William Denis Browne

(1888-1915)

Quicklinks:
• Article on Denis Browne
• A selection of Denis Browne's writings, including the poem 'To Rupert Brooke'
• Scores of works by Denis Browne

William Denis Browne was the greatest loss to British music of the First World War. Killed in the assault on Achi Baba on 4 June 1915, his loss is without question greater than that heralded loss of George Butterworth, not to mention being of at least equal importance to his friend, poet Rupert Brooke, whom he buried six weeks before his own death. This is not to undermine George Butterworth; it is merely that Denis's place is too little known and his potential importance for the direction of British music not appreciated. As a pianist, Denis was giving early performances of Scriabin and gave the first London performance of Alban Berg’s piano sonata, as well as accompanying some of the finest singers of his day. As a critic, he was writing important articles in The Times on music from Bach to Stravinsky and Schoenberg. He was friends with Vaughan Williams, worked with Gustav Holst, and as a composer produced one of the most influential songs of the twentieth century, To Gratiana Dancing and Singing, directly inspiring songs most notably by Herbert Howells. Denis's last extant work, the song setting of Walter de la Mare's Arabia, hints at the extraordinary things that might have come, and stands almost unique in the English repertory.

I undertook a great deal of research into Denis Browne some years ago, editing a number of songs for recording and performance, and looking closely at his ballet, The Comic Spirit, which under the scholarship of Robert Weedon has, in 2015 — the centenary of WDB’s passing — been brought to its first modern performance. I have hoped to write a book on WDB, and published his critical writings and complete songs, but other things have drawn me away from Denis — at least for the moment. Below I have posted various resources, including my article on Denis published in 2004, and some of Denis's works and writings.


Waking up England: W. Denis Browne and The Comic Spirit

I wrote and had published in the journal of the British Music Society in 2004, the following article, which is principally about WDB's ballet, but also serves as an introduction to Denis Browne, his importance, and talk a little about his extraordinary songs.

Article © Philip Lancaster, 2004.
I am happy for you to quote from the article, but an acknowledgement would be appreciated.


WRITINGS by W. Denis Browne

Denis Browne wrote numerous articles, and also a single known poem, in honour of the passing of his friend, Rupert Brooke. This latter is given below, and I hope to post further writings in due course, once I have located my transcriptions.

Poem: To Rupert Brooke


SCORES of works by W. Denis Browne

Scores of Denis Browne’s few extant works can be hard to find, many being out of print — or merely unpublished. Here are a selection of scores, which I hope might be of use to any interested in performing his work:

To Gratiana Dancing and Singing — song for tenor and piano (original key).
To Gratiana, Denis Browne’s most famous song, has previously been published in transposed editions (F and G). It is here presented in its original key (A major), edited from the manuscript by Philip Lancaster.

Arabia — song for tenor and piano (original key).
Arabia, a setting of Walter de la Mare, was Denis Browne’s last song. The edition here is that of its first publication, in 'The Monthly Chapbook', issued posthumously in December 1919. You can see the beautiful cover of the publication here. This song is especially poignant, both in its promise of what may have been to come, in its unique and exquisite language (aside from glimmers in Holst, there is nothing like it in English music), and in its apparent terrible premonition of Denis's death at Achi Baba, Gallipoli, in June 1915: 'He is crazed with the spell of far Arabia / They have stolen his wits away.'

God is our strength and song — unaccompanied motet for SSATB choir.
This motet was published by Stainer & Bell in 1912, and takes the form of a vocal chorale prelude, the chorale melody being sung by the second soprano part.

More scores to follow….