(Revised 7/19/16; originally posted May 15, 2011)
This is a blast from the past, an article I wrote in 2007 for the journal of the Society for Spirituality and Paranormal Studies. It was reprinted in the online magazine The Ground of Faith, and occasionally someone contacts me because they found it there. I thought I had already posted it here, but it seems I’d let it slip past me. That’s just as well, though, because Franz Liszt was the instigator and central figure of the Brown project, and now, in the midst of his bicentennial year, it’s the perfect time to bring attention to his efforts. (That other guy who had his 200th birthday last year was his main assistant.)
I had thought that all Rosemary Brown recordings and sheet music were out of print, at the time I originally posted this back in 2011 I certainly could not find any available except as a few pieces being passed from person to person. It turns out that Arends Musikverlage, a small German company, has been publishing it, in their Keturi line. When I hunted for Mrs. Brown’s works they never showed up in search results, but recently Sonja Arends contacted me and now I have the ordering information. There are a number of pieces I had never had an opportunity to see before. Some samples of recordings can be found here: http://www.arends-musikverlag.de/rosemary-brown/ There is a short biography of Mrs. Brown and a link to a page where you can order sheet music, all in English.
Some samples of the sheet music, provided by the publisher, are included in the following links. You will need to click on the name, then do the same on the page that comes up next, to view the PDFs.
The Rosemary Brown Piano Album appears to still be available from Novello, as well:
My own recording of Liszt’s “Grubelei,” created with engineering help from Guilherme Tavares, can be found here: https://app.box.com/s/isl0e5ybqgm84ljdusvi
I’m posting the article just as it appeared originally:
The Music of Rosemary Brown from a Pianist’s Perspective
by Elene Gusch, B. Mus., DOM
“Distinguished musicians could again be called upon to commend the work of Rosemary Brown. I would rather take this opportunity to do it myself, for a music publisher supports a venture in the most convincing way possible. He risks his own money….
“I have undertaken publication of the music because I believe in its validity, and because it is necessary if widespread performance is to take place. How else can the efforts of these composers and Mrs Brown be rewarded?…
“From the first manifestation of Mrs Brown’s gifts as an intermediary in the mid-sixties, cynics have attacked the weaknesses in the music, whilst enthusiasts have counter-attacked with the many splendid passages. Both extremes leap to the eye without difficulty. The real difficulty lies in looking at the phenomenon as a whole and comprehending the boundaries that have been crossed in its making. Inconsistencies will remain in the quality of the music until communication gets easier (assuming that it can). But the triumph of contact at this level is so overwhelming that no musician should ignore the results.” –Basil Ramsey, publisher, in the introduction to An album of music for children of all ages
A great deal of ink has already been spread about on the subject of Rosemary Brown, one of the most publicized mediums of the late 20th century. Much of that, unfortunately, has consisted of misquotes, inaccuracies, and thoughtless derision, rather than intelligent consideration of the facts of her life and work. Mrs. Brown herself (possibly with a ghostwriter, no pun intended) wrote four books, though only two, Unfinished Symphonies and Immortals at my Elbow, have been available in recent years. Another book, an analysis of Mrs. Brown’s musical output by Ian Parrott, has been out of print for some time, and I have not been able to get hold of a copy. Some recordings were made, but to the best of my knowledge they are out of print too, along with all of the sheet music. It so often happens that events which seem unexplainable to mainstream thought make a splash at first, and for a while everyone talks about them, but then they are forgotten. Rosemary Brown’s music has shared that fate.
