The music of Rosemary Brown is the subject that has brought people to my blog more than any other. My writing about her has put me in touch with some fascinating people in faraway places, and just recently that has led to my being given another album of Brown pieces as .mp3s, plus a collection of Brown sheet music I hadn’t seen before.
Through a series of e-mails begun with, if I remember correctly, a reprint of my original article on Mrs. Brown in The Ground of Faith, I’ve had the good fortune to become acquainted with a Brazilian musician and composer, Guilherme Tavares, who has supplied me with a lot of these materials, and also did me a tremendous favor by editing my own recording of “Grübelei.” A circular sort of Web process brought some of the recordings to Guilherme, involving other people with strong interests in the Brown phenomenon: Ademir Xavier left a comment on my blog about Érico Bomfim, who is trying to record all of Mrs. Brown’s work, then Guilherme contacted Érico, who sent recordings to him, which he passed on to me, and I am now making available to you.
Guilherme also found a BBC radio program about musical mediumship, from three years ago, and recorded the section about Mrs. Brown. He asked me to transcribe it, and I am posting it here. It includes the moment when “Grübelei” came into the world– a fascinating moment in which the most hardened skeptic would be hard pressed to believe Mrs. Brown was faking. I’m going to save further comments on the new material and on Mrs. Brown in general for the next post, but for now, I’ll say that I’m especially intrigued by what she said about all composers perhaps getting music from a central source beyond themselves, possibly transmitted to them by intermediaries, just as the composers themselves were transmitting music to her. This has been my meta-question about Mrs. Brown’s work all along– where does music really come from? If Liszt or Beethoven or whoever give music to Mrs. Brown, where are they getting it?
I remember one of my piano teachers, Jane Viemeister, who’s a competent composer herself, saying that music is like an endless waterfall; all you have to do is take your bucket and scoop some up, and there’s always more where that came from. Arlo Guthrie once said that music was like a stream going by, and it was his job to dip out the good stuff before Bob Dylan could get it! Many composers have reported feeling that they were simply writing down music that was being dictated to them by some higher Source, perhaps even God. Yet, every composer has a recognizable, individual style. I still find this all mysterious– especially when a poem pops unbidden and fully formed into my head. I can’t write music, but my best work does tend to happen in much the way those composers describe.
The conclusions, or rather non-conclusions, reached during this radio program are pretty close to my view of the subject. Except that, having lived with a spirit close by much of the time, getting mixed up in my daily life, I don’t have any problem believing that Liszt could advise Mrs. Brown on the price of bananas in the supermarket.
“Music from Beyond the Veil,” hosted by Professor Paul Robertson on BBC Radio 4, first aired July 14, 2009.
[A rather rough recording of “Grübelei” plays in the background.]
Mrs. Brown: It really began when I was a child. I had a vision of Liszt, but at that time I was not aware that this was Liszt, because I was too young to have seen pictures or photographs of him. And he told me that when he was on the earth, he was a famous composer and pianist, and that when I grew up he would give me music. After Liszt had established a link with me, he first brought Chopin, but then he began to bring others, and there is now quite a group communicating fairly regularly.
Robertson: A group which included many of the greats, Brahms, Debussy, Schumann, Schubert, even Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. This piece of music, recorded in 1969, is attributed to Franz Liszt, yet it was recorded nearly 80 years after his death. He chose as his musical intermediary, if we are to believe her account, a quietly-spoken, unassuming housewife from Balham. Her name was Rosemary Brown, and she created a stir in the late ‘60s, when her musical mediumship added dozens, and eventually hundreds, of new compositions to the musical canon of Liszt and his group of famous friends from beyond this earthly veil. As a musician myself, a violinist who spent most of his career leading a string quartet, you could say that I too am a medium, but when I aim to express some long-dead composer’s intentions and emotions, I believe I’m working from a musical score. Yet, I’m fascinated by the mysterious connection between music and our spiritual lives, not least the question of where seemingly transcendent musical inspiration comes from.
In 1969, BBC Radio 3 broadcast “Music From the Dead Composers,” an hour-long program which took a close look at Rosemary Brown’s claims. During the program, Rosemary described how she received new compositions from beyond the grave.
Mrs. Brown: Liszt, who was the first one to give music to me, has a way of controlling my hands. I think quite a few people will have heard of something called automatic writing, where a spirit controls the hand of a person here, and writes through them. Well, in this case, Liszt somehow contrives to control both my hands, so that he can make them play the music, and he plays the same phrases over several times, while I watch and try to memorize the notes, and then I’ll write it out afterwards to the best of my ability.
