Earle Brown

Last updated

Earle Brown (December 26, 1926 July 2, 2002) was an American composer who established his own formal and notational systems. Brown was the creator of "open form," [1] a style of musical construction that has influenced many composers since—notably the downtown New York scene of the 1980s (see John Zorn) and generations of younger composers.

Contents

Among his most famous works are December 1952, an entirely graphic score, and the open form pieces Available Forms I & II, Centering, and Cross Sections and Color Fields. He was awarded a Foundation for Contemporary Arts John Cage Award (1998). [2]

Life

Brown was born in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, and first devoted himself to playing jazz. He initially considered a career in engineering, and enrolled for engineering and mathematics at Northeastern University (1944–45). He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1945. However, the war ended while he was still in basic training, and he was assigned to the base band at Randolph Field, Texas, in which he played trumpet. The band included saxophonist Zoot Sims. Between 1946 and 1950 he was a student at Schillinger House in Boston, which is now the Berklee College of Music. Brown had private instruction in trumpet and composition. Upon graduating he moved to Denver to teach Schillinger techniques. John Cage invited Brown to leave Denver and join him for the Project for Music for Magnetic Tape in New York. Brown was an editor and recording engineer for Capitol Records (1955–60) and producer for Time-Mainstream Records (1960–73).

Earle Brown (right) with pianist David Arden, August 1995 David Arden with Earle Brown in recording session (cropped).jpg
Earle Brown (right) with pianist David Arden, August 1995

Brown's contact with Cage exposed David Tudor to some of Brown's early piano works, and this connection led to Brown's work being performed in Darmstadt and Donaueschingen. Composers such as Pierre Boulez and Bruno Maderna promoted his music, which subsequently became more widely performed and published.

Brown is considered to be a member of the New York School of composers, along with John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Christian Wolff. Brown cited the visual artists Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock as two of the primary influences on his work. He was also inspired by author, Gertrude Stein, and by many artists he was personally acquainted with such as Max Ernst and Robert Rauschenberg.

Brown was married first to the dancer Carolyn Brown, who danced with Merce Cunningham from the 1950s to the 1970s, and then to the art curator Susan Sollins. Earle Brown died in 2002 of cancer, in Rye, New York, United States. [3]

Open form

A great deal of Brown's work is composed in fixed modules (though often with idiosyncratic mixtures of notation), but the order is left free to be chosen by the conductor during performance. The material is divided in numbered "events" on a series of "pages". The conductor uses a placard to indicate the page, and with his left hand indicates which event is to be performed while his right hand cues a downbeat to begin. The speed and intensity of the downbeat suggests the tempo and dynamics.

Brown's first open-form piece, Twenty-Five Pages, was 25 unbound pages, and called for anywhere between one and 25 pianists. The score allowed the performer(s) to arrange the pages in whatever order they saw fit. [4] Also, the pages were notated symmetrically and without clefs so that the top and bottom orientation was reversible.

Through this procedure, no two performances of an open form Brown score are the same, yet each piece retains a singular identity and his works exhibit great variety from work to work. Brown relates his work in open form to a combination of Alexander Calder's mobile sculptures and the spontaneous decision making used in the creation of Jackson Pollock's action paintings.

Notation

Although Brown precisely notated compositions throughout his career using traditional notation, he also was an inventor and early practitioner of various innovative notations.

In Twenty-Five Pages, and in other works, Brown used what he called "time notation" or "proportional notation" where rhythms were indicated by their horizontal length and placement in relation to each other and were to be interpreted flexibly. However, by Modules I and II (1966), Brown more often used stemless note heads which could be interpreted with even greater flexibility.

In 1959, with Hodograph I, Brown sketched the contour and character abstractly in what he called "implicit areas" of the piece. This graphic style was more gestural and calligraphic than the geometric abstraction of December 1952. Beginning with Available Forms I, Brown used this graphic notation on the staff in some sections of the score.

December 1952 and FOLIO

December 1952 is perhaps Brown's most famous score. It is part of a larger set of unusually notated music called FOLIO. Although this collection is misconstrued as coming out of nowhere historically, music notation has existed in many formsboth as a mechanism for creation and analysis. Brown studied what is now called Early Music, which had its own systems of notation, and was a student of the Schillinger System, which almost exclusively used graph methods for describing music. From this perspective FOLIO was an inspired, yet logical connection to be madeespecially for a Northeasterner who grew up playing and improvising jazz.

December 1952 consists purely of horizontal and vertical lines varying in width, spread out over the page; it is a landmark piece in the history of graphic notation of music. The role of the performer is to interpret the score visually and translate the graphical information to music. In Brown's notes on the work he even suggests that one consider this 2D space as 3D and imagine moving through it. The other pieces in the collection are not as abstract. According to dates on the scores, Brown wrote December 1952 and then moved back towards forms of notation that contain more specific musical information.

Other activities

Works

Selected discography

Related Research Articles

Musical composition An original musical piece, or the process of creating a new piece

Musical composition can refer to an original piece or work of music, either vocal or instrumental, the structure of a musical piece or to the process of creating or writing a new piece of music. People who create new compositions are called composers. Composers of primarily songs are usually called songwriters; with songs, the person who writes lyrics for a song is the lyricist. In many cultures, including Western classical music, the act of composing typically includes the creation of music notation, such as a sheet music "score," which is then performed by the composer or by other musicians. In popular music and traditional music, songwriting may involve the creation of a basic outline of the song, called the lead sheet, which sets out the melody, lyrics and chord progression. In classical music, orchestration is typically done by the composer, but in musical theatre and in pop music, songwriters may hire an arranger to do the orchestration. In some cases, a pop or traditional songwriter may not use written notation at all and instead compose the song in their mind and then play, sing or record it from memory. In jazz and popular music, notable sound recordings by influential performers are given the weight that written or printed scores play in classical music.