Although there have been many examples of musical mediums, Mrs. Brown’s activities were extraordinary in that her work has been transmitted to us in written form. The story is that, beginning in the early 1960s, she took dictation from a team of well-known deceased composers, writing down hundreds of pieces of varying length and complexity, mostly for piano solo. Some musical authorities of the time, including Leonard Bernstein, found the works to be convincingly like those of the composers who were supposed to have created them, but unsurprisingly, many other people have scoffed and insisted that Mrs. Brown was a charlatan, or that the composers were only “imaginary friends” of hers. Yet, it has to be admitted, even by the most skeptical and materialistic minds, that something highly unusual was going on. The sheer number of pieces is impressive, even ignoring the fact that they comprise so many disparate musical styles. It would have been difficult for even a very able and well-trained composer to come up with them all, especially to produce them at the speed with which they came through, and it is a documented and indisputable fact that Rosemary Brown had only the most minimal education in music. (She lived in the same house most of her earthly existence, and there would have been no opportunity for her to get extensive training out of the sight of her friends and neighbors.) If we are going to postulate that this woman produced such a huge and varied opus purely out of her own unconscious mind, having no idea what she was doing, we still have to explain how a thing like that could be possible. We are stuck, one way or another, with a realization that human potential must be much greater than we thought. It is impossible to believe that this music was produced by purely “normal,” everyday means. Simply saying that it is fake, as someone told me just the other day, does not begin to explain the observed phenomena.
Of course, there are people among us today who can produce music that is convincingly similar to the work of well-known composers. One of them is Bruce Adolphe, who produces “Piano Puzzlers” for American Public Media’s program Performance Today. He recasts a familiar tune in the style of some recognizable composer, and a contestant is supposed to guess both the name of the tune and that of the composer. It’s generally not hard to figure out, because the composers’ styles are so distinctive. Bruce Adolphe is amazing, and it’s not entirely beyond belief that Rosemary Brown could have been doing something similar, but for the reasons mentioned above it seems unlikely indeed.
The Brown project, we are told, was the brainchild of Franz Liszt, who believed that if people on Earth could receive musical compositions from the other side that could not possibly be produced by ordinary means, they would have to believe that there is more to life than our physical existence. In Liszt’s own words, given in an introduction to Robert Schumann’s “Twelve Cameos,” “We in spirit hope to help people to realise that they are evolving souls destined to pass into the realms of non-matter where they will continue to evolve. This realisation should give them a whole new dimension of thinking, and raise their self-image above its earthbound limits.”
Liszt was aided and abetted by Fryderyk Chopin, who acted as second-in-command, and a number of other heavy hitters, including Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergei Rachmaninov, Franz Schubert, Edvard Grieg, Johannes Brahms, Robert and Clara Schumann, Claude Debussy, Hector Berlioz, and even J. S. Bach. Still other composers made occasional appearances.
Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with classical music knows that each of these composers possessed a unique and distinctive style, which one might expect to be recognizable in any new works they produce. In fact, having them write in recognizable styles was crucial to the success of the project. Liszt explained, “The music transmitted is not put forth with the object of surpassing previous musical achievements. The aim is to pour through a sufficient measure in terms of musical expression to give clear demonstrations of the personal idiom of each composer concerned. Therefore, each composer endeavours to filter through the essence of his own spirit rather than to attempt gigantic works of technical virtuosity.”
Although the composers all have individual styles, a number of them lived during the same time period, influenced each other, and were influenced by the same historical forces, so there are certain resemblances even among their “real” works. Late Chopin, for example, sounds to me somewhat like Brahms. Some of the composers—Liszt, Chopin, and Berlioz—were friends during their material existence. Brahms loved Clara Schumann, and was an important part of her life. The lifespans of Beethoven and Schubert overlapped those of the Romantic-period composers. Even among those who were not contemporaries, there are connections; Chopin worshipped and closely studied Bach, Debussy was inspired by Chopin, Liszt was a great exponent of Beethoven, and so forth. It’s not surprising to find this group of artists working together.
I have lived with this body of work for the better part of a decade, and although proof of Mrs. Brown’s claims is not possible, I cannot avoid believing in her sincerity and veracity. I would like to describe what the music is like from the point of view of a pianist. I am not going to attempt a rigorous musicological analysis; I am only hoping to give a subjective sense of what playing and hearing the music is like, since the reader has probably not had the opportunity to come into contact with it. I am going to discuss only the pieces for which I have sheet music.
I first heard of Rosemary Brown in 1998, five years into my own contacts with the spirit world. I didn’t have much trouble accepting the premise that the music had been channeled, and because I had done some very limited channeling at the piano myself, I was vitally interested. It took me about a year to get hold of any of the printed or recorded music, though. I was fortunate enough to meet Jane Ellen, a composer based here in Albuquerque, who happened to have a copy of one recording, as well as a number of the books of sheet music. Since all the sheet music is out of print, what I have is in the “Xerox edition,” and I have been unable to acquire any more.
