The Symphony No. 1 in D minor (The Gothic) by Havergal Brian is a symphony composed between 1919 and 1927. At around one and three quarter hours, it is among the longest symphonies ever composed (with Mahler's 3rd Symphony, Sorabji's nine-hour 2nd Organ Symphony and Dimitrie Cuclin's unperformed No. 12) and, along with choral symphonies such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or Mahler's 8th Symphony, it is one of a few works attempting to use the musically gigantic to address the spiritual concerns of humanity. With a key-scheme that begins in D minor and comes eventually to a closing in E major, the work is an example of progressive tonality.
The genesis of the work stems from many sources, but several may be mentioned briefly: a conversation Brian had with Henry Wood about writing a suite that would revive the older instruments which had fallen out of use in the modern symphony orchestra, such as the oboe d'amore or basset horn. This idea was repudiated by Brian's close friend Granville Bantock, but returned when Brian turned to writing symphonies after the end of the First World War. The Gothic element refers to the vision of the Gothic age (from about 1150 to 1500) as representing a huge (almost unlimited) expansion in humanity's artistic and intellectual development, but particularly manifest in the architecture of the great European cathedrals. The scale of the choral finale, which took several years to write, appears to be an attempt to evoke the scale and detail of this architecture in sound; Brian had to paste blank pages of score together to be able to write the work on gigantic sheets with 54 staves to the page. Brian also seems to have identified with the character of Faust, particularly in attempting to write such affirmative music in the post-war atmosphere when many composers had turned from pre-war giganticism, and the finale bears an apposite quote from Goethe's Faust Part Two Act V, which translates as "The man who ever strives may earn redemption". Brian dedicated the work to Richard Strauss, who in a letter of acknowledgement described it as "grossartig" (magnificent).
The work (more specifically the first three orchestral movements) was submitted in 1928 as an entry for the 1928 International Columbia Graphophone Competition in memory of Schubert and won second prize in the 'English Zone' of that contest; in the final international judging in Vienna it was one of a number of works - others were by Czesław Marek, Franz Schmidt and Charles Haubiel - that lost out to the Sixth Symphony of Kurt Atterberg. It was however published in 1932 by the Leipzig-based Cranz & Co. (in an edition beset with printing errors), as "Symphony No. 2" — the number it bore until Brian renumbered his early symphonies in 1967, eliminating the long-defunct A Fantastic Symphony of 1907 and inserting the previously-unnumbered Sinfonia Tragica of 1948 as the new No. 6. A photographically-reduced study score of the Cranz edition was published by United Music Publishers in 1976, though with little effort to correct the copious errors, and still bearing the by-now incorrect No. 2.