"CHOPIN once rescued us from having a flood in the bathroom.... I was sitting quietly working with Chopin when suddenly he stopped giving me music and appeared to be quite agitated. He started speaking in French. Eventually I realized that he was saying: 'Le bain va etre engloutie.' I rushed to the bathroom... the water was just about to come over the top."
This is but one of the many insights into the minds of the great composers which Rosemary Brown has afforded us in the liner notes of her new record. She also tells us that Debussy dresses like "what you'd call a hippy type," that she doesn't care for Bach's music, and that Schubert has played the ending of the Unfinished Symphony for her. Rosemary Brown claims that the spirits of the great composers use her as a medium to continue their musical careers after death. They don't.
I am not a parapsychologist, but I do know a little about music. I can not believe that any of the works contained on the Musical Seance disc have any connection with the composers to whom they are attributed, unless these men have suffered serious diminution of their faculties after death. The quality of the work is very low, and the music itself is extraordinary simple. It is, all in all, a shoddy piece of work.
The jacket design of the album is calculated to appeal to the believer in ghosts and seances and such. The front shows a sort of slimy, ectoplasmic quill pen writing music, and the back has a "quote" from Sir Donald Tovey about composers who "have shuffled off these mortal coils." This remarkably florid pseudo-Shakesperianism was allegedly transmitted last January by Sir Donald from beyond the grave. Tovey was never a great stylist, but even he never sank that low.
The statements Rosemary Brown makes about the composers who inspire her are generally ludicrous. Chopin, she says, "is not melancholy at all,... but light-hearted... a very quick worker, very considerate. If he's been working with me and we've got, say, two pages of music written out, and then he finds concentration waning, and I'm getting tired, he winds the piece of music off quickly so it won't be left incomplete." Sometimes, she says, Chopin will come back and dictate a new ending. Hardly a craftsmanlike way of composing.
IN AN ESSAY which accompanies the record, Dr. W. H. C. Tenhaeff, Professor of Psychology at the State University of Utrecht, talks of cryptomnesia, the phenomenon by which people produce what seems to be supernaturally inspired work, when in fact they are only calling back to mind forgotten experiences. The example he gives is of a woman who was able to write Arabic quotations, although she was totally innocent of the language. It was later discovered that she had, as a child seen the phrases which she wrote, in her physician's office, and had merely brought them back to mind. This may explain the Rosemary Brown phenomenon. Although her publicists have implied that she has no musical training, she has, in fact been a mediocre pianist for many years, and is familiar with the styles of many composers. The works on this record could easily have been faked by anyone with some slight musical experience.
The pieces Mrs. Brown has produced are pleasant enough. On this record, half of them are played by her, and half by pianist Peter Katin, Mrs. Brown's playing is definitely not inspired, in any sense of the word. Pedestrian is a more apt description. The pieces Katin plays are somewhat boring: a "Beethoven" Bayatelle which is just that, a piece of little interest revolving around an absurdly simple little figure; a pensive, delicate, yet only mildly competent "Schubert" Moment Musicale; a "Chopin" Impromptu in F Minor which is rather heavy and plodding; and so on through Lizst, Debussy, and Brahms, and over to the second side on which Mrs. Brown gives us an inspirational message before commencing what sounds like a series of second-year piano drills.
The producers of this masterpiece have not been good enough to include the music, with the exception of a brief snatch of the "Liszt" Grubelei, which they compare to a cadenza from the third Liebestraum. Humphrey Searle comments on the comparison that Mrs. Brown's product is so much like Liszt's that it must be authentic. And so it is. It is in fact almost a direct copy, with slight changes in time signature and some minor details. In short, the sort of thing a somewhat untalented musician might come up with when assigned to imitate Liszt's style.
The marvel of Rosemary Brown is not that she has created these pleasant little works, but that she has convinced so many seemingly qualified people that there is some degree of authenticity to her claims. A musicologist, Dr George Firth, and an educator, Sir George Trevelyan, have set up a fund to relieve her of the necessity of working for a living while she devotes her time to transmitting her great works, and taking extensive training in musicology. You are, of course, entirely welcome to contribute.