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Brian Dennis (1941-1998) backnextcomposer index
Brian Dennis It is not often that an English composers sets Chinese poetry but Brian had an interest in T'ang China for much of his life and many of his songs were derived from translations of poems by Wang Wei and TuFu, all with a very English quality.
Biographical Notes

Willow Waves
from the CD Extra A Little Water Music



A Little Water MusicBBC Music Mag offer Tel: 01483 204460

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Features Susan Bullock (soprano) Peter Hill (piano)
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"Splendid, serenely vivacious orientalia: no musically questing singer or pianist should miss out on this kind of thing." John White



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Biographical notes

Brian Dennis was born in Marple, Cheshire during 1941. His mother was a trained musician and returned to piano teaching and nursing after the death of his father. Brian was sent off to be educated at St. Edmund's School, Canterbury with holidays being spent in and around Liverpool.

He won an Associated Board Scholarship to the Royal College of Music in1961, where he spent four very happy years studying singing with Hervey Alan and composition with Peter Racine Fricker and John White. Marilyn, whom he later married, was in the same year as was Roger Smalley, a great friend, Brian Dennis, Leslie Phillips & Roger Smalley - RCM 1962with whom he shared a flat as well as working together in the Composers Ensemble formed with John White and William York in order to play their own music and that of other contemporary composers.

It was during this period that Brian met Cornelius Cardew, whose music was introduced to the ensemble by pianist, John Tilbury. Brian & Marilyn - Darmstart 1964-5The Cologne Course for New Music followed on from college in 1965, studying with Stockhausen, Berio, Earle Brown and Cathy Berberian.

book coverAfter a few years teaching he was appointed Lecturer in Contemporary Music Education at St. Mark and St. Jonh's College Chelsea, where he wrote his first book: Experimental Music in Schools (OUP) following the development of new methods for teaching Creative Music Education


Howard Skempton was a near neighbour in Ealing and although Brian didn't take part in the contemporary music classes being organised at Morley College by Cardew, he was in touch with what was going on, writing an article on the Scratch Orchestra. for Musical Times (Jan 71) before becoming involved himself and participating in several events.

In 1971 he was appointed lecturer in Composition and Contemporary Music at Royal Holloway College, University of London. In his early years here he took some of his ideas forward with further publications and visits to lecture on behalf of the British Council - for example to Brazil - to make his methods better known.

book coverHis second book for teachers: Projects in Sound (UE) was published in 1975, and is extensively used in the classroom both in Britain and abroad. In 1991 it was published in Spanish translation by Ricordi Americana S. A. E. C., primarily for use in Latin America.

Brian remained at Royal Holloway, working in this historic part of Surrey, a few minutes from Runnemede where Magna Carta was signed, living with his wife and two children.

Brian with Laurie Scott Baker in the studioRecording for A Little Water Music with musicnow took place during 1995 and videos, photos and other background material was put together during the next eighteen months for release 1997.

Brian Dennis with Dian Chen at BBC World Service With Dian Chen at Bush House after being interviewed for Chinese section World Service broadcast on his music, 1997



Compositions include some 150 songs many of which are settings of Chinese poems with lyrics in English prepared by the composer, as well as a good deal of piano music. He completed a trilogy of one-act operas based on Japanese Noh plays and was working on a three-act opera based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen for which he had written his own libretto.
Recording A Little Water Music with Susan Bullock and Peter Hill 1997 on musicnow (MNCD+001)



Brian died after a short illness during the summer of 1998.

Brian had many interests outside music for he had a mind that seized on unusual information drawn from a wide range of intellectual fields. His interest in astronomy, various movements in 20th century art - he had a penchant for the decadent - and above all Chinese poetry, all fed into his music. I cannot quite make the connection between his cooking and his music - but perhaps I could if I thought about it.
On the educational front his ideas and methods with regard to creative music making have taken their place - along with those of two or three others - in the modern school music curriculum, especially in the sphere of composition
As a composer . . . his music is above all beautiful.

Professor Ian Spink - from his funeral address

Susan Bullock and Peter Hill performing at the Memorial Concert for Brian Dennis at Royal Holloway College 17.1.99, to a packed audience of former colleagues, friends and students.

Susan Bullock and Peter Hill performing at the Memorial Concert for Brian Dennis at Royal Holloway College 17.1.99


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