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17 February 2019

‘For Jean on her Birthday’: Vaughan Williams’s String Quartet in A minor

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RVW Quartet (MS Mus. 1842) 6
'For Jean on her Birthday’: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ inscription on the autograph score of his String Quartet No. 2 (MS Mus. 1842/1).


Seventy-six years ago today, a remarkable present arrived for Jean Stewart’s birthday: the first two movements, in manuscript, of a string quartet, newly composed and dedicated to her. ‘Alas – the scherzo refuses to materialize and will have to wait for next birthday!’ read the accompanying message, signed ‘Uncle Ralph’. [1]   And Ralph Vaughan Williams kept his word: he actually completed the third and fourth movements of the work, his String Quartet no. 2 in A minor, before 1943 was out.


RVW Quartet (MS Mus. 1842) 1
The viola, Jean Stewart’s instrument, opens the first movement (MS Mus. 1842/1). 
String Quartet (No. 2) in A minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams © Oxford University Press 1947. Reproduced by permission. All rights reserved.


Jean Stewart (afterwards Hadley) was a violist, and had come to know Vaughan Williams through Ursula Wood, her close friend and later the composer’s second wife. Stewart had played under Vaughan Williams’s baton in the Leith Hill Festival Orchestra, and also in the first performance of his Double String Trio, an early incarnation of the Partita for Double String Orchestra, in 1938.  Three years later she joined the Menges Quartet, which the violinist Isolde Menges had founded in 1931, and it was this ensemble that Vaughan Williams had in mind when he wrote his Second String Quartet. [2]  The music is not only dedicated to Stewart but written to be played by her: the viola, which opens each movement, is given particular prominence. [3] 


RVW Quartet (MS Mus. 1842) 2
The first four bars of the third movement (Scherzo). In the first bar Vaughan Williams notes the theme’s origin in his music for the 1941 film ‘49th Parallel’ (MS Mus. 1842/1).
© Oxford University Press 1947. Reproduced by permission. All rights reserved.


The Second String Quartet occupies an interesting position in Vaughan Williams’s music, having emerged between the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, with their shockingly different characters. The Fifth Symphony, which had received its première in June 1943, during the quartet’s gestation, is a dappled modal meditation, a Pilgrim’s Progress out of war’s madness towards a refuge of sanity and peace, and it won Vaughan Williams much gratitude.  Michael Kennedy detected some of the same ‘sustained rapture’ in the Quartet, which he saw (along with the Oboe Concerto of 1944) as a ‘satellite’ [4] or a ‘side-shoot’ of the symphony. [5]  Yet the Quartet can also ‘be seen to share the same mood’ as the Sixth Symphony – a remorseless, vein-freezing utterance astonishingly unlike the Fifth – which was begun the following year: Jeffrey Richards perceives a ‘bleak, anguished and jagged’ character in the first three movements, though they do not make quite the same terrifying plunge as the symphony into a world of rage and ruin from which, even as we listen, the last of beauty is wrenched away.  It is also significant that in the score of the Scherzo Vaughan Williams explicitly notes his re-use of a theme originally written for the war film ‘49th Parallel’, specifically for scenes in which the Nazis appear. [6] This is not an untroubled soundscape, and yet the Epilogue – marked ‘Greetings from Joan to Jean’ because of its origin in music for an abandoned film about St. Joan of Arc – is rest and benediction. [7]  If the Fifth is Vaughan Williams’ symphony of consolation, and the Sixth his symphony of desolation, the string quartet lies bittersweetly in between.


RVW Quartet (MS Mus. 1842) 5
First movement, bars 20-22 (MS Mus. 1842/1).
© Oxford University Press 1947. Reproduced by permission. All rights reserved.


