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Guitarwaze Tribute: Julian Bream

On the 14th of this month, classical guitar hero Julian Bream died at age 87, after a long life, immersed in his exceptional talents as a musician and revolutionary man, when it comes to the classical guitar.

A guitar legend such as him, simply must be celebrated and at Guitarwaze that means spending time listening and watching his performances, reading about his life and giving you his story here.

Early life

Born in London, to a musical father, he started playing instruments at a very young age, learning to play piano and cello first.

As a concert instrument, the guitar hadn't established itself beyond its Spanish roots as a solo instrument and so when Julian Bream first picked up the guitar his father taught him to play. Jazz music was what he was raised with mostly at this point and his beginnings on the guitar were with the Jazzy Gypsy guitar music of Django Reinhardt.

It wasn't until he heard a recording by the maestro Andres Segovia himself, that his love affair with the classical guitar began. When he was still a boy he met Segovia who was so impressed that he offered to take him under his wing and on his travels. It is unclear why this didn't materialise in the end, but the respect between them remained throughout their respective lives.

Major performances and achievements

Bream performed in his grandmothers pub as a boy after his piano lessons and moved on to be accepted at the Royal Collage of Music. Even though he gave an awe inspiring performance on the guitar during his exams (as well as on the piano), he was asked not to bring it to the college. Nobody was able to instruct him on the guitar and it simply was not considered a concert instrument at the time. He brought it anyway, clearly not being able to part with it that easily. The guitar and Julian Bream were already one.

In 1951he performed at Wigmore Hall. This "was the concert, with very positive reviews, that really launched Bream’s career", as written in the Guardian obituary in his honour.

His first performance of a guitar concerto was Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and he was the one to deliver the first ever European performance of Heitor Villa Lobos' Guitar Concerto in 1957 and the received the Villa Lobos gold medal in 1976.

Over the years he performed world-wide, which included concerts he played on the Lute. He revived the instrument and with it music from the Elizabethan era, that had practically disappeared for 2 centuries.

He continued to perform for 50 years up until 2002 when he retired from performing.

Among the formal honours he received in his lifetime was his appointment as OBE in 1964, advanced to CBE in 1985. In 1996 he received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s instrumental award and in 2013 the Gramophone magazine lifetime achievement award.


Bream was one of a kind. He had his own way of positioning his hands, away from the traditional positions he was taught, to suit his style. He never planned the 'colouring' of his pieces before a performance and spontaneously added this part to each individual performance, making no one identical to the other. The expression of his entire body and expressions on his face gave the audience another dimension of man and his instruments besides the sound. There was emotion and soul that was felt and heard deep into our bones and spirits.

Julian Bream once said that "the most satisfying thing about playing the guitar is the intimate contact one has with the strings, not just with the left but also with the right hand. Because of this one has to ones disposal the most wonderful variety of colour." It's safe to say that we couldn't agree more and he sure gave us a glimpse of all colour shades of his being through his music.

Beyond his artistry, he quite plainly turned the guitar into a real force in concert life. Before him, the guitar was not considered a concert instrument besides in its roots in Spanish classical and flamenco guitar. He brought the guitar into the big classical concert halls of the western world.

And if this is not enough, he revived an instrument and music style long lost with his discovery of the lute and the compositions of Elizabethan times.

Rest in Peace beautiful soul. As far as Guitarwaze is concerned, you have given this world a gift of angelic proportions and we salute you!

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