"John Cage|Cage's Music of Changes was a further indication that the arts in general were beginning to consciously deal with the "given" material and, to varying degrees, liberating them from the inherited, functional concepts of control."
quoted in Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music, ISBN 0028645812
was an American composer who established his own formal and notational systems. Brown was the creator of open form, a style of musical construction that has influenced many composers since — notably the downtown New York scene
Downtown music is a subdivision of American music, closely related to experimental music. The scene the term describes began in 1960, when Yoko Ono—one of the Fluxus artists, at that time still seven years away from meeting John Lennon—opened her loft at 112 Chambers Street to be used...
of the 1980s (see John Zorn
John Zorn is an American avant-garde composer, arranger, record producer, saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist. Zorn is a prolific artist: he has hundreds of album credits as performer, composer, or producer...
) and generations of younger composers.
Among his most famous works are December 1952
with its use of a 'radical' (entirely graphic) score, the open form pieces Available Forms I & II
, and Cross Sections and Color Fields
Brown first devoted himself to playing jazz. He initially considered a career in engineering, and enrolled for engineering and mathematics at Northeastern University (1944–5). 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. He claims to have been influenced by artists of New York School
The New York School was an informal group of American poets, painters, dancers, and musicians active in the 1950s, 1960s in New York City...
, such as Jackson Pollock and Alexander Calder. John Cage
John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, music theorist, writer, philosopher and artist. 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...
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 Mainstream-Time Records (1960–73).
Brown's contact to Cage exposed David Tudor
David Eugene Tudor was an American pianist and composer of experimental music.- Biography :Tudor was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied piano with Irma Wolpe and composition with Stefan Wolpe and became known as one of the leading performers of avant garde piano music. He gave the...
to some of Brown's early piano works, and this connection lead to his music being performed in Darmstadt
Darmstadt is a city in the Bundesland of Hesse in Germany, located in the southern part of the Rhine Main Area.The sandy soils in the Darmstadt area, ill-suited for agriculture in times before industrial fertilisation, prevented any larger settlement from developing, until the city became the seat...
and Donaueschingen. Composers like Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez is a French composer of contemporary classical music, a pianist, and a conductor.-Early years:Boulez was born in Montbrison, Loire, France. As a child he began piano lessons and demonstrated aptitude in both music and mathematics...
and Bruno Maderna
Bruno Maderna was an Italian conductor and composer. For the last ten years of his life he lived in Germany and eventually became a citizen of that country.-Biography:...
heard his music, and promoted his music, so that Brown's music was starting to be published, and performed more.
Brown died in 2002 of cancer.
For a great deal of Brown's compositions the music is composed as fixed modules (though often with idiosyncratic mixtures of notation), but the order is left free to be chosen during performance by the conductor. The material is divided in numbered "Events" on a series of "Pages." The conductor uses an arrow pointer to indicate which page, and with his left hand indicates which event is to be performed while his right hand cues a downbeat to begin an event. The speed and intensity of the downbeat suggests the tempo and dynamics.
Brown's first open-form piece, Twenty-Five Pages,
was twenty-five unbound pages, and called for anywhere between one and twenty-five pianists. The score allowed the performer(s) to arrange the pages in whatever order they saw fit.. 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
Alexander Calder was an American sculptor and artist most famous for inventing mobile sculptures. In addition to mobile and stable sculpture, Alexander Calder also created paintings, lithographs, toys, tapestry, jewelry and household objects.-Childhood:Alexander "Sandy" Calder was born in Lawnton,...
's mobile sculpture
A mobile is a type of kinetic sculpture constructed to take advantage of the principle of equilibrium. It consists of a number of rods, from which weighted objects or further rods hang. The objects hanging from the rods balance each other, so that the rods remain more or less horizontal...
s and the spontaneous decision making used in the creation of Jackson Pollock's action paintings.
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 in 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 1, Brown used this graphic notation on the staff in some sections of the score.
December 1952 and FOLIO
is perhaps Brown's most famous score. It is part of a larger set of unusually notated music called FOLIO
. Although this collection is also misconstrued as coming out of nowhere historically, music notation has existed in many forms—both as a mechanism for creation and analysis. Brown studied what is now called Early Music, which has its own system 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 made—especially for a Northeasterner who grew up playing and improvising jazz.
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. Since each is dated individually, one can see that Brown wrote the very abstract December 1952
and then moved back towards forms of
notation that contain more specific musical information.
- Fromm Music Foundation: President from 1984 to 1989. Recommended several American composers of note for commissions including Henry Brant
Henry Dreyfuss Brant was a Canadian-born American composer. An expert orchestrator with a flair for experimentation, many of Brant's works featured spatialization techniques.- Biography :...
, Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman is an American saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer. He was one of the major innovators of the free jazz movement of the 1960s....
, David Lang
David Lang is an American composer living in New York City. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music for The Little Match Girl Passion.-Biography:...
, Todd Machover, Steve Mackey
Steve Mackey is a British musician and record producer best known for playing bass guitar in the band Pulp. He also played bass for Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker in the latter's solo career, and worked as a songwriter and producer with artists such as M.I.A...
, Steve Reich
Stephen Michael "Steve" Reich is an American composer who together with La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass is a pioneering composer of minimal music...
, William Susman
William Joseph Susman, born August 29, 1960 in Chicago, is an American composer of concert and film music as well as an accomplished pianist. He belongs to the generation of American composers that came of age in the late twentieth century, received traditional academic training while remaining...
