Julian Bream

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Julian Bream
Bream in 1964
Bream in 1964
Background information
Birth nameJulian Alexander Bream
Born (1933-07-15) July 15, 1933 (age 87)
Battersea, England, United Kingdom
InstrumentsGuitar, lute
LabelsRCA Victor, EMI

Julian Alexander Bream,[1] CBE (born 15 July 1933), is an English[2] virtuoso classical guitarist and lutenist. One of the most distinguished classical guitarists of the 20th century[3], he played a significant role in improving the public perception of the classical guitar as a respectable instrument.

Early years[edit]

Bream was born in Battersea, London, and brought up in a musical environment in Hampton. Bream described his parents as both "conventional suburban", but in another way "very unusual". His father was a commercial artist, with an "extraordinary talent for drawing" and a "natural musician" according to Bream. Bream would lie under the piano in "ecstasy" when his father played. His mother, of Scottish descent, was a very beautiful woman who was often, according to Bream, "not always there" mentally and did not like music, but was a warm-hearted person.[4] His grandmother owned a pub in Battersea, and Bream spent much time there during his youth. His father played jazz guitar and the young Bream was impressed by the playing of Django Reinhardt; he would later call his dog "Django".[4]

Bream began his lifelong association with the guitar by strumming along on his father's jazz guitar at an early age to dance music on the radio. He became frustrated with his lack of knowledge of harmony, so read instruction books by Eddie Lang to teach himself.[4] His father taught him the basics. The president of the Philharmonic Society of Guitars, Dr Boris Perott, gave Bream further lessons, while his father became the society librarian, giving young Bream access to a large collection of rare music.

On his 11th birthday, Bream was given a small gut-strung Spanish guitar by his father. He became something of a child prodigy, at 12 winning a junior exhibition award for his piano playing, enabling him to study piano and composition at the Royal College of Music.[5] Aged 13, he made his debut guitar recital at Cheltenham on 17 February 1947;[6] in 1951, he debuted at Wigmore Hall.[5]

Leaving the RCM in 1952, Bream was called up into the army for national service.[5] He was originally drafted into the Pay Corps, but managed to sign up for the Royal Artillery Band after six months. This required him to be stationed in Woolwich, which allowed him to moonlight regularly in London with the guitar.[5]

After two years in the army, he took any musical jobs that came his way, including background music for radio plays and films. Commercial film, recording sessions and work for the BBC were important to Bream throughout the 1950s and the early 1960s.

He played part of a recital at the Wigmore Hall on the lute in 1952, and since has done much to bring music written for the instrument to light.

1960 saw the formation of the Julian Bream Consort, a period-instrument ensemble with Bream as lutenist. The consort led a great revival of interest in the music of the Elizabethan era.[7]

Bream pursued a busy career playing around the world. His first European tours took place in 1954 and 1955, followed (beginning in 1958) by extensive touring in the Far East, India, Australia, the Pacific Islands and many other parts of the world. Bream performed for the Peabody Mason Concert series in Boston, first solo, in 1959, and later with the US debut of his Consort.[8]

In addition to master classes given in North America, Bream has conducted an international summer school in Wiltshire, England.


Bream has recorded extensively for RCA Victor and EMI Classics. These recordings have won him several awards, including four Grammy Awards, two for Best Chamber Music Performance and two for Best Classical Performance.[9] RCA also released The Ultimate Guitar Collection, a multi-CD set commemorating his birthday in 1993.

From the beginning of the 1990s Julian Bream continued his recording career with EMI Classics, featuring music by Johann Sebastian Bach, a Concerto album (with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle), and discs devoted to contemporary works and guitar sonatas.

Despite his importance as a classical guitarist, however, many of his RCA recordings (including the series of 20th-century guitar music) were out of print for several years. In 2011, RCA released My Favorite Albums, a 10-CD set of albums chosen by Julian Bream himself. In 2013, RCA issued Julian Bream: The Complete RCA Album Collection, a 40-CD set which also includes two DVDs with The Lively Arts – Julian Bream: A Life in the Country, the 1976 BBC film; and four BBC shows: Omnibus: Anniversary of Sir William Walton [1982], The Julian Bream Consort (1961), Monitor – Film Profile of Julian Bream [1962], and The Julian Bream Consort (1964).

Television and video[edit]

A film, A Life in the Country, was first shown on BBC TV in 1976. In it, the narrator and Bream discuss his beginnings and his life as a concert guitarist. Bream also presented a series of four master-classes for guitarists on BBC TV.

In 1984 he made eight film segments on location in Spain for Channel 4. The collection of segments ¡Guitarra! A Musical Journey Through Spain explored historical perspectives of Spanish guitar music.

The 2003 DVD video profile Julian Bream: My Life in Music contains three hours of interviews and performances. It has been declared by Graham Wade "the finest film contribution ever to the classic guitar" and it became "Gramophone DVD of the year".