Robertson: In May 1969, during the making of “Music From the Dead Composers,” presenter Geoffrey Skelton and his producer Daniel Snowman visited Rosemary’s home, a small end-of-terrace house in Lakewood Road, Balham, to record with her as she received her music. Forty years later, Daniel Snowman can still remember how Rosemary sat at the piano waiting for inspiration to strike.
Snowman: It was a very emotionally low-beat occasion; there was no sense of a séance or of magic or tables moving or all those things. We simply turned the machine on and sat there, with her obvious agreement– she gave us a cup of tea and all that– and we sat. And she would, every now and then, mumble various things– not sure whether they were to us or for us, or to somebody [chuckles] from the dead.
Mrs. Brown: I’m becoming aware of their… they’re present. At least they’re here, see. They’re going to transmit. I can see Liszt quite clearly.
Snowman: And then she said, “Oh, yes, Liszt, Liszt is here now.” And Liszt apparently dictated to her a difficult piece called “Grübelei.” And she was mumbling back and forth with him, in English, “What? Five-four in the right… and a different… and the key signature, how many sharps? And three-two in the left?” You know, kind of, “If you say so, Maestro.”
Mrs. Brown: [slowly picking out notes, scratching on paper] I don’t know what I’ve left out. What have I left out… left out… left out? Oh, yes, you said repeat that, that goes there, yeah. No….
Snowman: And then gradually the thing seemed to come together. She tried to play it, couldn’t, Geoffrey had a go, and it came together as an interesting piece.
The most extraordinary thing to me about that piece she produced in our presence, “Grübelei” by Liszt (supposedly), was that somebody of the ability and authority of Humphrey Searle, a great Liszt expert at the time, you know, looked at this piece and said, “Yeah, it’s very much like the kind of piece he was experimenting with towards the end of his life.” It’s an extraordinary piece for somebody to simply do a pastiche of Liszt, to come up with something like that.
Willin: Well, I had quite a lot of correspondence with Rosemary when she was alive, um, and I’ve looked at a lot of her music and I’ve done a lot of tests on it, and I’ve discussed it with possibly thousands and certainly hundreds of people.
Robertson: Dr. Melvyn Willin describes himself as being a paramusicologist. As well as being a music teacher and performer, he researches cases where music apparently meets the paranormal.
Willin: And what do I have to say? Um, I think that she was genuine, I think she was tapping into something.
Robertson: So when you say genuine….
Willin: She wasn’t fraudulent.
Robertson: She was sincere.
Willin: Sincere, yes.
Robertson: OK. But do you think she was, in your terms, a genuine medium for something she couldn’t otherwise have achieved?
Willin: I think she believed that she was genuinely in touch with the composers that she said she was in touch with. Um, and hey, perhaps she was. I would be happier to think that she was in touch perhaps with something that was within her, that she was perhaps getting some help from externally. But I don’t believe that Beethoven or Liszt was telling her the price of bananas in the supermarket, etc.
As to her music, it’s always come across to me, and to others, as a rather good pastiche of the actual composers. But having said that, I wouldn’t say always, and that’s the frustrating thing, because I can’t say that no, I think all her pieces were pastiche. I have to say that I think an awful lot were, but there was the odd one or two, that I just think, I don’t know how she did that.
Robertson: So where does that leave us with the intriguing case of Rosemary Brown? Not even her most ardent critics accused her of being fraudulent, or of somehow deceiving the public, and she was clearly sincere in her belief about where her talents came from. It’s interesting, though, to hear her in an interview of 1967, describing her composer friends from the other side as themselves intermediaries for something greater.
Mrs. Brown: Well, it seems to me to come from a central source of inspiration, as if there were spheres of music, and I think it is channeled down to me, as perhaps it is channeled down to other composers, by various intermediary beings, spirits, whatever you like to call them. And in this instance, I think there are people who have been composers upon the earth, trying to channel the music to me.
[Background music: a tenor singing “O Sole Mio.”]
Robertson: I’ll leave the last word to Leo May, who is as certain in his conviction as Rosemary Brown was in hers that he’s channeling the spirits of dead musicians, in his case, those of Enrico Caruso and Mario Lanza.
[An interview begins] So in a way, it’s not a million miles different to having a talent and then having a duty to serve that talent.
May: I’m a servant, yes.
Robertson: And is that quite important, to feel that?
