Henry Brant


Symphony No. 1 (1931) American Recording Society Orchestra, Hans Swarowsky

On the Nature of Things for Orchestra ‘Scene 4–Lucretius’ from The Grand Universal Circus (1956) Louisville Orchestra/Jorge Mester


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Consort for True Violins (1965) The Hutchins Consort

The Fourth Millennium (1967) American Brass Quintet

Wind, Water, Clouds, Fire (2004) Live Performance, Present Music Ensemble


Henry Dreyfuss Brant

(September 15, 1913 – April 26, 2008) was a Canadian-born American composer and America’s foremost pioneer of acoustic spatial music, where musicians are placed in unconventional positions throughout a concert hall or outdoor setting for particular musical effects

The son of a professional violinist, Brant played violin, flute, tin whistle, piano, organ, and percussion at a professional level and was fluent with the playing techniques for all of the standard orchestral instruments. As a teenager, he was the youngest composer included in Henry Cowell’s landmark book American Composers on American Music, demonstrating an early identification with the American experimental musical tradition. Brant was represented in Cowell’s anthology by an essay on oblique harmony, an idea which presaged some techniques used in his mature spatial works. He composed, orchestrated, and conducted for radio, film, ballet, and jazz groups. The stylistic diversity of these professional experiences would also eventually contribute to stylistic polyphony of his mature works. Starting in the late 40s, he taught at Columbia University, the Juilliard School and, for 24 years, Bennington College.

In the mid-1950s Brant felt that “single-style music…could no longer evoke the new stresses, layered insanities, and multi-directional assaults of contemporary life on the spirit.” In pursuit of an optimal framework for the presentation of a music which embraced such simultaneity of musical textures and styles, Brant made a series of experiments and compositions exploring the potential for the physical position of sounds in space to be used as an essential compositional element.

Inspired by the music of Charles Ives and Teo Macero, Brant’s spatial techniques create complex instrumental textures and take advantage of hall acoustics and resonance. He wrote over 120 spatial works which often employ contrasting musical styles and very large instrumental forces. Brant: “All music is spatial. Space is needed for performers, for audience, and for sound waves to travel, rebound, or be absorbed, and is thus an essential musical element. (It might be described as a fourth dimension in music; the other three being pitch, rhythm, and tone quality.)”

From 1981, Brant made his home in Santa Barbara, California, where he died on April 26, 2008 at the age of 95.  Brant’s handbook for orchestration, Textures and Timbres, was published posthumously.

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