Holding that music in my hands, and actually playing it, was strangely disturbing at first, even for someone with my background. The sheer weight of it, the concreteness, was stunning. Instead of being a vague, it-might-be nice concept, the vitality of the composers, their inarguable aliveness, lay in my hands as a physical fact. And yet I still balked at believing one hundred percent, and despite all the evidence, part of me continues to doubt a little. So I do understand, just a bit, why this work has been swept under the very large rug that covers so many signs of survival after death.
One might expect that, since the method of transmission was so arduous, the pieces in this collection would be quite simple. That is not the case. While they are not “gigantic works of technical virtuosity,” many require fairly advanced pianistic skills. One finds successions of four and even five-note chords in each hand, as well as passages using crossed hands. Considerable speed is often called for. Some of the pieces are surprisingly lengthy; Liszt’s “Woodland Waters,” for example, runs 14 pages. The majority of the pieces are only a few pages long, and they are relatively accessible to the amateur pianist. Still, there are a number of pieces that I cannot play up to tempo at this point. Since recordings are not available for most of these works, I have not been able to hear them the way they should sound, and I can’t give you a complete evaluation of them.
Earlier pieces are coyly marked “Inspired by…,” but in the later publications one finds “From… as dictated to Rosemary Brown.” The pieces were largely received without marks of expression, tempo, etc., but there are notable exceptions, particularly with Liszt and Schumann, both of whom used elaborate, untranslated verbal directions that sent me running for my dictionaries. The editors needed to fix a number of quirks in the notation that were caused by Mrs. Brown’s lack of musical expertise, such as E’s being written instead of F-flats. Some oddities of notation remain, and some notes may simply be mistakes. Mrs. Brown made no pretense of being absolutely accurate. In Immortals at my Elbow, she wrote, “To get anything as elaborate as a piece of music across clearly without any mistakes in transmission, is an almost impossible feat.” It is common to find errors and discrepancies in the notation of earth-plane composers as well, so this is not surprising.
Many of the pieces with programmatic titles cited in this article are from An album of music for children of all ages. Apparently there had been many requests from the public for easier music that could be enjoyed by a wider audience, and this book was the result. It’s a good place to start if one has access to the printed music.
By far the greatest number of pieces came from Franz Liszt, and they are also the longest. Even a cursory look at the pages gives a strong impression of his style. As always, Liszt favored heavy religious and philosophical themes, like the arpeggiated, undulating “Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm.” His Italian fluency is on display in marks of expression such as “strepitoso” (noisy) and “sordamente” (muffled).
I have an extremely unscientific but reliable method of recognizing Liszt’s work: when I hear it I tend to giggle uncontrollably. The more seriously he is taking himself, the less seriously I can take him. I find this effect in Mrs. Brown’s Liszt pieces as well. Even the quiet and simple “A Rainy Day,” from the album for children, has a certain pomposity. I do like it very much, though.
Liszt’s “Grübelei” (Meditation), in my opinion, stands head and shoulders above most of the pieces in the Brown repertoire. As you can probably tell, I am not much of a Liszt fan, but this piece is wonderful. It is daunting at first—mostly because the right hand is in 5/4 and the left hand is in 3/2— but it greatly rewards the player who sticks with it. I have returned to it again and again, and I always find something more in it, which I think is the sign of great music. Even if Mrs. Brown had produced nothing else, one would have to say that something interesting was going on.
