It is with great sadness that a long-time member of the British Carillon Society has passed away on January 5th, after long-term illness. The text of a tribute written by BCS member Michael Boyd has been reproduced below.
A fundraising page has been set up for the Adult Renal Services Unit at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle in memory of Ian.
Dr Ian Brunt
I first met Ian Brunt in the mid-1990s on one of the British Carillon Society’s occasional visits to Newcastle- upon-Tyne. I was immediately struck by his appearance: immaculately dressed in a three-piece tweed suit, complete with a waist-coat with pocket-watch and chain, polished patent leather shoes, the picture of an English country gentleman, with a calm and soft way of speaking and a personality that exuded warmth, welcome and a quiet self-confidence. His personal presentation and attention to old-fashioned good manners and courtesy stemmed, I believe, from an adherence to his own sense of professionalism and dedication to his medical career, and the importance of establishing and maintaining high standards, virtues which he also brought to his music-making. Behind the formal presence however, was a man of intelligence, good humour, generosity and a sense of fun.
Dr Ian W. Brunt was Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s second city carillonneur, a position which he held with pride, and to which he brought a sense of competence and excellence, in spite of only the briefest training in playing the carillon. Ian came to the Newcastle instrument in April 1991, after seeing an article in a local newspaper, The Evening Chronicle, in which John Knox, Newcastle’s carillonneur at the time, was appealing for a younger carillonneur to assist him in the continuance of the carillon tradition in that corner of the world. Ian answered the call, and quickly fell in love with the splendid instrument that is the Edith Adamson memorial carillon, the heaviest two-octave carillon in the world, with its beautiful and sonorous Taylor bells.
What had attracted him to the carillon? Arriving at Leicester University Medical School as a student in 1982, he first heard the carillon played at Loughborough by the then Charnwood Borough Carillonneur Peter Shepherd. Ian also met Peter’s deputy Brian Saddington through their membership of the Leicestershire Organists’ Association, with the Loughborough carillon featuring in their occasional visits. Bellringing was also another of his interests at University, being based in the that county, and visits to the Taylor bell foundry at Loughborough with the Leicester University Society of Change Ringers invariably included visits to the carillon. When at Leicester, Ian travelled to Birmingham to listen to the Bournville carillon, thereby strengthening his growing fascination with the instrument and bells in general.
It is thus that such seeds are planted, seemingly by chance. It was on his return to Newcastle to work as a doctor at the city’s Royal Victoria Infirmary that Ian saw the article in The Evening Chronicle, and introduced himself to John Knox. Ian had arrived at a most opportune time: John had himself only fairly recently re- engaged with the carillon world, after a long absence of nearly 30 years. Returning to Newcastle in 1987, John had made himself known to the Civic Centre authorities as the former carillonneur of Aberdeen, and was soon giving recitals of Christmas music during December of that year. John was determined to raise the profile of the Newcastle instrument, and persuaded the city council to have it overhauled, after a considerable period of neglect.
Thus, Ian arrived at Newcastle at a time when the carillon there was in peak condition, but more importantly, was in the hands of a respected composer for carillon, and one who had rediscovered his enthusiasm for the instrument. John Knox was soon embarking on his extraordinary output of compositions and arrangements for two-octave carillon, a corpus of work which became an important contribution to the carillon art, and which continues to be an invaluable resource for carillonneurs of the smaller instrument everywhere.
The combination of John Knox and Ian Brunt at Newcastle-upon-Tyne was something of a dream team: to his role as John’s deputy Ian brought his considerable musical gifts, as an accomplished organist, flautist, pianist
and harpsichordist. He had started playing the piano as a young child, and at the age of fourteen, after auditioning at Newcastle University, gained a place as a flautist and composer with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, a tremendous achievement for a young musician, given the competitiveness of the field.
He had considered pursuing an organ scholarship at Oxford or Cambridge; instead, he chose a medical career, eventually becoming a general practitioner, a role to which he brought his customary quiet professionalism, earning respect from medical colleagues and the people he served. His work gave him the financial security to follow a parallel career in music, one in which he made an appreciable personal investment. (My family was delighted to accept an invitation to stay at his home, a Grade II-listed late Georgian house. We marvelled at its music room, complete with grand piano, fortepiano, harpsichord, spinet, chamber pipe organ, a huge collection of baroque woodwind instruments, and an extensive library of baroque and early music scores).
His passion was for early music, and his group of early music specialists produced several commercial recordings of their work, whilst he himself organised two festivals in this field. He gave regular public concerts on the harpsichord and organ, and enjoyed playing concerts of baroque music with, in his words, some of the finest musicians in the North of England.
Ian was proud of his Northumberland heritage – he was, for instance, an exceptionally competent player of the Northumbrian small pipes – and this pride infused his choice of carillon repertoire. In his recitals, he championed the music of Newcastle composer Charles Avison (1709-1770), and was an advocate of local folk music on the carillon. I believe he wanted to instil a sense of community pride in the Edith Adamson memorial carillon, the first and only carillon to be installed in a civic centre of a major city in Britain. But his repertoire also reflected his deep personal connection with the North of England.
When John Knox left for Perth in 1993 (to make another remarkable contribution to the carillon art in that city), Ian gladly assumed the position of city carillonneur for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and continued the work of maintaining the profile of the carillon with regular recitals and carillon weeks. The following year he produced two excellent recordings of his playing: “High Baroque” and “Going Dutch” on his own label, humorously entitled Heavy Metal Recordings. (See BCS Newsletter 41, May 1996 for a review). He started to produce arrangements and compositions for carillons, some of which feature in the Newcastle Carillon Books. His renditions of folk and baroque music on the carillon were effective and engaging, grounded in his deep understanding of early music in general. Regular hour-long Saturday recitals became a fixture in Newcastle’s soundscape, and for the week before Christmas time, he performed a special series of recitals, greatly enhancing the festive ambience of the city centre.
The carillon art in Britain and Ireland is fortunate in the fact that only fairly recently Ian had welcomed Jonathan Bradley to assist in carillonneur duties, and therefore Jon becomes Newcastle’s third city carillonneur, carrying on a tradition established by John Knox and continued with such aplomb by Ian.
It is a matter of regret that, due to underlying medical conditions, Ian’s last years were blighted by a marked decline in health. We received the sad news about his death on January 5th of this year, after long-term illness. All those who knew him will have experienced a personal sense of loss, of a most genial and civilised human being.
I will remember him for the person he was, and for his joyful music-making on the carillon. I count myself privileged to have been a friend and colleague for nearly 30 years.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Jonathan Bradley for supplying the photograph of Ian, and for some of the background material of his life.