The encounter with (and farewell to) Dennis Brain
in 1950s must have been one of the most decisive
moments in Mr. Kaoru Chiba’s life. He often shared
his precious recollections of this great teacher /
mentor with much younger generations.
In the following conversation (told in a first-
person way), I hope you will also get some intimate
glimpse of DB’s personality.
(This is my personal & tentative translation done
in a hurry, so please forgive me for any inaccuracy
Kaoru Chiba on Dennis Brain
(interviewed by Akashi-Minami High School students
on 4 October 2004)
(How did you become a student of DB?)
In fact, I initially tried to study under Aubrey
Brain, DB’s father. You know, the older the teacher
is, the more experienced – usually. However, I found
that Aubrey had been already dead by that time, so
I turned to Dennis, his son.
(What was the first impression of DB?)
Very polite. You know the opera “Der Rosenkavalier”
by Richard Strauss? I first met him at one of its
recording sessions (note: eventually to become the
legendary EMI disc by the Philharmonia with Schwarz-
kopf, Ludwig & Karajan. The recording took place on
10-22 December 1956). Having arrived in London, I
immediately telephoned DB to ask where to meet. He
suggested to come to this venue (a big theatre) at
01:00pm, during lunch break. The recording would
resume at 01:30, so I'll have to be punctual – I
I arrived shortly before one o’clock and walked
around. I saw the music stands of the horn section
and guessed where the Principal chair was. Then,
just 2-3 minutes to one o’clock, there came DB,
trotting jauntily. I was about the only Asian there
on that day, so it must have been quite easy for him
to spot me. ‘Mr. Chiba, isn’t it?’ he said. To my
surprise, Herbert von Karajan also turned up there.
He had something to discuss with DB over certain
passage for the afternoon take. In fact, I had already
played for Karajan in Japan before, in the NHK SO.
‘What on earth are YOU doing here?’ said HvK. DB
looked amused to know that we were already acquaintances
- Karajan and me. ‘Why didn’t you come to Berlin?
You didn’t reply to my invitation at all, did you?’
said Karajan. ‘So you are going to have lessons with
Dennis? That’s a jolly good idea! Well, excuse me
gentlemen.’ After Karajan left, DB said, ‘So you are
already a fine player!’ Thank God HvK didn’t tell
Dennis to “avoid this hopeless wretch by all means”!
(What kind of personality did DB have?)
Sincerity itself! Afterwards, we had lessons mostly
at his home. I stayed in the southern suburb of London
so I had to drive across the downtown to its northern
end (note: Frognal, Hampstead). Since the traffic was
often difficult and unpredictable, I always arrived
very early. On the first day, I parked my car in front
of his house and waited. Then, five minutes to the
promised time, a very stylish sports car pulled up and
DB came out, alone with many paper bags full of
groceries. ‘Did I tell you a wrong time?’ he asked.
‘No, no, I came quite early, just in case. London is
a very tricky place to arrive at anywhere punctually’,
I replied. “Very good. I thought I had been late”,
DB said in his elegant Queen’s English! Although I
must have missed some of his words, he was so very
gentle to treat a young stranger from the other end of
the earth in such a polite manner.
(Very punctual, wasn’t he?)
Indeed. He was a real star player, constantly busy.
There was one amusing episode concerning his punctuality.
One day, they had a recording session which was rather
demanding. ‘Hey, where’s Dennis? It’s only five
minutes to the next take!.’ Everybody looked very
alarmed. ”He must be at BBC”, one person remarked.
‘He should be recording a recital program or two for
them.’ This guy meant a joke, but DB really was! In those
days they had two and half hour lunchtime break. Dennis
sneaked out, went to the broadcasting studio and recorded
there a 30 minutes program, then hurried back in his TR2.
Five minutes to the afternoon take, he was calmly sitting
on the Principal Horn chair! DB was THAT meticulous and
punctual in using his time, but he seemed to be enjoying
all this. ‘Your schedule seems awfully hectic! Aren’t
you exhausted?’ asked many people around him, but he
(What kind of concrete lessons did you have with DB?)
Musical interpretation. Even when I had a slightly
different idea musically, he respected it, saying
‘well, I wouldn’t play that way, but yours is also valid’.
However, he was very strict and accurate in teaching how
to interpret a music.
(Did you two differ in how to play a certain passage?)
Of course! Very frequently. But always in a very polite
manner. DB was never dogmatic.
(Wasn’t he harsh?)
Never. Always very calm and rational.
(What did you master from his playing?)
Well, it wasn’t so easy to “steal” his technique!
He was a GOD, you know. Not a mere “genius”. It was
totally out of the question to “imitate” him in
(To that extent he was outstanding!)
Yes. Out of this world. He used to comment on my
playing like: ‘that could also be valid’ or
‘you started the earlier part of the music in
(such and such) concept, so this ending could make
sense, too’. You see, he followed the entire musical
flow in a very sympathetic manner.
As for many aspects of horn-playing technique per se
– fast notes, fast tonguing, extremely high notes,
etc, it was no use asking him how to do that. You see,
he could do it anyway and didn’t know how or why.
Hence he is a god! Nonetheless, I tried to ask some
questions of this nature. ‘Hmm… Give me one week.
I will ask Alan Civil’, he said. Civil was another
of Aubrey’s pupils.
(What was the most characteristic thing about
Nothing excessive. No protrusion, no withering.
Always just “right”, faithful to what was written
there. Others might try and claim to “empathize”
with the composer in some other means, but DB was
firmly in the opinion that one should treat music
itself as the sole means to interpret. ‘You just
read the music’, he often said. He always avoided
any sort of overly self-conscious interpretation.
The above excerpt (original in Japanese) is from the Website:
(Methinks this is by far the best site dedicated to Dennis Brain)
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