Julian Bream, maestro of guitar and lute, 87

NEW YORK — Julian Bream, the English musician who pushed the guitar beyond its Spanish roots and expanded its range by commissioning dozens of works from major composers, and who also played a crucial role in reviving the lute as a modern concert instrument, died Friday at his home in Wiltshire, England. He was 87.

His representatives at James Brown Management announced his death in a statement but did not give a cause.

Mr. Bream was the most eloquent guitarist of the generation that came of age soon after Andrés Segovia carved out a place for the guitar in the mainstream concert world.


It could be argued, in fact, that Mr. Bream, even more than Segovia, established the guitar’s credibility as a serious solo instrument. He updated the technical standard of classical guitar playing and replaced the Romantic, rubato-heavy phrasing that Segovia preferred with a more modern style. And he undertook a significant renovation of the repertory.

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While Segovia, a Spaniard, devoted himself largely to music that naturally emphasized the guitar’s Spanish and Latin American roots, Mr. Bream showed that the instrument was equally suited to German, French, and English works and to some of the thorny contemporary styles that the more conservative Segovia avoided.

While Mr. Bream did not ignore the Spanish and Latin repertory, he created an alternative and just as durable one through research, transcription, and commissioning.

He was the first to revive major works by Fernando Sor of Spain and Mauro Giuliani of Italy, two important 19th-century guitarist-composers. His transcriptions included Bach suites and Scarlatti sonatas, as well as works by Purcell, Cimarosa, Diabelli, and Schubert.

But his most enduring legacy is most likely to be the large collection of pieces he commissioned, many of which he also recorded. The scores written for him that are now staples of the guitar literature include Benjamin Britten’s “Nocturnal” (1963); William Walton’s Five Bagatelles (1971); and concertos by Malcolm Arnold (1959) and Richard Rodney Bennett (1970). Hans Werner Henze, Peter Maxwell Davies, Michael Tippett, and Toru Takemitsu also wrote works for him.


“I do think there is a valid reason that Segovia commissioned the composers he did,” Mr. Bream said in a 1983 interview with The New York Times. “He was very much a pioneer, and what he wanted was a very listenable repertory. But I’m interested in different aspects of the guitar, and of music. And while I think it would have worried Segovia that certain works might not go down too well, as often happens with modern music, that doesn’t worry me.”

Mr. Bream also had an antiquarian streak that made him an important figure in the modern revival of the lute. He took up the Renaissance lute in 1950 to play works that were written for it by Morley, Dowland, and other Elizabethan composers.

He was not the first to do so, but his predecessors had sat on the scholarly edge of the early music world. Mr. Bream, by contrast, hoped to make the lute as popular as the guitar, and he set about searching libraries for little-known works that might illuminate the instrument’s expressive strengths.

In 1959, he formed the Julian Bream Consort, a string, wind, and lute ensemble, to perform and record Elizabethan ensemble music. At recitals, he often played the lute before the intermission and the guitar after intermission.

Mr. Bream’s success as a lutenist inspired a generation of young musicians, including Paul O’Dette, Stephen Stubbs, and Hopkinson Smith, to set aside the modern guitar and concentrate on the lute and other early stringed instruments. In the early 1980s, Mr. Bream followed their lead in taking up early forms of the guitar — the Spanish vihuela and the Baroque guitar — while preparing his video series “Guitarra!,” which traces the guitar’s history.


And when research by younger lutenists suggested that Mr. Bream’s lute technique was inauthentic, he stopped playing the instrument publicly so that he could catch up with the latest scholarship. By the time he began giving lute performances again, he had not only revised his technique but had also taken up the larger Baroque lute.

Julian Alexander Bream was born in London on July 15, 1933, to Henry and Violet Jessie (Wright) Bream. His father was a commercial artist, his mother a homemaker. His parents divorced when he was 14.

Mr. Bream’s honors included the Order of the British Empire in 1964, Commander of the British Empire in 1985 and the Villa-Lobos Gold Medal (he gave the world premiere of the Villa-Lobos Guitar Concerto) in 1976.

He married Margaret Williamson in 1968. After their divorce, he married Isabel Sanchez in 1980. That marriage also ended in divorce. Mr. Bream leaves his sister, Janice, and his brother Anthony, an artist. Their youngest sibling, Paul, died in 2006.