 1940s. After studies at the Royal College of Music (majoring in fact on piano) Bream swiftly gained recognition on his chosen instrument. From early days, concert appearances were supplemented by BBC appearances and then by commercial recordings. Somehow he managed to integrate guitar-playing into his National Service, not least via army dance band appearances.
Bream’s discovery of the lute and its repertoire in the early 1950s resulted in a lifelong devotion to the instrument, explored not just in solo repertoire but, for example, in his duo partnership with the tenor Peter Pears and via his own Julian Bream Consort. Among other significant collaborations were those with harpsichordist George Malcolm and fellow guitarist John Williams, both preserved for posterity on disc.
A fascination with the long-term history of the guitar in Spain resulted in Bream playing examples from different periods. For good measure, he also found a way of combining his talents with Indian classical music. On the other hand, Bream felt that the repertoire available for the modern classical guitar lacked variety — hence his encouragement of composers of his own day to write for the instrument. Among the range of works written for him, Benjamin Britten’s 1963 masterpiece, Nocturnal after John Dowland, stood out in his affections.
Julian Bream’s worldwide reputation was built off the back of a large, wide-ranging discography and concert tours to all parts of the globe. Various television films, including a string of engaging master classes, added further lustre to his name. One such film touched base with his other consuming passion — the game of cricket.
Bream retired from concert work at the age of 70, but remained active — not least when it came to overseeing a captivating DVD autobiography, My Life in Music. The founding of the Julian Bream Trust enabled him to encourage the next generation of guitarists, who will help carry his name into the future.