On 17 October 1968, listeners to the B . B. C. were astounded to hear a presenter, Miss Monica Sims, announce that she was going to broadcast music that Liszt, Chopin and Beethoven had dictated from the After-Life to a certain Rosemary Brown… The station then broadcast some unknown works where the style of each of the announced composers could be recognized. The following day, thousands of letters arrived for the Director of the B. B. C. The listeners, very troubled, were asking for information on Rosemary Brown. Where did she come from? Was she a cheat? Had she received any musical instruction? Had any musicologists studied the works that she claimed to have received from the great deceased musicians? etc., etc.
To answer all these questions, the B. B. C. organized other programmes during which it was learnt that Rosemary Brown was a working-class housewife living in London, that she took care of her home, her cooking, her children, that she was a widow, that she had little money, that she had learnt to read music and play a bit of piano in her childhood, but that she knew nothing about the rules of musical composition…
It was also learnt that musicologists specialized in Liszt, Chopin and Beethoven, who came to say so themselves, had found in the works that she claimed to have received from the After-Life, the manner and even certain writing tics of the three composers…
So, Rosemary Brown became a sort of star. The Press consecrated articles to her, televisions showed her and Philips made records of some of her music.
However, many points remained obscure in Mrs Brown’s story… To the point that an English editor asked her to recount what had happened to her.
The good woman went to work. A few months later, she brought an enormous exercise book where, in a rather childish style, the most extraordinary story that could be imagined was related.
The editor published it without changing anything, and the book immediately had enormous success. It was translated into French and published under the title En communication avec l’au-dela (Editions J’ai lu). Guy Breton writes that to resume it would be to betray it and betray its author. Therefore, he only cites some extracts from it. The book begins like this [I have translated from the French version, as I do not possess the original English version]:
“The first time that I saw Franz Liszt, I was about seven and I was already familiar with the spirits of those that we call ‘the dead’.
“I was in the bedroom of a big, old house in London where I still live. I was not frightened in the least when I saw him standing at the foot of my bed. I was used to seeing ‘spirits’, that most people call ‘ghosts’, since my earliest childhood; so nothing in these visions terrified me.
“During this first meeting, Liszt showed himself to me as an old man. His long hair was very white and he was dressed in what I took for a sort of long black dress. At seven years old, I didn’t know that it was a soutane… His visit was very brief. The only thing that he said to me that morning was that, in this world, he had been a composer and a pianist; he added: ‘When you grow up, I’ll come back and give you music…’ “
Rosemary Brown then recounted how, during the whole of her early childhood, she continued to see beings from another world. Liszt of course appeared to her often. Then she grew up, married, had children, without these visions ever ceasing.
In 1961, she became a widow. She then became a cleaning lady in a school cantine. Bad luck pursued her: she had a fall and broke two ribs. Obliged to remain at home, Mrs Brown, as a distraction, one day opened her piano, an instrument that she had not touched for a long time, and played a few tunes. She writes:
“It was then that Liszt appeared beside me. I soon realised that he was guiding my hands on the keyboard. The music was executed with no effort on my part, and it was a melody that I had never heard before.
“Curiously, I was not at all surprised by this extraordinary event. It all seemed natural and normal to me. I said to myself: ‘That’s very beautiful music’, taking pleasure in listening to the creation of a work that I perfectly knew was not mine. Liszt hadn’t spoken, he just stayed beside me. I was not in a trance, I was seeing him, fully conscious of what was happening.
“Afterwards, he continued to come back and communicate to me more and more musical partitions. About how he did it, I can only say that he used my hands like a pair of gloves. In fact, I couldn’t have played the piano correctly at this time through lack of practice… With his help, however, my playing appeared technically correct.
“At this time, I didn’t write down the music given to me. After a while, Liszt started to talk to me. The notes were in my head or in my fingers; he just told me the name of the piece that we were going to play together.”
After a while, Mrs Brown regretted being the only one to hear these compositions and wanted to write them down. Unfortunately, she did not have sufficient knowledge to do it and made writing mistakes, noting for example a sharp so when it should have been a flat la … Then she had an idea. She writes:
“I realised that it was possible to ask Liszt for the necessary help, which greatly improved my writing…”
One day, Liszt comes with Frederic Chopin.
“When Liszt came with Chopin for the first time, he introduced him to me very solemnly: ‘My friend, Mr Frederic Chopin’.
Chopin then bowed very politely and said: ‘Delighted!’
“Then, he stood back in a reserved manner while I sat down at the piano and worked with Liszt beside me.”
Chopin soon got into the habit of coming alone.
“With him, I work at the piano and don’t hear the music before it comes out. The notes form gradually. He tells me precisely the notes and the chords, and then we play them on the piano. If I attempt a chord and my fingers are on a wrong note, Chopin gives me a slight push; if I let him guide my fingers, he puts them on the right notes. Chopin then exclaims: ‘Ah! That’s very good!’
“But a great part of his new music is too difficult for me to play properly. I make a lot of mistakes and I only obtain a vague idea of what it should be. For example, I was asked to play at Albert Hall for Remembrance Day in 1970. I asked Chopin if it was possible to give me a new piece of music. It had to be something very short, for I was only allowed a few minutes.
“He immediately replied: ‘Of course!’ And over the course of the following days, he came back with a brilliant little Etude, almost a bit too brilliant in my opinion. It took weeks of practice for me to master this piece…”
Later, Mrs Brown would meet many other musicians through Liszt.
“Today, Liszt is the organizer and the director of a group of famous composers who visit me and give me their new compositions. This group has twelve people for the moment: Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schumann, Debussy, Grieg, Berlioz, Rachmaninov and Monteverdi. I have named them in the order that they came to me. Others, like Albert Schweitzer, appeared briefly to me and gave me a few pages of music, but they haven’t come back for the moment. Mozart, for example, only came three times. Today, after six years of work, I have in my drawers around four hundred musical works (In 1978, she said to Joel Andre, during an interview published by Psi International, that she then had around six hundred…): melodies, piano pieces, unfinished string quartets, the beginning of an opera, as well as outlines of concerti and symphonies…”
And, since 1968, these works pose an insoluble problem to musicologists throughout the world…
To be continued.