Born: July 15, 1933;

Died: August 14, 2020.

JULIAN Bream, who has died aged 87, was the first British musician to win widespread acceptance for the guitar in the classical repertoire, and recognition as one of the 20th century’s leading exponents of the instrument. He was also responsible for reviving interest in the lute, and thus in renaissance composers such as John Dowland.

Leading contemporary composers — including Lennox Berkeley, Benjamin Britten, Hans Werner Henze, Malcolm Arnold, William Walton, Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle — also wrote for, and were commissioned by, Bream, considerably expanding the repertoire for guitar in the recital hall and orchestral pieces.

Through his collaboration with Faber’s music publishing arm, he brought contemporary pieces, as well as transcriptions for the instrument of work by leading classical composers, into print; as a consultant to lutenists and guitar makers, he had a further popularising influence.

The increasing popularity of the guitar from the 1950s, coinciding with the start of Bream’s career, was of course largely driven by popular music. Indeed, as a student at the Royal College of Music, he was instructed to keep his guitar off the premises (though he had played it in his audition for a place there), and instead studied cello and piano. But when he demonstrated that it could be employed for “serious” music, he acquired a celebrity, and a racy lifestyle not all that dissimilar from those of the pop musicians who confined themselves to strumming three or four chords.

Julian Alexander Bream was born on July 15, 1933 in Battersea, south-west London, “between the power station and the dogs’ home”, as he once put it. His father Henry was a commercial artist who also played jazz guitar semi-professionally; his mother Violet (née Wright) was of Scottish descent, though Bream also claimed that she had Portuguese Jewish ancestors.

Young Julian, after being evacuated to Shropshire and then Cornwall, quickly picked up the guitar, inspired by the great jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt, and also learnt to play the family’s grand piano. His father found him a Spanish guitar and sought out teachers, who were a scarce commodity at the time.

Although Bream took lessons with a Russian émigré called Boris Perott, he claimed he later had to unlearn much of his instruction, and remained largely self-taught. Even when the classical Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia, one of the century’s giants, later offered to take him under his wing, nothing much came of it, though the pair were always to express their mutual admiration.

He had begun his studies at the Royal College on piano and cello on a junior scholarship and was playing in public by the late 1940s. His father, who had brought him up after his mother left, died in 1950, but not before buying Julian his first lute from a sailor in Charing Cross Road, for £2, and hearing of his success at his debut London concert. After an appearance at the Wigmore Hall, Bream received rave reviews and was launched on his career.

National Service intervened in 1952, and he joined the Pay Corps in order to get into its band. That year, he also appeared at the Aldeburgh Festival, and became friendly with the tenor Peter Pears, who was Benjamin Britten’s partner; the pair collaborated on recitals of lute songs.

Bream had discovered manuscripts of Dowland’s music (he was an inveterate forager in libraries, searching for promising material) and, after transcribing them for guitar, later performed them on the lute, helping to restore the composer’s popularity.

He made his international debut in Switzerland in 1954 and his first Proms appearance the following year; in 1957 he gave the European premiere of Villa-Lobos’s Guitar Concerto.

The next year he made the first of what became annual tours of the USA and Canada. From 1956 until 1959 he recorded with the Westminster label. For RCA Victor, where he remained until 1990, he recorded much of the guitar’s repertoire, as well as arrangements of Bach, Vivaldi and Baroque and Renaissance composers.

He formed the Julian Bream Consort in the early 1960s to specialise in the last of those, and by the middle of the decade, having moved to Wiltshire, he began working with the luthier David Rubio to develop instruments that conveyed “the English sound”. He became a regular at the Dartington summer school and was able to commission leading contemporary composers.

Among the more notable works for him were Britten’s Nocturnal After John Dowland, Henze’s Royal Winter Music, Walton’s Five Bagatelles, and guitar concertos by Arnold, Berkeley and Bennett.

He became familiar to television audiences in the 1970s, and produced a series of masterclasses for the BBC; in the 1980s he presented a series on the history of the guitar for Channel 4. In 1984, he had a serious car accident which injured his arm, but he eventually recovered. He moved labels to EMI, but by the mid-1990s he had abandoned recording, having played everything he wanted to; in 2002, he finally retired from performing.

Bream had a wide range of interests away from music; he collected fine furniture, took an interest in 18th- and 19th-century painting, kept an excellent wine cellar, was a table-tennis demon, and was devoted to his garden and dogs. His principal passions included cricket – he was a member of MCC and played in his village team.

His many honours included several Grammys, two Edisons, honorary doctorates in music and fellowships of a number of conservatoires and orchestras, a Gramophone lifetime achievement award and the Villa-Lobos Gold Medal. He was appointed OBE in 1964 and advanced to CBE in 1985.

He married, first, in 1968, Margaret Williamson, daughter of the writer Henry Williamson, with whom he adopted a son. They divorced in 1973. He married, secondly, Isabel Sanchez, in 1980. That marriage was also dissolved, in 1983. He died at home, in Donhead St Andrew, near the Wiltshire/Dorset border, on August 14.