‘I am longing to get my teeth into it & for you to come & hear it with the [Menges] Quartet, and then to work it & really get to know it,’ Stewart had written to Vaughan Williams on receiving the final two movements. ‘Oh we are going to have a great time with “my” Quartet bless you!’ [8] The Second String Quartet was heard privately at the White Gates, Vaughan Williams’s house in Dorking, in July 1944, and then given its first public performance by the Menges Quartet on the 12th October that year: Jean Stewart’s present to the composer on his birthday. [9]  (The occasion of the première was one of the lunchtime concerts at the National Gallery organised by Myra Hess and Howard Ferguson, which ran from the outbreak of war in 1939 until 1946). [10]  After some revisions, and including, at Vaughan Williams’ request, the musicians’ markings, the score was published in 1947 by the Oxford University Press (with the dedication ‘For Jean on her Birthday’ clearly stated, as instructed by the composer). [11] 


RVW Quartet (MS Mus. 1842) 4
Vaughan Williams writing to Stewart in around 1947: ‘I want it set out as String [Quartet] in A minor (“For Jean on her birthday”)’ (MS Mus. 1842/2)
Reproduced by permission of the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust.


The British Library has been looking after the manuscript score for some years, but has recently been enabled to purchase it outright, thanks to a generous financial contribution by the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. The manuscript (MS Mus. 1842) now belongs to the nation – but of course it shall always remain Jean Stewart’s birthday present. ‘Without exaggeration this Quartet is the most lovely thing that has happened to me in my life,’ was her verdict, ‘& it will continue to be a joy to me as long as I live’. [12]  It is a special manuscript to have in the Collections. 


Dominic Newman

Manuscripts Cataloguer


[1] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Jean Stewart, 16 February 1943. []

[2] Butterworth, Neil, Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Guide to Research (London: Garland, 1990). 4072.280000 vol. 779.

[3] Mark, Christopher, ‘Chamber music and works for soloist with orchestra’ in Alain Frogley and Aidan J. Thomson (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Vaughan Williams. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 194.

[4] Kennedy, Michael, The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 286.

[5] Kennedy, Michael, Fluctuations in the response to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams in Alain Frogley and Aidan J. Thomson (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Vaughan Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 284.

[6] Richards, Jeffrey, Vaughan Williams and British Wartime Cinema in Alain Frogley (ed.), Vaughan Williams Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 151, quoted in Christopher Mark, Chamber music and works for soloist with orchestra in Alain Frogley and Aidan J. Thomson (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Vaughan Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[7] Mark, Christopher, ibid. p. 194.

[8] Letter from Jean Stewart to RVW, 18 December 1943. []

[9] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Jean Stewart, (undated; July 1944?). []

[10] Bosman, Suzanne, The National Gallery in Wartime (London: National Gallery, 2008), p.35.

[11] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Jean Stewart (undated, 1947?). []

[12] Letter from Jean Stewart to Ralph Vaughan Williams, 18 December 1943. []




16 November 2018

Elisabeth Lutyens: notebooks, letters, and papers

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Nearly a hundred notebooks belonging to Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-1983) arrived at the British Library earlier this year, in several Sainsbury’s bags-for-life (the extra-large ones, ‘strong and study’ as their elephant illustrations proclaim). The little books are uniform in shape, their covers bear the logos of long-lost London stationers, and a small amount of foliage needed teasing out from their spiral bindings. It soon became apparent that they date from the final two decades of Lutyens’s life: the earliest (1962-3) include plans for a memorial concert for her second husband, the once-influential impresario, conductor, and broadcaster Edward Clark, while the shaky handwriting of the later books offers a stark testimony of her worsening arthritis. While these materials have previously been accessed by a handful of scholars, their forthcoming listing on the British Library’s catalogue will make their contents available to many more future researchers – the same is true of the substantial collection of Lutyens’s correspondence and miscellaneous papers, also now housed at the British Library.[i] This post gives a few glimpses into these notebooks, letters, and papers.


Broadly speaking, the notebooks contain an unpredictable mix of professional and personal notes. There are detailed ideas and jottings for new pieces;[ii] notes for lectures, talks, and for chapters of her 1972 autobiography; and scribbled draft letters to colleagues – where legibility tends to vary according to temperament. But in equal measure there are shopping lists that provide both mundane details of groceries and tantalising insights into Lutyens as hostess (a role she relished), as well as numbers, notes, and doodles documenting her busy telephone schedule. Notebooks dating from the time of her relocation from Belsize Park Gardens to King Henry’s Road contain floorplans and furniture layouts – merely functional but suggestive of familial architectural zeal[iii] – while fraught medical notes overleaf from musical jottings serve as more blunt reminders of the life behind the scores. These are not diaries, and are certainly far from the systematic record-keeping bequeathed to future scholars by composers such as Schumann, but their jumbled contents and messy physical presentation (they often require 180-degree reorientation page after page) offer invaluable snapshots into the later life of this major figure of twentieth-century music.

