One of the foremost guitarists and lutenists of the 20th century, Julian Bream died last week at the age of 87. Faber Music has enjoyed a close association with Bream since the 1960s, when he premiered Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal, and went on to publish many collections of Breams’ editions and arrangements. Few soloists have had such a defining effect on the repertoire of a solo instrument as Bream, whose vision and discerning tastes led to the creation of many masterpieces. Crowning all of these is Benjamin Britten’s 1963 Nocturnal after John Dowland, a set of variations on the lute song ‘Come, Heavy Sleep’ which was the very first work to be published by Faber Music. Having already composed his Songs from the Chinese for Bream to perform with Peter Pears in 1957, Britten composed the Nocturnal in 1963 and it was premiered at the 1964 Aldeburgh Festival. Like Britten’s earlier Lachrymae, this enigmatic work unfolds in reverse variation form, with the full Dowland theme being explored from multiple perspectives and in many different idioms before being fully revealed at the end.
It was the Nocturnal that made Bream's name and compelled sceptics to take the instrument seriously in Britain. "The Nocturnal was very nearly beyond me. I went to Robert Graves's house in Majorca and there, in the middle of an olive grove, he had a shepherd's hut where I retreated for 10 days to practise the Nocturnal. It was such a responsibility – to Ben, to myself, and to the guitar’, Bream recalled to the Guardian. The Nocturnal also encouraged many other eminent composers to write for Bream, helping effect a renaissance in the guitar repertoire. In addition to important works by Walton, Tippett and Henze, the list of works commissioned by Bream included several other Faber Music works, such as Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy for solo guitar and Humphrey Searle’s Five.
In the realm of print publications, Bream was Editor of the Faber Music Guitar Series, arranging and editing works by the likes of Cimarosa, Boccherini, William Lawes, Purcell, Debussy and Schumann. Many of these valuable and practical editions are collected in the two volumes of the Julian Bream Guitar Library, published in 1981. Some of Bream’s best-loved arrangements were reissued in 2016 as part of The Classical Guitar Collection.