May: It is indeed important, yes. Indeed it is, to serve it. I want to serve the spirit world, which I know, if anybody says to me, “do you believe in the spirit world?” I say, “No. I know it.” And there’s the difference between knowing it and surmising that it might be there. I know it. Without a doubt.
Where you can buy Rosemary Brown sheet music and recordings.
My own recording of Liszt’s “Grubelei,” with some engineering help from Guilherme Tavares.
Ademir Xavier’s YouTube Channel, where you will find Érico Bomfim playing some Brown works, as well as a couple of interviews with Mrs. Brown. Xavier has a blog, Era do Espírito, at http://eradoespirito.blogspot.com.
My earlier post, “The Music of Rosemary Brown from a Pianist’s Perspective.”
15 responses to “Where Does Music Really Come From? More on Rosemary Brown”
Elene, very interesting. Thanks for refreshing my memory of Rosemary Brown. I do believe that some mediums can tap into the higher realms.
Here is a little something from my article about D. D. Home that appears in the soon-to-be released issue of “Atlantis Rising” magazine.
“Well before Adare began recording his sittings with Home, Robert Bell, a journalist, reported on his experiences with Home in the August 1860 edition of Cornhill magazine. He wrote of seeing a large hand floating before him. “Somewhat too eager to satisfy my curiosity, I seized it, felt it very sensibly, but it went out, like air, in my grasp,” Bell wrote, going on to report on a floating accordion playing music. “We listened with suspended breath,” he continued. “The air was wild, and full of strange transitions, with a wall of the most pathetic sweetness running through it. The execution was no less remarkable for its delicacy than its power. When the notes swelled in some of the bold passages the sound rolled through the room with an astounding reverberation; then, gently subsiding, sank into a strain of divine tenderness…Our ears, that heard it, had never before been visited by ‘a sound so fine.’ It continued diminishing and diminishing and diminishing, and stretching far away into distance and darkness, until the attenuated thread of sound became so exquisite that it was impossible at last to fix the moment when it ceased.”
Thanks, Mike. Despite all that I’ve experienced, I don’t know what I would do if a disembodied instrument suddenly started playing right in front of me!
Thank you Elene, for providing all this material. I first heard Grubelei on U Tube, and your recording of this piece makes me tingle again all over: the authentic resonance of the contact – self-tuning between different frequencies, or worlds – Maestro and pupil (or mediator, as Rosemary was) … it always deeply moves towards; how the notes and time signatures merge. I get a very strong feeling of Liszt’s presence. In this dimension it is actually immaterial whether the composers as individuals are at hand; as you observe, and as Rosemary said, it comes from a source beyond and transcending their figures and lives. But the music comes through. It approximates to their actual personalities and signatures in an intimate way. This in itself is a miracle – or a mystery; for everything when we actually look at it, is miraculous.
I was just about to ask your correspondent to email to me some of the sheet music, and … lo and behold, here today on your post, it is. A lot to explore. The “contact” within these pieces is of vital interest also in the art of exchange, which is healing. It is philosophical and creative. The composers told Rosemary they wanted to wake us up a little.
The truth in principle transcends academic versions. Thanks again.
Jane, thanks for these erudite and poetic comments. It is immaterial in a way, for the purposes of transmitting the music, whether the composers are present as individuals, as you say. But when Chopin is away for a long time, I do miss him terribly!
Great post, Elene, very glad to read it. On two occasions when I was a teenager I received two complete instrumental songs without any effort (some arranging details had to be worked out, but the main line from the beginning to end and the overall mood were perfectly clear). I always think it came from God itself. Another composition that “I made” grew up by a process of mentally singing the initial part and then the continuation simply CAME OUT. It all occurred when I was lying on my bed, at night, ready to sleep. I stood up, played the new part and recorded it on a tape recorder. The same process occurred again and again. Next morning I listened to the tape and surprisingly the music had grown to approximately 10 minutes. Initially I had only a simple guitar riff and the goal to invent something that would last about 15 minutes.
