Today we mourn the passing of a towering figure in the classical guitar world. Julian Bream was an inspiring figure that captivated generations of guitarists with his masterful interpretations and kaleidoscopic sounds.
His passion for the instrument led to a great expansion of repertoire that made an indelible impact on the history of the classical guitar as a whole.
I am grateful for all he has provided to the world through his music and the continuing inspiration he provides through recordings that will be celebrated for generations to come.
Thank you for everything, Maestro.
Stories of Inspiration
I reached out to Niki and Dave to ask them to contribute a reflection on a performance by Julian that was important to each of them.
When I first started learning classical guitar my then teacher started making casette tapes (yes, I’m that old) of the great masters: first Segovia, then Williams, and finally Julian Bream. The first time I heard Julian Bream play Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata (one of the first pieces I heard him play) I thought there was something different and special about his playing. But for me the recording that transformed the way I heard the classical guitar was Bream performing Granados’s Tonadilla: La Maja de Goya.
Right from the beginning Bream doesn’t just play pizzicato but a searing etouffe full of color and intensity with a completely unique sound. As the main theme begins to sound we are treated with quick changes of color, from dolce tones to bright pizzicato, all mixed with vibrato, harmonics, wide dynamics, shifting articulations, and sensitive phrasing. What is most remarkable about this performance is how organic all of these quick changes sound, together giving the music a vibrancy few if any have been able to match since.
Julian’s Bream’s passing is a difficult blow for the classical guitar world, but the legacy he leaves is rich and full of color and imagination that will continue to inspire guitarists for many generations.
There was a period of my life where I was utterly obsessed with the Aguado Rondo and Bream’s interpretation of it. I have no idea how many hours I spent working on the piece and all along I kept rewinding the CD to listen to the various nuances of Bream’s interpretation.
Trying desperately to figure out fingerings from the audio recording proved difficult but with enough listens and some trial and error I mapped out as best I could string changes, slurs, and articulations.
The piece was so exciting to me and part of that excitement was from Bream’s rendition. He had a way of playing that was “on the edge” like he wasn’t holding anything back but he was still in control. That, plus his broad palette of sounds and articulations made for a lasting inspiration that I still feel when I listen back to his performances.
I only met Bream once when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He was having a coffee with Michael Lewin the head of guitar in the school cafeteria. I nervously circled the room waiting for a moment that would make sense to introduce myself. As they stood up to leave I swooped in and managed to eke out something like “I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done”, as he was on he was set on leaving he simply replied “Best of luck! Cheerio” and then he was off.
It may sound predictable, but one of my first and strongest memories of Julian Bream comes from a younger Niki struggling to learn the marvelous Nocturnal by Benjamin Britten. Britten’s masterpiece, theme and variations on a song by John Dowland, was written for Julian Bream. It was the first time I approached such a monumental contemporary piece, which I then played for my Guitar Diploma at the Conservatory. It was not the first time I appreciated Julian Bream’s passionate performances, but nothing moved me so profoundly like this recording of the Nocturnal:
I listened to it several times and every time Julian Bream’s expressivity opened my eyes on the infinite nuances and possibilities of our instrument. I was impressed by the abundance of colors and different articulations of that recording, where extra noises of the strings were included with no fear. I could never get bored of it.
Hearing that another guitar legend passed away it’s so heartbreaking. But he left us his incredible story, his knowledge and his unique and powerful performances. He will keep on inspiring us for long time.
I would like to leave you with a bonus video, shorter and lighter than the Nocturnal. A little jewel I casually found a while ago on YouTube. It enchanted me. A black and white performance of the Prelude BWV 999 by J.S.Bach. Everything in this clip is just perfect and poetic.
If you would like to leave your own sources of inspiration from Julian Bream in the comments, please feel free to do so.