Lutyens’s famously colourful personality, as well as her quick wit (and temper), are reflected throughout the collection.[iv] Equally striking, though, are the numerous instances of long, persuasive letters about musical causes she deemed important. For instance, she led a petition to obtain a Civil List pension for composer Priaulx Rainier; and she objected at length to the BBC’s meagre commissioning fees, citing the comparatively generous pay of composing for film scores (which she did for many years to support her family) and warning against the erosion of composers’ rights. A draft letter to William Glock, with whom she had a long and complex professional relationship, demonstrates her commitment to obtaining proper performance conditions for a new work: drafted over 13 pages, she threatened to withdraw The Essence of our Happiness, op.69, from the 1970 Proms season if it were not given a ‘good cast’ of performers and sufficient rehearsal. She had no qualms about quibbling with friends in order to promote her music, which remained widely neglected until the mid-1960s (and Glock, in his position as BBC Controller of Music, helped with this considerably). A further strongly-argued letter went to Wilfrid Mellers, voicing objections to his 1965 review of O Saisons, O Châteaux!, Op. 13 (1946), following its premiere recording. Later, Mellers invited Lutyens to the only university teaching position of her career, at his York music department in 1975-6; there is extensive correspondence between the two dating from this later period.

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While this collection will contribute to the better understanding of a composer whose music has undoubtedly suffered neglect owing to her gender, it is important not to omit Lutyens's own complicated personal politics and reactionary opinions, which also surface regularly. As early as the 1930s a correspondent pleaded for Lutyens to reconsider her anti-Semitic prejudices, while numerous off-cuff remarks demonstrate her well-documented suspicions about the prominence of gay men in artistic circles. In a draft for her autobiography, she wrote: ‘I, for one, am tired of queers’ quartets and sodomite symphonies, and their hareem of supporters, critics and sycophants (not the music itself, if good, but the edifice of a mutual admiration society supporting it)’.[v] So too we find countless protestations against being labelled a female composer, and a pointed refusal to support causes that promoted women in music and the wider arts (she was, however, clearly impressed by her militant suffragette aunt, Lady Constance Lytton, and appeared briefly in the 1951 documentary To Be a Woman, for which she arranged Ethel Smyth's March of the Women for percussion ensemble). Indeed, her writing makes clear the difficulties she faced as a woman ‘in a man’s world’ – apparently George Dyson wouldn’t permit her, or any other women, to teach composition at the Royal College of Music – and she expressed hope that her juggling of domestic responsibilities, wage-earning, and composing would provide a positive role-model for her daughters and for future generations of women.

More frivolous notebook leaves lead us to a different corner of Lutyens’s mind. Five sides of a notebook, likely dating from 1969, contain jottings based on a doodled female nude. The title is ‘Prisms’, although a crossed-out alternative reads ‘Cherchez la femme, for piano’.[vi] The images below are fairly self-explanatory, and there is no obvious manifestation of ‘Prisms’ in Lutyens’s published work – while there is some gestural regiment affixed to body parts, it is far from her usual rigorous serial technique. Such are the unexpected pleasures of archives!


Several notebooks, and two further Sainsbury’s bags of A4 drafts, plans, and notes relate to Lutyens’s autobiography, A Goldfish Bowl (earlier drafts are titled ‘From Here to Maternity’, while a later version offers a hopeful alternative: ‘Why have you got such big ears, Gran’ma?’). Published in 1972 by Cassell’s, the book had a protracted gestation: Lutyens originally proposed a biography of Edward Clark, apparently to be titled ‘The Man who Cared’ or ‘Contact Extraordinary’, in the hope of gaining posthumous recognition for his considerable influence on the musical infrastructure of early twentieth-century Britain (an excerpt of a draft chapter plan is pictured below), but she was advised to incorporate this into an autobiography of her own.[vii] While writing came easily to Lutyens, her early plans for 52 chapters had to be compressed into 15, and once the manuscript was complete, further months were lost dealing with a lengthy report from the publisher’s legal department. Outraged at the suggestion that numerous passages might land the firm with hefty libel suits, Lutyens upset the lawyers with a 28-page list of her objections.

