B i o g r a p h y
The counter-tenor, conductor and teacher Charles Brett was educated at Winchester College and King’s College, Cambridge, where he was a choral scholar and read Music. He studied singing with Julian Smith and John Whitworth. He held a series of teaching posts while, at the same time, establishing himself as a soloist. He was an Assistant Music Master at Eton College (1963-8), Director of Music at Malvern College (1968-76) and Westminster School (1976-83). While at Malvern he also conducted the Malvern Musical Society (1969-76). After turning freelance he was a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music from 1988 to 2003 (Hon RAM 1991), and taught singing at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1989-2014). He has always been in demand for master classes, and has given courses in many countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, Germany, Belgium, Canada and Spain, where he participated frequently in summer schools at El Escorial. In France he developed a particular association with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles and the Conservatoire de Toulouse. Through all this teaching work he exerted a strong influence on many young singers, a number of whom later had successful careers in the profession.
Described by the New Grove as 'one of Britain’s leading countertenors, admired for his clear, mellifluous tone and unmannered style', Charles Brett made his London solo debut in 1965. He subsequently worked with many of the greatest specialists in Early and Baroque music, such as Munrow, Leonhardt, Hogwood, Gardiner, Norrington, Herreweghe and Malgoire. His concert work has taken him all over the world, and he has performed in all the major European Festivals, including Barcelona, San Sebastian, Cuenca, Wroclaw, Prague, Aix-en-Provence, Sable-sur-Sarthe, Lourdes, Saintes, Innsbruck, Flanders and the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. Further afield he has appeared in the Casals Festival (Puerto Rico), Marrakesh (recorded by French TV), the Festival Historico of Mexico City, and in the USA and Canada. Operatic roles he has undertaken include Oberon in Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Athamas in Handel’s Semele, and Publio in Gluck’s Clemenza di Tito. He also devised the programme 'The Three Counter-tenors', which he directed and performed widely with James Bowman and Michael Chance.
Charles Brett made his first recording, of Purcell verse anthems, with the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge under George Guest, in 1964. This was followed by more than sixty solo appearances on disc. Notable among these are several revelatory recordings of Early Music with the legendary David Munrow, Purcell’s Fairy Queen with Benjamin Britten, Handel’s Messiah (Diapason d’or), and Dixit Dominus (Grand prix du disque), and Bach’s Magnificat (The Gramophone Recommendation) all with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Bach Cantatas and Mass in B minor (Choc du Monde de la Musique) with Philippe Herreweghe, and Handel’s Rinaldo with Jean-Claude Malgoire. With King’s College choir he recorded Blow’s Coronation Anthems under Sir David Willcocks, and the Monteverdi Vespers and Charpentier Te Deum under Sir Philip Ledger. He also recorded contemporary works, such as Robin Holloway’s Sea Surface Full of Clouds and Geoffrey Burgon’s Canciones del Alma, both with Richard Hickox. Other recordings include his acclaimed interpretation of Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater and Nisi Dominus (9 du Répertoire) and Blow’s great Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell.
Charles Brett founded The Amaryllis Consort in 1983. Initially its members were all distinguished soloists, who shared a passion for the subtleties of consort singing, with its special demands on technique and musicianship. After its London debut that year it appeared throughout the UK and in many European countries, including France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal. It also toured Mexico and Central America several times. Through its concert work, broadcasts and recordings it established itself as one of Europe’s leading vocal ensembles. Its CD of Italian Madrigals received special praise from The Gramophone, which described it as 'the best comprehensive survey of the Italian Madrigal on the market'. Its anthology of English Madrigals was also highly acclaimed, and its Demantius disc received the 'Evénement du mois' award from Compact Disc Magazine.
The consort’s repertoire in the early years concentrated on the Renaissance, and embraced a wide range of a cappella music of the period, both sacred and secular. This was expanded in due course to involve larger groups of voices and instruments, which enabled the ensemble to explore a variety of works from different periods under Brett’s direction. The odes and anthems of Purcell, Monteverdi’s Vespers, Haydn and Mozart Masses, Bach motets, and the church music of Brahms and Poulenc all featured in the consort’s programmes, and illustrate its versatility and the catholic nature of its musical sympathies. After Charles Brett’s retirement the group was re-formed with young singers on the earlier, a cappella model. The Amaryllis Consort is now directed by his son, the baritone Francis Brett.
Apart from his work with the Amaryllis, Charles Brett has spent a lifetime working with professionals, students and amateurs, and has conducted numerous choral works from Bach to Verdi and Vaughan Williams. He has also featured as an opera conductor, making his debut with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Cervantino Festival in Mexico in 1995. He has always had a particular interest in presenting some of the lesser-known Baroque works, such as Handel’s St John Passion and Bach’s St Mark Passion; while he retains a fondness for music from the English choral tradition, with which he has had a strong affinity since his Cambridge days as a student of Sir David Willcocks. Charles Brett is always available for consultation lessons, coaching, or master-classes. His Baroque Anthology for Counter-tenor, published by Green Man Press in 2015, is now available from Peacock Press.
 The New Grove, Dictionary of Music & Musicians | Photos (from top): 1.Gerald Place - 2. Garas Kalman - 3. Unknown