David Braid — Upon Silver Trees

David Braid is a British composer whose new album of ‘Songs, Solos and Duos’ comes out next week. I for one can’t wait. His music is unabashedly tonal. It has counterpoint, melodies, harmonic rhythm — everything that is wonderful about music yet has become all too rare. (ETA: Check out Morning, for example.) I have quoted this before, but his advice for young composers is too good not to repeat:

I would say to a young composer – be a rebel! Write something in D major, annoy your professor, but make it so damned interesting and beautiful that he/she has nothing to say; that is the real challenge for us now.

A month ago one of the songs from this album was released, Upon Silver Trees, and I am really quite taken with it. It is rare enough to find a classical song that is beautiful is the traditional sense of the word, let alone to find one as exquisite as this. I have actually found myself singing it in the shower — and there is no greater compliment than that! What makes this song particularly special is the inclusion of an archtop guitar (alongside piano and voice). The archtop guitar has a mellow sound; its tone is not altogether unlike the classical guitar. And as it’s amplified it can easily compete with a piano, even while playing softly. Here, the guitar floats alongside the piano, often doubling it, then in the instrumental pauses it flies away to perform one of Braid’s attractive melodies. I can’t think of anything that sounds quite like it. I must also praise Emily Gray who sings with a light touch, as it were, and with excellent enunciation.

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David Braid, Writing Beautiful Music

Just wanted to quickly share an interesting contemporary composer I came across, David Braid. Potted biography: born in Wales, he left school at 16, had been gifted with a love of music thanks in part to a ‘charismatic nun from Ireland’, found the classical guitar in his late teens, worked his socks off to get into The Royal College of Music, and now composes. Braid’s music is tonal and attractive. The composers who most influenced him include Sibelius and John Dowland. (He’s also a lutenist and has written music for the instrument). To get an idea of his style, here’s his advice for young composers:

I would say to a young composer – be a rebel! Write something in D major, annoy your professor, but make it so damned interesting and beautiful that he/she has nothing to say; that is the real challenge for us now.

There is another David Braid out there, a jazz pianist, and apparently both DBs are friends. Our David Braid is the one with an album of chamber music. The first piece on that album, Morning, is a wonderful introduction to his music. For soprano and string quartet, Morning shimmers and glides, with Grace Davidson, soprano, singing in such a serene vibrato-less way. (And while it may not be in D major, its key of C major is perhaps even more rebellious.) From the booklet:

[Morning] is based on a two-note falling interval of B flat to E, over a C in the bass; these three notes set the mood for the entire piece. I was moving away from an earlier, dense, modernist style (arguably now a conservative norm) and found a new route by revisiting counterpoint and how it determines harmonic motion.

Listen here: