Henry Brant | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Henry Brant

Henry (Dreyfus or Dreyfuss) Brant, composer, conductor, pianist (born 15 September 1913 in Montréal, Québec; died 26 April 2008 in Santa Barbara, California). Hon DFA (Wesleyan) 1998.

Henry (Dreyfus or Dreyfuss) Brant, composer, conductor, pianist (born 15 September 1913 in Montréal, Québec; died 26 April 2008 in Santa Barbara, California). Hon DFA (Wesleyan) 1998. Son of the violinist Saul Brant, Henry Brant was enrolled 1926-9 at Montreal's McGill Conservatorium before permanently moving to the US and studying composition with Rubin Goldmark, George Antheil, Aaron Copland, and Wallingford Riegger in New York, privately and at the Institute of Musical Art and the Juilliard Graduate School, 1929-34. Brant then went into commercial music, conducting and arranging for radio, dance, and film, and later orchestrating Hollywood film scores including The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936).

As a prolific composer and an audacious and inventive creator, Henry Brant became an important figure in contemporary music in the US. He was fascinated by esoteric instruments and the possibilities of antiphonal composition, for spatially separated groups of instruments. Brant's work also employed controlled improvisation and, beginning in the 1980s, world music instruments; he also frequently called for unusually large forces (e.g. 80 trombones, 75 guitars). His earliest spatial work was Antiphony I (1953). The practice of placing the players throughout the venue dominated his work from that point. His own performance notes for An American Requiem for wind symphony illustrate this: ". . . performances must not be attempted with all the instruments placed on stage, or all together in any single area" (Brant's emphasis). The notes contain explicit instructions on placement of players in aisles, balconies, and elsewhere around the hall.

A Successful Iconoclast

A devotee of the music and ideas of Charles Ives, Henry Brant orchestrated Ives's Concord Sonata 1958-94, resulting in A Concord Symphony. He conducted its world premiere at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa, 16 Jun 1995. Among other Brant works performed in Canada have been Ice Field (performed by Esprit Orchestra); and Ghosts and Gargoyles for solo flute and flute choir (premiered Toronto 26 May 2002). His music was heard often at new music festivals in the US and Europe. He received numerous commissions, e.g. from Columbia University, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the American Composers Forum (New York City), the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation, and the Getty Research Institute. Among the later film scores he orchestrated were Carny, Cleopatra, and Good Morning, Vietnam.

Brant stated, "Every new work of mine ... requires a differently constituted ensemble of instruments and/or voices. It is planned for a different occasion, has a different length, and is designed for a different space, auditorium, and audience capacity" (Strings, 1 Jan 2008). Describing Brant's particular brand of new music, American Record Guide said, "Brant's music is rooted in iconoclastic notions of what music is" (American Record Guide, Jan-Feb 1997). Brant continued composing well into his 90s.

Teaching and Awards

Henry Brant taught at Columbia University 1945-52, the Juilliard School 1947-54, and Bennington College (Vermont) 1957-80. Linda Bouchard, Teo Macero, Jack Sirulnikoff, Morris Surdin and James Tenney were among his composition students. Brant received many awards, notably the Prix Italia 1955, and a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Ice Field: Spatial Narrative for Large and Small Orchestral Groups.

Selected Discography

Henry Brant Plays, Michael Ingram Sings Charles Ives, 28 Songs. 1991. ACR 10306 CD AmCam Recordings

Musique à l'Université Laval Vol 1a. Morel - Stravinsky - Brant Angels and Devils. 1992. SNE-545-CD SNE

A Little Romance. Brott - Copland - C. Schumann - Brant Two Rush Hours in Manhattan. 1995. Calgary UC-CD 9502 Unical

The 20th Century: Music of Our Time. Schoenberg - Boulez - Brant Ghost Nets. 1997. ACR-10309CD AmCam Recordings

Kingdom Come; Machinations. 1995. PHCD 127 Phoenix

Winds of Change: American Music for Wind Ensemble from the 1950s to the 1970s. Paynter - Brant et al – Brant Verticals Ascending. 1997. 80211-2 New World Recordings

Music for Massed Flutes. 2006. Aitken flute, Aitken and Brant conductors. 80636-2 New World Records

Brant - McGinn - et al. 20th Century Piano. Brant and J. McGinn piano. Amcam 10312 Albany

Further Reading