Later career[edit]

Bream (right) in Liechtenstein in 1985

In 1984, Bream's right arm was seriously injured in a car accident.[3]

In 1991, BBC Radio and TV broadcast Bream's BBC Prom performance of Malcolm Arnold's Guitar Concerto. He also participated in a recital and concerto performances of works by Tōru Takemitsu at the Japan Festival in London with the London Symphony Orchestra.

During the 1992–93 season he performed on two occasions at the Wigmore Hall – at their Gala Re-opening Festival, and at a special concert celebrating his 60th birthday. In the same period, he toured the Far East, visiting Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan, and performed the premiere of Leo Brouwer's arrangement for guitar and orchestra of Albéniz's Iberia at the Proms. In 1994 Bream made debuts in both Turkey and Israel to great acclaim, and the following year played for the soundtrack to the Hollywood film Don Juan DeMarco.

In 1997, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his debut, he performed a recital at Cheltenham Town Hall. A few weeks later, the BBC dedicated a television tribute This Is Your Life programme to Bream, filmed after a commemorative concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.

Other engagements around that time included a gala solo performance at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool; a Kosovo Aid concert at St. John's, Smith Square, London, with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; recitals at the Snape Proms, Aldeburgh, and at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival; and a tour of National Trust properties in summer and autumn 2000.

In November 2001 he gave an anniversary recital at Wigmore Hall, celebrating 50 years since his debut there in 1951. His final recital was at Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich on 6 May 2002.[6]

Style and influences[edit]

Bream's recitals are wide-ranging, including transcriptions from the 17th century, many pieces by Bach arranged for guitar, popular Spanish pieces, and contemporary music, for much of which he was the inspiration. He has stated that he has been influenced by the styles of Andrés Segovia and Francisco Tárrega. Bream has said that he had some "sessions" with Segovia but did not actually study with him. Segovia provided a personal endorsement and scholarship request to assist Bream in taking further formal music studies.[10]

Bream's playing can be characterised as virtuosic and highly expressive, with an eye for details, and with strong use of contrasting timbres. He does not consistently hold his right-hand fingers at right angles to the strings, but uses a less rigid hand position for tonal variety.[11]

Bream met Igor Stravinsky in Toronto, Canada in 1965. He tried unsuccessfully to persuade the composer to write a composition for the lute and played a pavane by Dowland for him. The meeting between Bream and Stravinsky, including Bream's impromptu playing, was filmed by the National Film Board of Canada in making a documentary about the composer.[12]

Dedications and collaborations[edit]

Many composers have worked with Bream, and among those who dedicated pieces to him are Malcolm Arnold, Richard Rodney Bennett, Benjamin Britten, Leo Brouwer, Peter Racine Fricker, Hans Werner Henze, Humphrey Searle, Toru Takemitsu, Michael Tippett, William Walton and Peter Maxwell Davies. Britten's Nocturnal is one of the most famous pieces in the classical guitar repertoire and was written with Bream specifically in mind.[13] It is an unusual set of variations on John Dowland's "Come, Heavy Sleep" (which is played in its original form at the close of the piece).

Bream has also taken part in many collaborations, including work with Peter Pears on Elizabethan music for lute and voice, and three records of guitar duets with John Williams.

Honours and awards[edit]

In 1964, Bream was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to music and in 1985 he was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He holds Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Surrey (1968) and Leeds (1984). In 1976 he was presented with the Villa-Lobos Gold Medal by the composer's widow. He is an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music (1966) and is a Fellow of Royal College of Music (1981) and Royal Northern College of Music (1983). In 1988 he became an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society and was presented with the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist's Award in 1996.

Personal life[edit]

Bream is keen on the game of cricket[5] and is a member of the MCC.

He lived for over forty years at Semley, Wiltshire, at first dividing his time between there and Chiswick, London, then moving permanently to a Georgian farmhouse in 1966, living there until 2008.[14] In 2013 he lived in a smaller house at Donhead St Andrew, Wiltshire.[3]

His first wife was Margaret, daughter of the writer Henry Williamson,[15] with whom he adopted a son; in 1980, he married Isabel Sanchez.[16]

Pieces written for[edit]

Awards and recognitions[edit]