Quite idiotic

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The 600-plus individual correspondents in Lutyens’s collection of letters are testament to her remarkably wide-reaching professional and personal networks. The contents of the letters also give an impression of her outward-facing persona, as they were sometimes multiply drafted and reworked in notebooks before being typed or neatly copied - the prose considered and (sometimes) carefully calculated. A short roll call of memorable musical correspondents is indicative of her connectedness: Alwyn, Bennett, Dallapiccola, Finnissy, Gerhard, Glock, Goehr, Lambert, Langridge, Maconchy, Manning, Mellers, Schoenberg-Nono, Pears, Rainier, Rawsthorne, Sargent, Saxton, Scherchen, Smyth, Tavener, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Wood. Beyond the musical world, highlights include postcards from Paolozzi, with whom Lutyens collaborated in the mid-1960s, and letters from Stevie Smith. Notes from Sir Edwin Lutyens to the young ‘Betty’ are preserved along with numerous later enquiries to the composer concerning her father’s vast architectural legacy; meanwhile, abundant letters from maternal relatives and in-laws (Lyttons, Balfours, and Ridleys) shed light upon the fading aristocracy into which she was born.

While reading fragments of correspondence inevitably gives a blinkered view of actual historical situations, there is a lot to be gleaned from viewing musical moments and societies through one person’s archive. For instance, following the premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s opera We Come to the River (The Royal Opera House, 12 July 1976), Lutyens sent William Walton a typically acerbic assessment:


On the point of communists, elsewhere Lutyens recounts visiting old friends at a local communist office in Newcastle, who expressed interest in her mining-disaster dramatic scene The Pit (Op. 14, 1947), and suggested they play it at local pit welfare halls. When Lutyens warned they might not appreciate the ‘modern music’, an ex-miner present asked: ‘don’t you think that after two hundred years of capitalist ownership we could stand twenty minutes ‘modern music’?’ Lutyens described herself as ‘always socialist’ and ‘only briefly a communist’, and further opinions on political factions and musical society can be found throughout the papers (notably, in various draft book chapters that cover the infamous slander suit Clark brought against Benjamin Frankel, following accusations that he had mishandled expenses while president of the International Society of Contemporary Music).

Another point of interest is the substantial material, dotted through the decades, that mentions Dartington Summer School – a microcosm of important musical happenings in the mid-late century.[viii]  Lutyens first taught there in 1953, on William Glock’s invitation, and returned many times thereafter. Her student Alison Bauld posted an annotated concert programme from the 1972 summer school – at which time Glock was still director – which should be an interesting read for many:

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Michael Finnissy sent his well-wishes from Dartington in 1981, halfway through Peter Maxwell Davies’s tenure as director, and commented on the tides of change as well as the idiosyncratic ambience long associated with the Summer School:

Max is quite rightly intent on raising the intellectual tone, certainly the ambience is uncomfortably poised between ‘holiday camp for music enthusiasts’ and ‘hotbed of progressive thought’… whether that can be accommodated by Dartington’s financial status I wouldn’t pretend to know. As you can imagine I would rather be at my desk, Devon is all very well but it’s encrusted with a sort of ‘civilised’ socialising that is inappropriate to the healthy evolution of music… in other words what action there is (the Cold Comfort Farm variety) is too damn slow for me.

Indeed, perhaps the most heated exchange of the collection had its roots at Dartington, where Lutyens had made incendiary comments about her former student Richard Rodney Bennett to her composition class in 1965. Word got back to Bennett, leading to an increasingly bitter and personal chain of letters (Lutyens preserved copies of her replies in certain instances like this, and the discrepancy between her irate scrawl and Bennett’s unflappably beautiful penmanship adds a certain visual thrill to the exchange). They reconciled soon after, and later letters from Bennett are much more jovial.

Relationships with many correspondents lasted decades. A particularly affectionate example is the series of almost 70 letters from Robert Saxton, beginning with his first contact with Lutyens as a young composer and prospective pupil aged ‘16 and a quarter’, and continuing regularly as Saxton continued his studies at Cambridge and began early posts at Oxford. These, along with numerous letters and cards from the young composer’s parents, Jean Infield and Ian Saxton, can now be read in conjunction with the letters received by the Saxtons from Lutyens, which are also housed in the British Library (MS Mus. 1726/2).


