Queensland Performing Arts Centre

The Curse

Is The Gothic Symphony cursed?
Its composer, Havergal Brian thought so.

Said to be composed at the suggestion of Sir Henry Wood - the founder of the Proms - who asked for a suite that included instruments no longer used regularly in orchestras of the day, it was declared unperformable due to its size and complexity.

There were many attempts to mount a performance of the mammoth work after its completion in 1927.

Hamilton Harty and Eugene Goossens, two of the greatest conductors of the time tried in the 1930s but were thwarted by the difficult economic times, the effects of the Great Depression were still very evident. The Gothic was just too big and too expensive to perform.

Then as plans were falling into place for a performance in the late 1930s war was declared and many of England's finest orchestral musicians signed up. The plan to perform the Gothic was again abandoned. The composer must surely have been convinced that the work was indeed cursed.

Many years passed with little hope of a performance - the great composer /conductor Leonard Bernstein was interested but then he was signed up by the major record label Deutsche Grammophon. They preferred he do Beethoven not Brian. A performance conducted by Bernstein would have brought unprecedented interest in The Gothic and its composer who by now was almost completely forgotten. But not quite -

In 1961 Bryan Fairfax pulled together enough musicians and choristers to mount the very first performance. The performance in the Central Hall Westminster inspired efforts to mount the first professional performance of The Gothic in 1966 conducted by the greatest British conductor of the time, Sir Adrian Boult. The performance was 'a revelation'. Surely a recording would follow that would bring the symphony and Brian to the attention of the musical world. No - it was not to be. It would take 44 years for the recording to be released - nothing about The Gothic Symphony is straight forward! (two commercial recordings are now available - one on the Naxos label conducted by Lenard and the Boult recording on Testament)

Interest had been stirred and performances took place in 1976 (the three orchestral movements only),1978 and 1980. Since then, silence.

This is where the curse again comes in to play.

Gary Thorpe, General Manager of 4MBS Classic FM was in the audience in the Royal Albert Hall for the 1980 performance. The experience was so overwhelming it inspired him to lobby for a performance in Brisbane. A brand new Performing Arts Centre was to be built in Brisbane - what better work to perform for the opening than the biggest symphony ever written. So began almost three decades of attempts to perform the Gothic.

The Board of the Performing Arts Centre decided that Beethoven's Choral Symphony would be better for the opening of the Concert Hall. So Gary then approached one of the major arts festivals - surely The Gothic was the ideal festival piece. But the reply was all too familiar - too expensive to perform and besides, the composer was unknown.

Finally, the festivals started to express interest but the attempts failed to overcome the various hurdles (thrown up by the curse ?) - sometimes there were enough musicians but not enough choristers. Sometimes the reverse. One festival Director put up enough cash to cover the orchestra but Gary was unable to raise the rest of the money required. On one occasion the players and choirs were available but a suitable venue was not. Meanwhile a film crew started to follow the progress (or lack of) for a documentary called The Curse of the Gothic - if the curse existed we may at least capture it on film.

Finally, when things started to come together in 2009 it was considered that there was insufficient time left to train the choristers in the complexities of the massive choral finale - so the attempt was again abandoned. Curses!

Undaunted, the team that had been gathered together decided to move the performance exactly one year along to the 22nd December 2010. The Creative Producer Alison Rogers started rehearsals with a small group of singers just to get the ball rolling - this created an impetus that has helped the project reach the point of no return - exciting and frightening.

Will the curse strike again? Curse - what curse?


Queensland Government

© 2015 Queensland Performing Arts Centre All rights reserved