My Weirdest Record: A Musical Seance by Rosemary Brown

I’ve been reading and writing about music for most of my life, but when I found out about Rosemary Brown, I was convinced that I found the strangest story in the history of popular music.

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A rather common British widow living in a quiet London borough, Rosemary Brown appeared from out of nowhere in the late 60s with a rather bold statement: she was a psychic medium, and history’s greatest classical composers, including Beethoven, Chopin and Brahams, were contacting her from beyond the grave to share “new” musical compositions with her.

As you can imagine, with a claim like that, Rosemary quickly became something of a media sensation, appearing in magazines, radio specials and talk shows, discussing her powers and sharing the music that was “given” to her by history’s greatest composers.

At some point, her popularity was even great enough for Philips to sign her to a recording contract and release A Musical Seance,  record featuring 17 original compositions “inspired” by the greats who supposedly reached out and contacted her with some new tunes they were working on up by the pearly gates.

The album, and Brown’s music as a whole, seemed to divide the musical community at the time. More than a few critics and composers of the era honestly thought she was genuine, so impressed by her work that they completely bought into her claims. But many more were completely dismissive, calling her out as bogus and  her work as substandard imitations without any musical merit. A few critics, however, seemed to be somewhat split. They doubted her claims of psychic powers for sure, but they were still impressed with Rosemary’s ability as a composer.

That’s pretty much the view I take when listening to Brown’s music. I don’t believe she had psychic powers or could communicate with any otherworldly spirits, but the music she was presenting as “new” works from classical greats are  pretty damn good to my untrained ear, especially since she had very little experience playing the piano, and no formal training at all in songwriting or composition. The fact that she was able to write any kind of classical composition that was the least bit presentable at all is impressive to me, and the fact that she could pass them off as the works of great classical composers is even more astonishing.

While I don’t believe that Rosemary Brown had any psychic powers, I can’t decide if she was a fraud who was trying to pass off her work as something greater, or if she honestly believed she could communicate with the dead and that they were the ones giving her these songs. However, after watching some interviews of her, I’m willing to believe the latter. She comes off as so sincere, so honest and so innocent about the whole thing, that I really think she really believed what she was saying.

Am I saying that I think she was crazy or heard voices? Not really. Instead, I think that convincing herself she was a psychic may have been her mind’s way of explaining her savant-like gift for composition to herself. And when you think about it, that was probably a better way to explain it to others as well. I bet that more people would be willing to believe the idea of a psychic contacting the spirits of dead composers than the idea of a nobody with no musical training composing such great music.

Of course, I say that as someone with zero knowledge of classical music, aside from what was in Amadeus, so maybe she really is a blatant and incompetent fraud and I just don’t know any better.

But judge for yourself, click here to download A Musical Seance, and let me know what you think. Was Brown an incredibly gifted mimic? An outsider artist of legendary proportions? Or just a cheap fraud who only got any attention at all because of her outlandish claims?

 

2 Responses to My Weirdest Record: A Musical Seance by Rosemary Brown

  • I was Brown’s neighbour throughout my childhood and adolescence. As I explained in a comment here, I believe that she was of sound mind and consciously fraudulent, as distinct from someone who had convinced herself that she had supenatural powers as the result of mental illness, essentially for two reasons. 1 – the hesitant, amateurish playing I heard through the ceiling separating her home and mine in the 1980s is consistent with Brown trying to convey the impression that she lacked musical ability as part of her attempt to make her claim that these compositions were “downloaded” from dead composers credible. 2 – My family and I had first hand and involuntary experience of Brown’s fraudulent, two-faced and deceitful behaviour in our dealings with her outside the context of her professional life, and therefore I have no problem believing that she behaved similiarly in her public life as well.

  • Jussi Jäntti says:

    I hadn’t heard about Rosemary Brown before reading this article. But, simply astonishing. While it is very common to hear “style copies” played e.g. composers, it is simply extreamly rare to come up to this level. I have never heard so qualified style copies. I was looking for the mentioned Bach copies, because it is easier to make a copy of romantic music, for example Schumann copies, but much more difficult to make a proper fuga in Bach’s style. Unfortunately, there was not any Bach samples included.

    As a summary, I cannot make any difference between this music and original one.

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