An Improvising Conductor Gets His Due

EarleBrownFriday morning at Northeastern University in Boston, I’ll be giving the keynote address for Beyond Notation: An Earle Brown Symposium. Though I’d met him a few times, Brown is someone whose music I had never studied in detail, and it’s been revelatory getting to know it better. Just hope I come up with something insightful to say, because the experts start talking after I finish.



  1. says

    A discussion of Brown’s music and position in the musical firmament is long long overdue.

    KG replies: My attempts to read the entire scanty Earl Brown literature in recent weeks (mostly scraps in writings about Cage) emphatically lead to that conclusion.

    • Richard Toop says

      Well, excuse me, but it’s not that scanty! For example, there’s a recent issue of Contemporary Music Review (ed. Dan Albertson) devoted to him, with lots of substantial contributions. And some years back there was a very good article in ‘Perspectives’. Still, more would always be welcome!

  2. Jim Dalton says

    Kyle — I agree about the paucity of literature. Even the Grove’s article seems a bit perfunctory.
    I’ve been reading up a bit in advance of the event and have been shocked at how little there is.

    On the other hand, I have found Brown’s own writing to be engaging, though I’m a little embarrassed at how little of his stuff I had ever read before now.

    Looking forward to seeing you Friday.

    KG replies: John Welsh’s 1994 Perspectives article “Open Form and Earle Brown’s Modules I and II” is very helpful. There’s not a lot else.

  3. says

    It is strange that Earle Brown’s music is so hard to come by, he is the poor relation of the American experimental scene. Is there any reason for this as his notated scores (as opposed to his graph scores) seem to be really original? I would love to hear his music in concert.

    KG replies: I gave a couple of theories in my keynote, which will be up soon. I think it’s partly that he was often ill during the ’80s and ’90s, which curtailed his composing and public appearances while Cage and Feldman’s reputations were really taking off. I think it’s also because conductors look at those scores and shrink back in fear – though we saw a couple of videos during the conference that make it clearer how you conduct the open-form works, and I think if it could be demystified for conductors, they’d find the music tremendously gratifying to conduct, giving them so much more control than conventional music does.