Elene, So glad to find your copies of Rosemary Brown’smusic–I heard about her yrs. ago-and a friend a few weeks ago brought her name up-I went to google and put in Rosemary Brown’s name and came up with your website–and have been able to print out alot of the music, and play it as well-It is very fascinating-all the music she was able to channel–But what happened to alot of it? Wish it could be found– I know very well Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu-Did you know that the person that composed i’m Always Chasing Rainbows took the middle part of Chopin’s Fantasie impromptu and made it into I’m Always Chasing Rainbows? Dont think its right that Chopin’s music should be stolen–I am a pianist of many yrs. and enjoy playing RosemaryBrown’s channeled music-In fact I will be playing the Eight Pieces for Children tomorrow–Just printed it all –sight reading it, but that is fun to do–If you ever hear of any more of her music that is printed , could you let me know–Have enjoyed reading your articles. Rosemary Fletcher
Glad it was helpful, Rosemary. I think you’ll find a good deal to enjoy in the Brown repertoire, as well as some pieces that may leave you feeling puzzled and/or unsatisfied. I have to again thank Jane Ellen and Guilherme Tavares for making it all available to me.
I particularly recommend the last of the second set of mazurkas, the one in G# minor.
Yes, I certainly did know about “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” as well as other pop tunes “stolen” from classical pieces during that era. No comment!
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I was browsing the net for some rare or unknown music pieces for Chopin, my favorite ever composer, that I possibly didnt know about or didnt hear, and came though your article, and all this story of Rosemary Brown. What a story ! ..unbelievable !!.. I have actually never experienced or witnessed any of these paranormal phenomena, and to tell truth, was never very interested about it , yet what strikes me in this story is actually the material, the music itself .. I heard what you shared in box.com, and was happily surprised to find some real gem pieces , that – indeed – have strong touches with the composers style Mrs Brown claims to be inspired by.. Despite some clear repetitions and clones (like many of the Mazurkas, that have almost same repetitive themes but in different tonalities..), there are nevertheless some superb pieces (last Mazurka in the Leslie Howard recording being one) . It is really a pity that no famous professional pianists where at least curious to play the full repertoire??
It is in fact a huge difference listening to this music by some piano students or amateurs in you tube (including the recordings of Rosemary herself, that sound – in my opinion – very amateurish, harsh and unconvincing ), and listening to it played by experienced pianists (interpretations of Leslie Howard and Peter Katin manage at least to capture some of the soul of these pieces) .. Frankly, if I were Chopin or Liszt, I would have rather communicated with a Horowitz, a Cortot, a Samson Francois, rather than anonymous persons, unfit to convey the message, since they need in the first place decades to get technically to the level and depth of these great composers..
Anyway, whoever composed this music, some of it is really enjoyable. I thank you very much for sharing this material and am wondering if there exist any other dissent recordings available out there (beside Howard’s and Katin’s), for other scores of Rosemary Browns (it seems she wrote hundreds ??)
Sherif, I don’t know of any other professional pianists who have recorded this repertoire. There’s a young man who’s a friend of a friend in Brazil who was recording some of the pieces and plays well, but I can’t recall his name just now– will have to try and find the info.
But I definitely know some good reasons why these pianist-composers of the past would want to use someone like Mrs. Brown rather than someone at the Horowitz level. Most importantly, someone with great musical ability would simply be accused of faking and writing the music him- or herself. But it’s also likely that when the musicians in spirit wish to work with fine players, they have difficulty finding people who both play extremely well and can perceive their contacts.
Poor Chopin does not have the best material to work with when he tries to help me at the piano… but I do try…
hi Elene. I know it’s an old post, but just wondering if you got any further info/ contacts/ updates regarding above issue?
Did any pianist venture yet into recording this repertoire anywhere in the world ?
Would appreciate any hints if you happen to have updates..
Hi, Sherif– I haven’t heard of anything new coming along in terms of recordings, etc., and I haven’t received any more information on my own, but just now I was looking on YouTube and it looks like people have posted some recordings of themselves playing Brown pieces. Just search on “Rosemary Brown” on YouTube and you may find something you haven’t seen before.
Sonja Arends of the Arends music publishing company has been in touch with me, and they have recordings and sheet music:
hi Elene, ..still thinking of some of these beautiful little pieces, particularly of those attributed to Chopin .. tried to contact Arends music by email but no respond. Wondering if there been any other good recorded performances of Brown’s music recently , that you would be aware of ? was looking for the Howard Shelley CD or other ,,? Heard in a radio program recently that Rosemary Brown left more than 800 pieces.. why nobody has recorded this music, at least for curiosity …?
I don’t know of any recordings other than the ones by Erico Bomfim listed above. I just checked, and his YouTube channel is still active. I don’t know about the Howard Shelley CD.
I don’t know what’s going on with Arends. I will try to contact them too. Thanks for letting me know. Good to hear from you.