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Alfred Herbert Brewer (Composer)

Born: June 21, 1865 Gloucester, England
Died: 1928 - Miller`s Green, Gloucester, England

The English composer and organist, Alfred Herbert Brewer, was organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1896 until his death, and for 30 years conductor of the Three Choirs Festivals held there. He had been a Gloucester Cathedral chorister in his boyhood, from January 1877 to December 1880, and began his organ studies there under Dr. C. H. Lloyd, organist of the cathedral. He was educated at the Cathedral School, Oxford and at the Royal College of Music.

Alfred Herbert Brewer lived in Gloucester his whole life. After holding organ appointments in succession at two Gloucester churches - St. Catherine's and St. Mary de Crypt, 1881-1882 - he succeeded Parratt as organist of St. Giles's Church, Oxford, in September 1882. In December 1883 he obtained the organ scholarship of Exeter College, Oxford, which he held concurrently with the organistship at St. Giles. In the meantime (April 1883) he had gained the first open organ scholarship at the Royal College of Music (Mus.D), where he studied under Parratt.

Alfred Herbert Brewer was elected organist of Bristol Cathedral in September 1885, and a year later he became organist of St. Michael's Church, Coventry. In September 1892 he was appointed organist and music-master to Tunbridge School; this post he held till December 1896, when he succeeded C. Lee Williams as organist and choir-master of Gloucester Cathedral.

Alfred Herbert Brewer's most important public work has been in his direction of the triennial festivals held at Gloucester. He has shown constant enterprise in the framing of its programmes, and amongst many new works has introduced to these festivals the choral works of Verdi and oratorios of Edward Elgar. In 1913, at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester, Brewer was entrusted with conducting the premiere of Sibelius's tone-poem for soprano and orchestra, Luonnotar, Op. 70. The soloist was Aino Ackté. Apart from the festivals he has used his position for the furtherance of musical activity outside the regular services of the cathedral. His organ recitals have been a definite source of musical education and the Gloucester Orchestral Society has provided symphonic music periodically under his direction. He also founded the city's choral society in 1905.

As a composer, Alfred Herbert Brewer was fairly conservative. His output includes church music of all types, cantatas, songs, instrumental works, and orchestral music. The greater part of his life was devoted to the advancement of the standards of ecclesiastical music. He was an assiduous composer and his long list of works ranges from festival cantatas to songs of a popular type. Among the former, Emmaus (Gloucester, 1901) and The Holy Innocents (Gloucester, 1904) represent his serious aspirations, but such slight works as Three Elizabethan Pastorals for voice and orchestra (Hereford, 1906), Summer Sports, a suite for choir and orchestra (Gloucester, 1910), and Jillian of Berry pastorals (Hereford, 1921), which allow of light handling and show a pleasant orchestral fancy, represent him more favourably. As a composer indeed he seems happier in the concerts of the Shire Hall than in the cathedral. He was a well-rounded musician who was able to bring orchestral favourites to the organ in transcriptions that are approachable and always easier to play than those by other well-known organists such as Edwin Lemare. Some of his music has been recorded on the Priory label. His Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in D major are in the standard repertoire of Anglican church music. He received knighthood in 1926.


Source: Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition, Authors: G.G. Edwards, H.C. Colles); Bits & pieces from other sources
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2011)

Alfred Herbert Brewer: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

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