Composers Datebook®

Havergal Brian says 'Hail and Farewell'

Composers Datebook - April 1, 2024


Prolific British composer Havergal Brian wrote 32 symphonies. His last was completed in 1968 when he was 92. Just before completing his Symphony No. 32, perhaps as insurance in case he died before finishing it, Brian wrote a shorter work as kind of coda or capstone to his output. He gave it a Latin title, Ave atque Vale (Hail and Farewell in English).

In a letter to Robert Simpson, a fellow composer and friend, Brian said he didn’t intend this work as any kind of confession or comment on his life or music, but a purely abstract “last word” from him as a composer.

Ave atque Vale received its premiere performance on today’s date in 1973, six months after Brian’s death, in a studio recording by the London Philharmonic intended for a BBC broadcast that never materialized.

Brian’s music was seldom performed during his lifetime. He enjoyed some initial success in the early years of the 20th century, and a revival of interest in the 1950s and 60s, but since then his late Romantic, restless and often melancholic music — a quirky blend of Elgar and Mahler — is heard most often via recordings sponsored by the Havergal Brian Society.

Music Played in Today's Program

Havergal Brian (1876-1972): Ave atque Vale; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Garry Walker, conductor; Toccata Classics 110

On This Day


  • 1866 - Italian composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni, in Empoli

  • 1873 - Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, in Semyonovo, near Staraya Russia, Novgorod district (Julian date: March 20). Rachmaninoff came to the U.S. in 1918, and became an American citizen shortly before his death in 1943.

  • 1917 - Romanian composer and pianist Dinu Lipatti, in Bucharest

  • 1921 - American composer Williams Bergsma, in Oakland, California


  • 1917 - American ragtime composer Scott Joplin, 48, in New York City


  • 1735 - Handel: Organ Concerto Op. 4, No. 4. as an intermission feature during the London premiere of Handel's oratorio Athalia at the Covent Garden Theater. Athalia had premiered at the Sheldonian Theater in Oxford on July 10, 1733 (Gregorian dates: April 12 and July 21, respectively).

  • 1747 - Handel: oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, in London at the Covent Garden Theater. The event possibly included the premiere of Handel's Concerto a due Cori No. 3 as well (Gregorian date: April 12).

  • 1873 - Verdi: String Quartet, at an informal performance in Verdi's hotel in Naples, by performers identified only as “the Pinto brothers (violins), Salvadore (viola) and Giarritiello (cello)”

  • 1894 - Rachmaninoff: symphonic fantasy The Rock, in Moscow, conducted by Vasily Safonov (Julian date: March 20)

  • 1913 - de Falla: opera La vida breve (The Short Life), in Nice, at the Théatre du Casino Municipal

  • 1937 - Menotti: opera Amelia Goes to the Ball, at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Menotti was a Curtis alumnus and wrote Amelia Goes to the Ball while still a student there. The work is dedicated to Curtis founder Mary Bok; a year later, the opera is presented by the Metropolitan Opera.

  • 1954 - Copland: opera The Tender Land, by the New York City Opera

  • 1976 - Diamond: Violin Concerto No. 3, in New York City

  • 1995 - Michael Torke: December for string orchestra, by the Des Moines (Iowa) Symphony, Joseph Giunta conducting

  • 1999 - Magnus Lindberg: Cantiags for orchestra, by the Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi, conducting


  • 1888 - Eccentric Parisian composer and piano virtuoso Alkan is buried in Montmatre Cemetary; Isidore Philipp, one of only four mourners who attend Alkan's interment, claimed to have been present when the composer’s body was found in his apartment and said Alkan was pulled from under a heavy bookcase, which apparently fell on him while he was trying to reach for a copy of the Talmud on its top shelf. This story has been discounted by some Alkan scholars.

  • 1902 - American premiere of Debussy's Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun by the Orchestral Club of Boston.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®