David Tudor Musical artist

David Eugene Tudor was an American pianist and composer of experimental music.

John Cage American avant-garde composer (1912–1992)

John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer and music theorist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.

Morton Feldman American composer (1926–1987)

Morton Feldman was an American composer. A major figure in 20th-century classical music, Feldman was a pioneer of indeterminate music, a development associated with the experimental New York School of composers also including John Cage, Christian Wolff, and Earle Brown. Feldman's works are characterized by notational innovations that he developed to create his characteristic sound: rhythms that seem to be free and floating, pitch shadings that seem softly unfocused, a generally quiet and slowly evolving music, and recurring asymmetric patterns. His later works, after 1977, also explore extremes of duration.

Sheet music is a handwritten or printed form of musical notation that uses musical symbols to indicate the pitches, rhythms, or chords of a song or instrumental musical piece. Like its analogs – printed books or pamphlets in English, Arabic, or other languages – the medium of sheet music typically is paper. However, access to musical notation since the 1980s has included the presentation of musical notation on computer screens and the development of scorewriter computer programs that can notate a song or piece electronically, and, in some cases, "play back" the notated music using a synthesizer or virtual instruments.

Aleatoric music Music in which some element of the composition is left to chance

Aleatoricmusic is music in which some element of the composition is left to chance, and/or some primary element of a composed work's realization is left to the determination of its performer(s). The term is most often associated with procedures in which the chance element involves a relatively limited number of possibilities.

Christian Wolff (composer) American composer of experimental classical music

Christian G. Wolff is an American composer of experimental classical music and classicist.

Benjamin Burwell Johnston Jr. was an American contemporary music composer, known for his use of just intonation. He was called "one of the foremost composers of microtonal music" by Philip Bush and "one of the best non-famous composers this country has to offer" by John Rockwell.

Oliver Knussen British composer and conductor

Stuart Oliver Knussen was a British composer and conductor.

Accompaniment Part of a musical composition

Accompaniment is the musical part which provides the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In homophonic music, the main accompaniment approach used in popular music, a clear vocal melody is supported by subordinate chords. In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment parts typically provide the "beat" for the music and outline the chord progression of the song or instrumental piece.

Annie Gosfield American classical composer

Annie Gosfield is a New-York-based composer who works on the boundaries between notated and improvised music, electronic and acoustic sounds, refined timbres and noise. She composes for others and performs with her own group, taking her music to festivals, factories, clubs, art spaces and concert halls. Much of her work combines acoustic instruments with electronic sounds, incorporating unusual sources such as satellite sounds, machine sounds, detuned or out-of-tune samples and industrial noises. Her work often contains improvisation and frequently uses extended techniques and/or altered musical instruments. She won a 2012 Berlin Prize.

Graphic notation is the representation of music through the use of visual symbols outside the realm of traditional music notation. Graphic notation became popular in the 1950s, and can be used either in combination with or instead of traditional music notation. Graphic notation was influenced by contemporary visual art trends in its conception, bringing stylistic components from modern art into music. Composers often rely on graphic notation in experimental music, where standard musical notation can be ineffective. Other uses include pieces where an aleatoric or undetermined effect is desired. One of the earliest pioneers of this technique was Earle Brown, who, along with John Cage, sought to liberate performers from the constraints of notation and make them active participants in the creation of the music.

Joseph Clyde Schwantner is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer, educator and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 2002. He was awarded the 1970 Charles Ives Prize.

James Orville Fulkerson is an American composer, now living in the Netherlands, of mostly stage, orchestral, chamber, vocal, piano, electroacoustic, and multimedia works. He is also active as a trombonist.

Stephen Montague American musician (born 1943)

Stephen Rowley Montague is an American composer, pianist and conductor who grew up in Idaho, New Mexico, West Virginia and Florida.

Indeterminacy is a composing approach in which some aspects of a musical work are left open to chance or to the interpreter's free choice. John Cage, a pioneer of indeterminacy, defined it as "the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways".

Paul Zukofsky was an American violinist and conductor known for his work in the field of contemporary classical music.

Petr Kotik is a composer, conductor and flutist living in New York City. He was educated in Europe. From 1960 to 1963, Kotik studied composition privately with Jan Rychlík in Prague, and from 1963 to 1966 at the Music Academy in Vienna with Karl Schieske, Hans Jelinek, and Friedrich Cerha. In Prague, he founded and directed Musica Viva Pragensis (1961–64) and the QUAX Ensemble (1966–69). He came to the United States in 1969 at the invitation of Lukas Foss and Lejaren Hiller to join the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at the University at Buffalo.

Anestis Logothetis was a Greek avant-garde composer, noted both for his musical works and his invention of his own graphic notation system.

References

  1. See a critical examination of this notational concept in Clemens Gresser, "Earle Brown's 'Creative Ambiguity' and Ideas of Co-creatorship in Selected Works", Contemporary Music Review, 26/3 (2007), pp. 377–394.
  2. "Earle Brown :: Foundation for Contemporary Arts". www.foundationforcontemporaryarts.org. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  3. Ryan, David (22 August 2002). "Obituary: Earle Brown". The Guardian . Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  4. "Earle Brown – American composer". Encyclopædia Britannica . Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  5. Allan Kozinn, "Earle Brown, 75, Composer Known for Innovation, Dies", The New York Times ( July 8, 2002).
  6. Amy C. Beal, "An Interview with Earle Brown", Contemporary Music Review 26, nos. 3 & 4 (June 2007): 341–356. Citation on p. 356.

Further reading