, James Tenney
James Tenney was an American composer and influential music theorist.-Biography:Tenney was born in Silver City, New Mexico, and grew up in Arizona and Colorado. He attended the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music, Bennington College and the University of Illinois...
and Joan Tower
Joan Tower is a Grammy-winning contemporary American composer, concert pianist and conductor. Lauded by the New Yorker as "one of the most successful woman composers of all time", her bold and energetic compositions have been performed in concert halls around the world...
- American Music Center
The American Music Center is a non-profit organization which aims to promote the creating, performing, and enjoying new American music. The organization was founded in 1939 by composers Marion Bauer, Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson, Harrison Kerr, Otto Luening, and Quincy Porter.The organization has a...
: President from 1986–1989.
- Time-Mainstream: Repertory director for new-music recordings between 1960 and 1973. Oversaw the label's recordings of works by 49 composers from 16 countries, among them Ives, Cage, Nono, Maderna, Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and Iannis Xenakis and the first commercial recordings of Scelsi, Wolff and Bussotti. Wergo
WERGO is a German record label focusing on contemporary classical music. It was founded in 1962 by the art historian Werner Goldschmidt and the musicologist Helmut Kirchmayer and is currently based in Mainz, Germany....
has re-issued twelve of the recordings on four box sets.
- Composer-in-residence / or visiting professor at: California Institute of the Arts, UC Berkeley, Peabody Conservatory, Rotterdam Kunststichting, the Basel Conservatory of Music, Yale University, Indiana University, the American Academy in Rome, Aspen, and Tanglewood.
- Home Burial (1949), for piano
- Three Pieces for Piano (1951)
- Music for Violin, Cello & Piano (1952)
- Perspectives (1952), for piano
- Twenty-Five Pages (1953), for 1-25 pianos
- Octet I (1953), for eight loudspeakers
- Indices (1954), for chamber orchestra
- Forgotten Piece (1954), for piano
- Folio and 4 Systems (1954), for variable instrumentation
- Indices [Piano Reduction] (1954)
- Octet II (1954), for eight loudspeakers
- Music for Cello and Piano (1955)
- Four More (1956), for piano
- Jambono Acapoco (1957), for piano
- The Kind of Bird I Am (1957), for orchestra
- Pentathis (1958), for chamber ensemble
- Hodograph I (1959), for chamber ensemble
- Available Forms I (1961), for chamber orchestra
- Available Forms II (1962), for two orchestras
- Novara (1962), for chamber ensemble
- From Here (1963), for chamber orchestra
- Times Five (1963), for chamber ensemble
- Corroboree (1964), for three or two pianos
- Nine Rarebits (1965), for one or two harpsichords
- String Quartet (1965)
- Calder Piece (1966), for four percussionists and mobile
- Module I (1966), for orchestra
- Module II (1966), for orchestra
- Event: Synergy II (1967), for chamber ensemble
- Module III (1969), for orchestra
- Small Pieces for Large Chorus (1969)
- Syntagm III (1970), for chamber ensemble
- New Piece (1971), for variable instrumentation
- New Piece Loops (1972), for orchestra and chorus
- Sign Sounds (1972), for chamber orchestra
- Time Spans (1972), for orchestra
- Centering (1973), for solo violin and ensemble
- Cross Sections and Color Fields (1975), for orchestra
- Wikiup (1979), sound installation for six independent playing devices
- Windsor Jambs (1980), for chamber ensemble
- Folio II (1982), for variable instrumentation
- Sounder Rounds (1983), for orchestra
- Tracer (1985), for chamber ensemble
- Oh, K (1992), for chamber ensemble
- Tracking Pierrot (1992), for chamber ensemble
- Summer Suite '95 (1995), for piano
- Special Events (1999), for chamber ensemble
- The New York School (includes compositions by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff), hatART, 1993.
- The New York School 2 (includes compositions by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff), hatART, 1995.
- Four Systems, hatART, 1995. (With Eberhard Blum, flutist),
- Synergy, hatART, 1995. (With Ensemble Avantgarde)
- Earle Brown: Music for Piano(s), 1951–1995, New Albion, 1996. (With David Arden, pianist; John Yaffé, producer)
- Brown: Centering: Windsor Jambs; Tracking Pierrot; Event: Synergy II, Newport, 1998.
- American Masters Series: Earle Brown, CRI, 2000.
- Earle Brown: Selected Works 1952-1965 (2006)
- Folio and Four Systems (2006)
- Earle Brown: Chamber Works (2007) DVD
- Earle Brown: Tracer (2007)
- Albertson, Dan (ed.). 2007. "Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics". Contemporary Music Review 26, issues 3 & 4 (subscription access).
- Hoek, D. J. 2004. "Documenting the International Avant Garde: Earle Brown and the Time-Mainstream Contemporary Sound Series". Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association 61, no. 2 (December): 350-60.
- Nicholls, David. 2001. "Brown, Earle (Appleton)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie
Stanley Sadie CBE was a leading British musicologist, music critic, and editor. He was editor of the sixth edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , which was published as the first edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.Sadie was educated at St Paul's School,...
and John Tyrrell
John Tyrrell was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia in 1942. He studied at the universities of Cape Town, Oxford and Brno. In 2000 he was appointed Research Professor at Cardiff University....
. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Ryan, David. n.d. "Earle Brown: A Sketch". Liner notes essay. New World Records
New World Records is a record label based in New York City specialising in American music. The label was established in 1975 through a Rockefeller Foundation grant to produce a 100 disc anthology covering 200 years of American music....
- Welsh, John P. 1994. "Open Form and Earle Brown’s Modules I and II (1967)". Perspectives of New Music 32, no. 1 (Fall): 254–90.
- Yaffé, John. 2007. "An Interview with Earle Brown." Contemporary Music Review 26, issues 3 & 4 (subscription access).