The genesis of “Grübelei” is an amusing story. Liszt began it during a taping by the BBC in 1969. The producers wanted to film the process of receiving the music right as it was happening. Mrs. Brown was nervous at being tested in this way, and made sure that the BBC people understood that they might end up with nothing at all, since a medium cannot count on getting a message at any specific time. “Be sure you give me something spectacular!” she said to Liszt. When the taping began, Liszt appeared immediately and set to work, but the piece made no sense to Mrs. Brown, having those two time signatures juxtaposed, as well as constant changes of key and accidentals thrown about everywhere. She attempted to play some of it, but found herself unable to cope with the difficulty, and had grave misgivings about the whole thing. She asked Liszt if perhaps it might be better to do another Hungarian rhapsody or something of that nature, but he assured her that “Grübelei” was going to impress the listeners far more. A member of the BBC team then asked to try playing the piece, which he was able to do without much trouble. His comment was, “Mrs. Brown, I think you’ve got something here.” The piece was later taken to Humphrey Searle, who was a Liszt expert. Mr. Searle was also impressed with it, and noted a spot which resembled a cadenza in one of the Liebestraums; Mrs. Brown believed that Liszt had intended that measure to be a clue to his authorship. (Unfinished Symphonies, pp. 88-93)
Most of my time at the piano is spent with works of Chopin, and I know his style intimately. When I first played through the Brown pieces of his that were available to me (a prelude, a nocturne, a waltz, and six mazurkas), I felt a little uncomfortable with them. The mazurkas, in particular, struck me as odd, more angular and less flowing than the familiar mazurkas from his lifetime, and seemed far from his best work. However, it was hard to imagine anyone else having written them. More recently, as I have played them again and again, they have grown on me, and I hear parts of them as quite delightful, but I still see them as a relatively weak link in the Brown repertoire.
While working on this article, I found myself embroiled in an online discussion of the Nocturne in A-flat, transmitted in 1966. The opinion of the other writers was that this piece didn’t sound like a nocturne, certainly didn’t sound like Chopin, and was “banal.” I find their position strange. Since the piece has a slow, lyrical, flowing melody above a wide-spread, arpeggiated accompaniment, it is in fact very much in the mold of an archetypal nocturne. As to whether it sounds like Chopin, there is one section in which I hear his voice so clearly that it brings me to tears, but I suppose that is a matter of opinion.
I tried running this nocturne past my husband, a professional woodwind player, without telling him what it was or who was supposed to have written it. His first comment was that it made him think of a certain “warhorse” piece—one that is played frequently, maybe almost to death—and the warhorse turned out to be Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 No. 2, which has the same type of accompaniment and begins with the same gesture of a rising major sixth. My husband also noted the vocal quality of the melody and its resemblance to Italian opera, which had a huge influence on Chopin. The Brown nocturne, to me, is also reminiscent of the Cantabile in B-flat, KK IVb/6. The Chopin prelude is interesting, stylistic, and not problematic, but it has to go extremely fast to sound right, and so I have not yet heard it properly.
The mazurkas, angular and 20th-century-like as they are, do sound Polish. They are built largely of short melodic cells that repeat either literally or in sequences, a characteristic of mazurkas often found in Chopin’s known works. In the set I have, the keys of the six pieces descend by half steps, and they are unified in style and general mood. They are simple in construction but not particularly easy.
Looking at “The Waltzing Doll,” from the album for children, gives a Chopinologist like me something of a turn, since Chopin abhorred programmatic titles and never gave anything but generic names to his works. However, this piece was meant to fit into a collection in which everything has a cute title, and it is intended to appeal to children, so I suppose he had to conform. It is pleasant, straightforward waltz with a sinuous melody, and darn if it doesn’t sound exactly like a waltzing doll. It also sounds like it was written by the same person who wrote the mazurkas.
Only two of the Rachmaninov compositions are in my possession. One is a chromatic, étude-like prelude, and the other is a charming piece from the album for children, “Sleigh Ride.” When I play “Sleigh Ride,” it’s as if I can feel snow falling all around me; the tessitura is high throughout, and its steady, tinkly eighth notes give it a crystalline quality. My only complaint about this fun piece is that the introduction is a little bit hokey.
The Beethoven scherzo and bagatelle fit right in with his shorter and easier known pieces, and their forward-rushing energy and expansiveness feel like him to me. They are fast, and while they are not truly difficult, they are on the tricky side. There is also a much easier piece in the album for children, “A Little Carol.” It reminds me of the sprightly middle movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata.
Johannes Brahms contributed two intermezzi and a waltz. They contain large chords and dramatic melodies, and they cover a wide swath of the keyboard, as Brahms is wont to do.
