Mar 14, 2009

Earle Brown

Earle Brown (1926-2002) was a major force in contemporary music and a leading composer of the American avant-garde from the 1950s. He was associated with the experimental composers John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Christian Wolff who, with Brown, came to be known as the New York School. Like many composers who came to New York City in the 1940s, he joined the American Composers Alliance, and subsequently became a BMI member. He was born in 1926 in Lunenburg, Massachusetts and, in spirit, remained a New Englander throughout his life. Like other artists from that region - Ives, Ruggles, Dickinson - he spoke with his own voice and found his own path.

Brown's influence on the avant-garde community has been philosophical as well as tangible and practical. His conducting techniques and experiments with "time notation", improvisation, and open-form compositional structure have become part of contemporary compositional usage. His early influential orchestral scores include Available Forms 1 and Available Forms 2, and his musical friendships were legendary, from Bruno Maderna who conducted first performances of many of Brown's works to jazz musicians such as Zoot Sims and Gerry Mullligan.

Summer Suite '95 (1995) ", I think a significant departure from my work to this point. Part of the challenge and part of the solution was the computer, which I had never used before. It intrigued me to see what I could do with it and I figured out a way that I could combine old ways of my working with new ways of generating results. As usual, I started with graphically sketching an idea, or structure - range, density, et cetera - then I would see if I could play my sketches. It was like a dancer dancing or a jazz musician performing, except I wasn't following anyone else's tune. I would work at the keyboard, and one of the reasons some of the things are so odd is because I'm not a good pianist. But I could play my sketches and have the results immediately printed out. Basically, it enabled me to take dictation from myself… the suite came out unlike what I might write plodding along daily with a fountain pen. It came out highly personal. Ultimately, what I was doing was realizing my own graphic scores. And once I got the basic material in, I could take this note or that, run it an octave up or down, lock it in, or try it and save it, or not save it.

Summer Suite '95 is definitely the jazziest of my piano pieces. Those are chords that I love to hear. A lot of my chamber orchestra music has lush chords like that, especially Tracking Pierrot. …I'm not interested in avoiding responsibility, Summer Suite '95 is a fully and traditionally notated work; and I certainly have never been embarrassed by writing a beautiful melody, a very lyrical passage, or what I consider a beautiful chord progression.

But I'm also interested in activating, more and more, the interaction between composers and performers, and making music a more collaborative world…" (World Premiere Live Performance). -Note excerpted from EB interview with John Yaffe' (1995)