Julian Bream

1933 2020

Julian Bream

Guitar • Lute


Julian Bream is a world-renowned guitarist and lutenist responsible for popularizing classical guitar and reviving Elizabethan music. He is the recipient of four Grammy Awards and is considered one of the legends of 20th -century classical guitar. His playing is heavily influenced by Andrés Segovia <> and Francisco Tárrega.

Julian was born on 15 July, 1933 in Battersea, London into a musical family. His father was not only a commercial artist and book illustrator, but also a guitarist and the leader of a small dance band. Already from a young age, Julian was drawn to the sounds of the jazz guitar and was especially fond of the Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. While his father encouraged him to play piano, he also agreed to teach him guitar. At the age of 11, his father presented him with a classical guitar for his birthday.

Despite his interest in the guitar, it was first his piano playing that put him in the spotlight. At the age of 12, Julian won a junior exhibition award for his piano performance, allowing him to study piano and cello at the Royal College of Music. Later that year, his father introduced him to the London Philharmonic Society of Guitarists, where he attracted the attention of the society’s president, Dr. Boris Perott. Perott was so impressed that he decided to give the boy lessons for a year before introducing him, together with Wilfrid Appelby, to Andrés Segovia. Impressed, Segovia happily offered lessons to Julian. On 17 February 1947, at the age of 13, Julian Bream made his professional debut with the Cheltenham Guitar Circle.

Soon after his debut, Bream made the decision to pursue a career in music, which his father encouraged. In doing this, he abandoned his ambitions to become a professional cricket player. After winning a full scholarship at the Royal College of Music at the age of 15, he went on to study piano, harmony and composition for three years, as it was not yet possible to study guitar there. It was around this time that he began to study the Elizabethan repertoire and the lute. Before the age of 16, he had already given many recital and concerts, in addition to having performed film music and in BBC broadcasts.

In November 1951, one year after his London debut, Bream made a significant appearance at Wigmore Hall, ensuring his national reputation. After a performance at the Aldeburgh Festival a few months later, he became an international legend.

Bream served in the National Service Army from 1952 to 1955, but was still able to make many radio and television broadcasts and perform in concerts. After performing in Switzerland in 1954, he made two tours of Europe (1954, 1955). Beginning in 1958, he embarked on tours in North America, Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands. Of these, his tours in the U.S. and Europe were annual. In addition to his busy performance career, Bream gave many masterclasses in North America and conducted at an international summer school in Wiltshire, England.

Bream’s repertoire includes many transcriptions of 17th-century works, along with the music of Bach, which he arranged for guitar. He also performs many popular Spanish pieces and a variety of contemporary music, much of it written for him. Composers who have composed for Bream include Malcolm Arnold, Lennox Berkeley, Richard Rodney Bennett, Benjamin Britten, Leo Brouwer, Peter Racine Fricker, Hans Werner Henze, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alan Rawsthorne, Humphrey Searle, Toru Takemitsu, Michael Tippett, Heitor Villa-Lobos and William Walton. Of these, Britten’sNocturnal has become one of the most well-known pieces in the repertoire. It is comprised of a unique set of variations on John Dowland’s Come Heavy Sleep.

As a lutenist, Bream performs primarily Elizabethan music in solo recitals. He has also served as accompanist to Peter Pears and Robert Tear and performed poetry and music programmes with harpsichordist George Malcolm and Peggy Ashcroft. In 1960, Bream founded the Julian Bream Consort, which performs early music. He also became the director of the Semley Festival of Music and Poetry in 1971.

Aside from live concerts, Bream has enjoyed a successful career as a recording artist and has also appeared on a number of radio and television broadcasts. A film about his life, entitledA Life in the Country was aired on BBC TV in 1976. Later films include the DVD release,Julian Bream—My Life in Music (2003), which explores the musical elements and periods of his life. Several years earlier, in 1997, Bream was featured in the BBC television tribute,This Is Your Life. Other television programmes include the series of four masterclasses for guitarists for BBC TV and eight films exploring the historical perspectives of Spanish guitar music, which were made on location in Spain in 1984.

Bream’s recordings are primarily on the RCA label, with which he began collaborating in 1958. He was presented with a platinum disc in 1979 by RCA in celebration of 500,000 record sales in the UK alone. Some of his recording projects included three albums with guitarist John Williams, which proved to be a great success. The duo received both gold and silver discs for their work. In 1993, RCA released 28 CDs of Bream’s recordings in the box-setThe Ultimate Guitar Collection, to celebrate his 60th birthday. During his time with RCA, Bream won six awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (U.S.), four Grammy Awards (1964, 1967, 1972, 1973), two Edison awards (1968) and prizes from Gramophone.

In the early 1990s, Bream began his association with EMI Classics, with whom he has recorded the music of J.S. Bach, contemporary works, guitar sonatas and a concerto album with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle.

Bream’s awards include an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE, 1964) and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE, 1985). He has also received honorary doctorates from both the Universities of Surrey (1968) and Leeds (1984). He was presented with the Villa-Lobos Gold Medal in 1976 and the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist’s Award in 1996. Additionally, he was awarded fellowships at the Royal College of Music (1981) and the Royal Northern College of Music (1983) and was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1966 and of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1988.

To this day, Bream continues to popularize classical guitar and revive 17th -century music. He is often regarded as one of the foremost classical guitarists of the 20th century.