Lutyens’s letters, notebooks, and papers will be catalogued as MS Mus. 1841, and join the British Library’s existing collection of her music manuscripts (Add MS 64435-64795) and an earlier batch of correspondence acquired in 1985 (Add MS 71144). 112 years after her birth and 35 since her death, Lutyens is beginning to receive more scholarly attention,[ix] but many of her prized compositions remain unperformed. The listing of this material will facilitate further research, not only into Lutyens but into broad swathes and specific corners of twentieth-century musical life.



Frankie Perry is a PhD candidate in musicology at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she is writing a thesis on recent arrangements and reimaginings of nineteenth-century Lieder. She has been at the British Library on a research placement for 3 months, working on the collections of Harrison Birtwistle and Elisabeth Lutyens.


[i] In particular, Meirion and Susie Harries, A Pilgrim Soul: The Life and Work of Elisabeth Lutyens (London: Faber, 1989), and Rhiannon Mathias, Lutyens, Maconchy, Williams and Twentieth-Century Music (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012).

[ii] Glyn Perrin has recalled that Lutyens tended to plot the overarching shape of works in a notebook, before proceeding to sketch straight into full score.

[iii] Her father was the influential architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944).

[iv] Short reminiscences of her ‘forceful, fiery character’ from her children Rose, Tess, and Conrad, and great-niece Jane Ridley, are indicative:

[v] This sentence is found in numerous early drafts, handwritten and typed, for a chapter dealing with issues of gender identity and musical society, for the autobiography while still titled ‘From Here to Maternity’.

[vi] A computerised simplification of the doodle, with certain body parts omitted, is given as Appendix 17 in Sarah Tenant-Flowers, A study of style and technique in the music of Elisabeth Lutyens (PhD Diss., Durham 1991).

[vii] For more on Clark, see Annika Forkert, “Always a European’: Edward Clark’s musical work’, Musical Times, 159/1943 (2018), 55-80.

[viii] Thanks to Emily Hoare for sharing with me a list of personnel present each year at the Summer School, 1948-present.

[ix] See, for instance, Annika Forkert, ‘Magical Serialism: Modernist Enchantment in Elisabeth Lutyens’s O Saisons, O Châteaux!’, Twentieth-century Music, 14/2 (2017), 271-303; further work on Lutyens and Clark by Forkert is ongoing.

31 October 2018

Music from beyond: the Rosemary Brown Collection

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This seasonal post takes a look at MS Mus. 1207-1213, the Rosemary Brown Collection, described in the British Library’s catalogue as ‘manuscripts of piano music purportedly received from the spirits of deceased composers’. Rosemary Brown (1916-2001) was a spiritualist from Balham who, during a period of convalescence following an accident at work in the mid-1960s, began to produce reams of music dictated by the spirits of various composers. In her obituary by the composer and musicologist Ian Parrott, she was described as ‘a modest, sincere and utterly genuine musical medium’.[I]


Rosemary Brown, 1980 [image from]

The British Library’s collection comprises extensive drafts and copies of works ‘inspired by’ canonic composers from Bach to Stravinsky, dating from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s; the majority are for solo piano and by a handful of frequent visitors – most prominently Liszt (Brown’s favourite), Chopin, Schubert, Schumann, and Rachmaninov. Brown is listed consistently as the principal author, allowing publishers to avoid some esoteric copyright conundrums. Liszt appeared to Brown first, and gradually introduced a small troupe of other composers keen to transcribe their posthumous thoughts onto worldly manuscript paper. In later years, perhaps prompted by Brown’s expanding audience, John Lennon, Fats Waller, and Gracie Fields also made appearances and offered some new songs.

 Fields brown

'Song for the World' (Gracie Fields/Rosemary Brown, 1979).