  • The Art Of Julian Bream (November 1960), RCA Victor LSC-2448
  • Guitar Concertos (January 1961), RCA Victor LSC-2487
  • The Golden Age of English Lute Music (September 1961), RCA Victor LDS-2560
  • An Evening Of Elizabethan Music (1963), RCA Victor LDS-2656 (reissued March 1971 as LSC-3195)
  • Julian Bream: Rodrigo, Vivaldi Concertos, Britten Dances from "Gloriana" (1964), RCA Victor LSC-2730
  • 20th Century Guitar, RCA Victor LSC-2964
  • 70's, RCA ARL1-0049
  • Dedication, RCA ARL1-5034
  • Julian Bream Plays Dowland, CLP 1726
  • A Bach Recital for the Guitar, Westminster CLP 1929
  • Baroque Guitar (1966), RCA
  • The Classical Guitar (3 – LP set), Westminster WMS −1029
  • Collection of the Greatest Performances of Julian Bream, Vol. II, Westminster
  • Concertos for Lute and Orchestra, RCA ARL1-1180
  • Dances of Dowland, RCA LSC-2987
  • Elizabethan Lute Songs, RCA LSC-3131
  • Elizabethan Music by The Julian Bream Consort, RCA LSC-3195
  • The Golden Age of English Lute Music, RCA LSC-3196 RCA LD-2560
  • J.S. Bach Lute Suites Nos. 1 and 2 (1966), RCA LSC-2896
  • Julian & John, 1972 RCA LSC-3257
  • Julian & John/2, 1974 RCA ARL1-0456
  • Julian Bream's Greatest Hits, Westminster
  • Julian Bream's Greatest Hits Volume Two, Westminster 9008-8185
  • Lute Music of John Dowland, RCA ARL1-1491
  • John Dowland: 14 Lute Pieces, Westminster W-9079
  • Music for Voice and Guitar with Peter Pears, RCA LSC-2718
  • Popular Classics for Spanish Guitar, RCA
  • Rodrigo: Concerto De Aranjuez, Berkeley Guitar Concerto (1975), RCA
  • Sonatas for Lute and Harpsichord—Bach, Vivaldi with George Malcolm, RCA LSC-3100
  • Villa-Lobos, Twelve Etudes for Guitar, Suite populaire bresillienne (1978), RCA
  • Julian Bream, The Art of the Spanish Guitar (1970) RCA SRS 3002
  • The Woods So Wild, RCA LSC-3331
  • Guitarra: The Guitar in Spain (1985), RCA (contains material not on the CD)



  1. ^ Stewart Button (November 2005). Julian Bream: The Foundations of a Musical Career. Bold Strummer Limited. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-57784-067-1.
  2. ^ Sensier and Wade, 2001
  3. ^ a b c Jeffries, Stuart (13 September 2013). "Julian Bream: 'I'm a better musician now than when I was 70'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 20 July 2019. In 1964, he was awarded the OBE for his services to music. By then, he had won the first of four Grammy awards in the US. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, he became one of classical music's bestselling and most prolific recording artists. [...] He will be awarded the Gramophone lifetime achievement award on 17 September [2013].
  4. ^ a b c "My Life in Music". accessed via YouTube. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e The Lively Arts – Julian Bream: A Life in the Country (DVD)
  6. ^ a b Julian Bream: The Complete RCA Album Collection booklet
  7. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (13 September 2013). "Julian Bream: 'I'm a better musician now than when I was 70'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 20 July 2019. In 1960, he established the Julian Bream Consort, a period-instrument ensemble with Bream as lutenist helping to intensify the revival of interest in music from the Elizabethan era.
  8. ^ Miller, Margo (7 December 1963). "The Bream concert dances all night". Boston Globe.
  9. ^ Grammy Award Winners "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 February 2012. Retrieved 2011-03-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Button, Stuart (1997). Julian Bream – The Foundations of a Musical Career. Aldershot: Scholar Press. p. 97.
  11. ^ "Segovia's Contribution to Technical Studies". Graham Wade, EGTA Guitar Journal no.4 (July 1993). Archived from the original on 8 July 2008.http://egta.co.uk/blog/articles/teachers-and-teaching/segovias-contribution-to-technical-studies-4
  12. ^ "Stravinsky". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  13. ^ Britten, Benjamin (1964). Nocturnal after John Dowland, for guitar op. 70. London: Faber.
  14. ^ Tyzack, Anna (21 September 2007). "Julian Bream's farmhouse for sale". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  15. ^ https://www.henrywilliamson.co.uk/bibliography/a-lifes-work/lucifer-before-sunrise
  16. ^ https://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/10.1093/ww/9780199540884.001.0001/ww-9780199540884-e-8606/version/11
  17. ^ "Bream, Julian, (born 15 July 1933), guitarist and lutenist". www.ukwhoswho.com. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.001.0001/ww-9780199540884-e-8606. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  18. ^ Smith, Charlotte (13 September 2013). "Lifetime Achievement". www.gramophone.co.uk. Retrieved 20 July 2019.



  • Stuart W. Button, Julian Bream, the Foundations of a Musical Career, Scolar Press, 1997 (reissued by Bold Strummer Ltd, 2006. ISBN 1-57784-067-4)
  • Graham Wade, The Art of Julian Bream, Ashley Mark Publishing Company, 2008
  • Julian Bream: a Life on the Road. London: Macdonald, 1982. ISBN 0-356-07880-9. Text by Tony Palmer, photographs by Daniel Meadows, includes discography (pp. 204–16)

External links[edit]