I’m not an expert on Schubert, but I’m sure I hear characteristic gestures of his in the two pieces labeled “Moment Musical,” as well as the tuneful, singable melodies one expects of him. I’ve also noticed that Schubert seems to be inordinately fond of C-flats, and plenty of them do occur in his Brown project pieces.
I have listed Clara Schumann among the composers, and indeed she was a composer in her own right, but in the Brown project she acted only to bring works of her husband to the earth plane, often appearing with their friend Johannes Brahms. Robert Schumann apparently could not manage the kind of focus necessary to transmit the pieces himself. Liszt tells us, however, that Schumann is in much better mental health these days than he was during his life. In the introduction to “Twelve Cameos,” he says, “The pieces illustrate some enchanting facets of the multi-sided genius of Robert Schumann. He lost his way on earth because the mirrors of his mind reflected false images to him. Now, of course, his mind is clear, and he shares in the delight of an unclouded vision of the beauty of Creation and its Creator.”
The “Twelve Cameos” form an organized whole, with the keys of the pieces rising chromatically from D-flat to C. Each piece is very brief, and is named for an emotion or psychological state, such as “Uberraschung” (Surprise) or “Nachdenklichkeit” (Thoughtfulness). All the titles and markings are in German, and for me, complex enough to make a dictionary imperative. The only thing that strikes me as being different from what I would expect of Schumann is that the two hands do not overlap or intertwine in the way his work often requires.
There is also a more extended Schumann piece, “Longing,” which is not part of the Cameos, despite the similar title. It is a sweet and not at all difficult piece, one of the most enjoyable and accessible in the group.
I have two rather atmospheric and decidedly impressionistic pieces attributed to Debussy, both concerning avian subjects. In the midst of writing this, I played “Le Pâon” (The Peacock) in the presence of my husband, who couldn’t see what I was supposed to be playing and had not heard the piece before. I asked, “Who wrote that?” and without hesitation, he replied, “Debussy.”
Grieg is represented in my collection only by “A Song of Childhood,” which is gentle, lyrical, and easy to play. It has a sparse accompaniment and the feel of a folk song.
I also have only one piece attributed to Bach. It is a prelude in the typical Bach mode of a repeating pattern that relentlessly continues throughout the piece. I’m afraid it is not especially interesting, though I cannot say that there is anything specifically wrong with it, or anything that is absolutely not Bach-like.
Mrs. Brown found Bach rather intimidating, not someone to chat casually with like Liszt or Chopin. She said that in the beginning he gave her a few pieces that followed his known style, to establish his identity, and then he moved on to new material that we might not recognize as his. This brings up an important point: there is no reason to expect a composer, or anyone else, to be exactly the way they were many years ago or to produce exactly the same kind of work. It is daunting to imagine how one might reproduce a style one used at a much younger age and under very different circumstances. Yet, for the most part, the composers of the Rosemary Brown project have done just that, and we clearly hear their living voices.
Brown, R. Immortals at My Elbow (in the US, Immortals by My Side), Bachman & Turner, London, 1974
Brown, R. Unfinished Symphonies, William Morrow and Co., Inc., New York, 1971
Books of sheet music:
Music from Beyond, Basil Ramsey, 1977
An album of piano pieces for children of all ages, Basil Ramsey, 1979
The Rosemary Brown Piano Album, Novello & Co. Ltd.
Six Mazurkas for piano solo from Frédéric Chopin, Basil Ramsey, 1981
Twelve Cameos for piano solo from Robert Schumann, Basil Ramsey, 1980
Intermezzo in A flat, inspired by Johannes Brahms, 1978
“Le Pâon,” inspired by Claude Debussy, 1978
“Woodland Waters,” inspired by Franz Liszt, 1977
Elene Gusch has been working as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine since 1996, but her bachelor’s degree is in classical guitar performance. She has performed extensively on Renaissance lute as well as guitar, and over a period of three decades taught private music lessons on a number of instruments, most often piano. Her main musical interest is the work of Fryderyk Chopin. She has gotten the Piano Puzzlers right just about every time.