The quality of Brown’s connection with her visitors varied: Robert Schumann, for instance, often appeared fuzzy and crackly, perhaps owing to his own proclivities for reaching into other worlds via table-tipping (Schumann had famously based his last piano work, the Ghost Variations WoO. 24, on a theme dictated to him by the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn).[ii] Clara Schumann would sometimes visit, with Brahms in tow, to transmit new piano miniatures by her husband, though sadly offered none of her own music. Affectionate accounts of Brown’s relationships with the composers, along with amusing anecdotes about their characters and appearances, can be found in her three memoirs: Unfinished Symphonies (1971), Immortals at my Elbow (1974), and Look Beyond Today (1986).

Brown claimed to have had minimal musical training, and to have struggled to keep up as the composers attempted ‘automatic writing’ by moving her hands on the keyboard, or as they dictated phrases at considerable speed. The process was painstaking, and the scribbled early versions of compositions in the manuscript collection contain basic memory aids for the workings of musical notation, as well as extensive crossings-out and revisions. Brown caused quite a media stir in the late 1960s and 1970s, and widespread interest from journalists, broadcasters, and musicians led her to appear on radio and television shows – including a delightfully earnest BBC documentary – and meet figures such as Leonard Bernstein, who was impressed by all but one bar of Rachmaninov’s posthumous offerings. She underwent extensive psychiatric tests by international experts, all of whom declared her of sound mind, and even agreed to attempt a supernatural transcription while the BBC recorded: she was unsure whether any composer would agree to work under such pressure, but fortunately Liszt stepped up and produced the rather lovely ‘Grübelei’.

Among Brown’s foremost musicological advocates were Ian Parrott, a professor at Aberystwyth University who wrote a monograph devoted to Brown’s music,[iii] and Sir Donald Francis Tovey, who had once supported Jelly d’Aranyi in her spirit-led quest to discover Schumann’s lost violin concerto. Tovey, who had died in 1940, returned to transmit a lengthy programme note for a 1970 recording of Brown’s piano music. More recently, Brown has piqued the interests of music psychologists including John Sloboda, while Matthew Brown has explored works transmitted to Rosemary by Debussy in a chapter titled ‘The medium and the message’, and Érico Bomfim has tested the authenticity of a Schubert-Brown sonata by scouring it for formal and harmonic Schubertian idiosyncrasies.[iv]

The Schubert-Brown connection is interesting from many angles. The portly composer popularly known as ‘little mushroom’ appeared to Brown as being ‘really quite handsome, particularly as he does not have that “puffy”, rather jowly look familiar from most portraits'.[v] Perhaps his eternal form resembled the rather more dashing drawing of the young Schubert attributed to Leopold Kupelwieser, which was widely circulated in the second half of the twentieth century after appearing in a book by Otto Erich Deutsch, but was later revealed as a misidentification by scholars in the 1990s.[vi]

Schubert 1
















Schubert 2The Schubertian highlights include a pair of Moments Musicaux, a handful of Impromptus, and a sonata; there are also fragments of music for string quartet and several songs. One such song was received from Schubert in October 1967, the first draft titled ‘Desolation’ and later updated to ‘Spring Sorrow’. It’s squarely phrased, harmonically simple, and melodically clunky: had Schubert penned this while ‘with us’, it’s unlikely to have become a highlight of the Deutsch catalogue. Another, titled ‘Musing’, demonstrates a combination of poetic tropes that appealed to the living Schubert with those informed by his experiences of an afterlife (‘Can there be life after death’s bitter sorrow? Wilt thou re-waken in Heaven tomorrow?’). More interesting than the musical content of either song is the language of the text, which was received in English. Brown has explained that some of her composer communicators had perfected several languages after their earthly lives had ended, while others relied on the translation services of spiritual intermediaries. In Schubert’s case it seems to be the latter, [vii] as his English remained very poor – a likely suspect for these singing translations could be the spirit of A.H. Fox Strangways (1859-1948), whose popular English volumes of Lieder were first published during Brown’s childhood and have a certain twee kinship with these Schubert-Brown lyrics.


Schubert 3


Desolation / Spring Sorrow, 5th October 1967

Among the flow'rs I wander,
And pluck a random bloom;
Although it shines with a wondrous beauty,
It fails to pierce my gloom.

Above the birds are singing
In trees so green and fair;
Although their songs are so gay and charming,
They fail to ease my care.

A grief that nothing can banish
Has clouded over my heart:
For my love whom I love dearly,
Alas! Is far apart.






