Dennis Brain (a famous musician) and Hatfield

Philip G Connolly

The street sign in Hatfield
Dennis Brain
Dennis Brain's memorial stone, Hampstead.

Not far from Old French Horn Lane in Hatfield is Brain Close. An uncommon street name, but one that has a connection.

Whereas Old French Horn Lane is thought to have been named after a pub, Brain Close remembers one of this country’s greatest-ever musicians.

In the 1940s and 50s, Dennis Brain single handedly turned the French Horn from being a rather unreliable member of classical music’s brass section into a solo, virtuosic instrument. Based on his orchestral performances and recitals, international composers flocked to write for him. He tackled whatever they threw his way and inspired other horn players to step-up and follow in his wake.

Alas his glittering career came to an untimely end. At six in the morning on 1 September 1957 he crashed into an oak tree on the Barnet By-Pass. It was outside Hatfield’s De Havilland Aircraft factory, near to The Stonehouse pub. He was only 36.

Brain had driven through the night from the Edinburgh Festival to get home to his young family in Hampstead. The weather was poor and some blame a disconnecting prop shaft in his Triumph TR2. However he was also known to drive fast. [His obsession with cars meant he often had car magazines on his stand, instead of the sheet music.]

His death caused dismay in the world of classical music. No applause was requested at a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony, which had been the last piece he played. He is buried in Hampstead Cemetery.

This page was added on 06/01/2020.

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  • It seems presumptuous or selfish to mourn famous or accomplished strangers too much – they are someone else’s friend, someone else’s family, and that is where the worst grief lies.

    Nevertheless, although it has been 63 years since that morning, which was a decade before I was born, the fact remains: There are no words.

    By Richard Edwards (30/01/2021)
  • Last year in Gramophone magazine a number of today’s leading horn players were asked who had most influenced them. Even though they were almost all born after his death the considerable majority of them said Dennis Brain. His legacy is his wonderful set of recordings.

    The french horn he played is still on display at the Royal Academy of Music in Marylebone Road.

    He is still my number 1 musical hero.

    By Robert Oakhill (14/11/2020)
  • Msg for Matt: The site of the accident was between the Birchwood Avenue junction with the A1 and a parade of shops where Roy Claridge motorcycles had a dealership. As you say the site has now been lost to the developments since the tunnel was built. There were a number of trees lining the southbound carriageway and the car crashed into one after leaving the road.

    By Mike Rush (14/01/2020)
  • Afraid I know no more about the accident itself.

    I used to play the horn in rural South Wales and though Dennis Brain was a bit before my time (we had moved on to Barry Tuckwell) his reputation was undiminished.

    By Philip Connolly (14/01/2020)
  • Can you help
    I am assuming that the site of the tragic crash in 1957 no longer exists, due to the Hatfield Tunnel?
    Any information you can provide would be much appreciated

    Matt Bennett

    By Derek Martindale (14/01/2020)
  • I too remember this tragic accident. Part of the suspension was embedded in the tree for several days after the crash. He had just negotiated the roundabout/junction at the top of Birchwood avenue. It was thought at the time he had lost control on the wet road (the TR2 was notorious for “breaking” way)

    By Mike Rush (11/01/2020)
  • I have never forgotten this tragic accident along with another on the A1 in Hatfield, that of the policemen who was killed in an accident with a lorry. I could not drive along the stretch of road without thinking of both these tragedies.

    By Chris Connell (11/01/2020)