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The Music of Rosemary Brown from a Pianist’s Perspective

by Elene Gusch, B. Mus., DOM

Abstract: A discussion of the piano music channeled by Rosemary Brown,


which she claimed was the work of a number of well-known composers from
the past.

“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.

Bibliography
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

Individual pieces:
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 for the past
11 years, 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 has 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.