One question frequently put to Brown by both believers and sceptics concerned famous cases of unfinished works, of which Schubert’s B Minor Symphony D. 759 is a popular example. Brown recalled that she had ‘actually heard the end of the Unfinished Symphony and it is very, very beautiful’, and expressed hope that one day the score would be dictated to her.[viii] Apparently, though, Schubert later changed his mind, and decided that the symphony should forever remain a mystery in two movements; perhaps he was enjoying the completion efforts of scholars such as Brian Newbould, which were being undertaken with gusto around the time of Franz’s visits to Balham. However, Schubert did assure David Cairns that certain manuscripts of famous ‘lost’ works, such as the ‘Gastein’ symphony, were still waiting to be discovered, and he refuted Schumann’s pervasive suggestion that the ‘Grand Duo’ D. 812 is in fact a piano transcription of a lost orchestral work (he apparently declined to pass judgement on Joseph Joachim’s 1855 orchestration). Those hoping for completions of works by the man himself will only find further disappointments in perusing the Brown collection: for instance, while Schubert dictated a slow quartet movement in A-flat major, it does not provide a continuation of the tantalising A-flat ‘Andante’ fragment of the C Minor quartet, D.703/ii

Revisiting the Rosemary Brown phenomenon half a century on prompts questions that weren’t asked at the time. While the primary concern of Brown’s contemporaneous critics was to ascertain the ‘authenticity’ of the works she received on formal musical grounds, I wonder whether musicologists today would pursue different lines of enquiry: for instance, why would only established canonic composers – (un)dead white men – take advantage of Brown’s considerable media platform? What a shame that no women composers, composers of colour, and entirely unknown names of the past came forth to make themselves known. Perhaps their time is still to come, if there’s a willing twenty-first century medium out there to pick up where Brown left off… 

With the interest in composers’ afterlives gaining fictional tract in novels like Jessica Duchen’s Ghost Variations (a retelling of the discovery of Schumann’s violin concerto) and Frédéric Chaslin’s On achève bien Mahler (in which Mahler appears in 2011 with the intention of completing his tenth symphony), perhaps interest in Brown’s unusual musical life is due a revival. Whether one takes her at her word or not, her activities raise interesting – and, naturally, unanswerable – questions about pastiche and divine transcription, authorship and intermundane labour, gendered notions of genius (which, in the case of Brown’s visitors, seemingly transcends even death) and domesticity (the music is facilitated by a suburban housewife). Rosemary Brown’s output and reception give a snapshot into a bizarre pocket of mid-late twentieth-century musical culture, and her memoirs are certainly a thrilling late-October read.


Frankie Perry is a PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, writing a thesis on arrangements and reimaginings of nineteenth-century lieder. She is nearing the end of a 3-month research placement at the British Library where she has been working on the collections of Harrison Birtwistle and Elisabeth Lutyens.



[i] Parrott, ‘Obituary: Rosemary Brown’, The Guardian, 11/12/2001:

[ii] Brown offers an alternative explanation – that ‘[she doesn’t] think his powers of concentration as regards communication are very good really’. Unfinished Symphonies, 147. On Schumann and tables, see John Daverio, Robert Schumann: Herald of a “New Poetic Age” (1997), and Laura Tunbridge, Schumann’s Late Style (2007).

[iii] Parrott, The Music of Rosemary Brown (1978).

[iv] Sloboda, The Musical Mind (1985); M. Brown, Debussy Redux: The Impact of his Music on Popular Culture (2012); Bomfim, ‘O enigma da música mediúnica: investigando uma forma-sonata atribuída ao espírito de Schubert pela médium Rosemary Brown’, Il Congresso da Associação Brasileira de Teoria e Análise Musical (2017).

[v] Unfinished Symphonies, 128-9.

[vi] See articles by Rita Steblin, Elmar Worgull, and Michael Lorenz in Schubert durch die Brille, 1992-2001.

[vii] Brown’s statements on Schubert’s language skills are contradictory: in Unfinished Symphonies she claims to have attempted to take down some songs in German (no manuscripts in the British Library collection correspond to this), while in media appearances relays that they came through directly in English.

[viii] Unfinished Symphonies, 133.