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Curse of the Gothic Symphony, The

Release Year:        2011
Studio:        First Run Features
Format:        Colour; NTSC
Rated:        Not Rated
Running Time:        82 Minutes
DVD Release Date:        April 15, 2014
Director:        Randall Wood
DVD Features:        Cc; Colour; Full Screen; Hi-Fi Sound; Wide Screen
E:Top Picks Rating:        9 / 10

Studio Write-up:    
THE CURSE OF THE GOTHIC SYMPHONY follows the journey of a fanatical and eclectic group of music lovers who aspire to break the curses behind British composer Havergal Brian’s notorious First Symphony. Over two hours long and requiring two orchestras, four brass bands and five full choirs it is regarded as the Mt. Everest of classical music.

Gripped by the challenge to bring off the first staging of this monstrous symphony, these modern day crusaders will not stop until they triumph against all odds. Failure is not an option; the curse must be broken.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:  
The Gothic Symphony is not a well-known piece of music, nor is composer Havergal Brian particularly well-known, outside of certain classical music circles. All that may be on the cusp of changing as both Havergal and his remarkable output of music–much of it composed over the age of 80!–begins to capture the attention of musicologists, performers and audiences.

Judging from the passionate devotion of the principal players in this remarkable documentary, there is much in Brian’s music to appeal to modern ears. The full-blown Romanticism of Mahler and Wagner is on full display, with a symphonic cohesion that sustains throughout from the earliest, gigantic symphonies (like The Gothic) to his later, more tightly constructed symphonies. Brian’s music began to be appreciated in the 1950s, but he is still not widely known, so any performance of his music is cause for celebration for afficionados. It takes a particularly enthusiastic devotee of his music to actually try to bring Brian’s works to performance–especially when the piece in question is his largest and most demanding (in terms of resources) work.

It’s an ambitious subject for a documentary but it succeeds, in large part because the obsession of the filmmakers matches the obsession of the musical organizers. Clocking in at a mere 82 minutes, the film whisks along, covering the various stages leading up to the monumental performance in the Brisbane Performing Arts Centre in 2010. While the brevity of the film may not present a true representation of the grueling months of groundwork and preparation involved, it does capture the obsessive, unyielding energy of the key players. It is high profile performances such as the one documented here that may just put Brian and his music into their proper place in the classical music world. Judging from the tantalizing excerpts heard of the culminating performance in Brisbane, this is a wonderful and worthwhile achievement.

Of particular note is the cross cutting between the frenetic energy and pacing of the organizational nightmare taking place in Australia and the serene, elegiac scenes of Brian’s elderly daughter in Scotland, who talks with great affection about her father and his music, offering at one point the opinion that the Gothic should be locked up and put away, lending credence to its reputation as being “cursed”. Shot during the winter when there seems to be inordinate amounts of snow on the ground (for Scotland, at least), these scenes add to the sense of isolation that seem to be an apt metaphor for Brian’s place in the classical music world.

The success of this musical event, which took five years and involved over 200 musicians and 400 choristers, is a major artistic achievement. Riding on the heels of this event is THE CURSE OF THE GOTHIC SYMPHONY. No one knew if the curse would be broken by the symphony being performed. Risk, commitment, dedication. These are also values at the heart of a great documentary film.