I'm gearing up for a series of articles on creativity, which will culminate in an assessment of the nature of American organ improvisation.
In preparation for this, I'm re-reading Music, the Brain and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination by Robert Jourdain.
Jourdain begins his chapter on composition with a discussion of Rosemary Brown.
Brown claimed to be able to take dictation from composers who were no longer living: including Brahms, Beethoven and Bach.
And so, this is how I came across a fun entry in the university music library today.
Author/Composer,etc: Schumann, Robert, 1810-1856 (Spirit)
Uniform title: [Cameos]
Title: Twelve cameos for piano solo / from Robert Schumann ; as dictated to Rosemary Brown.
Published/Produced: Eastwood, Essex : B. Ramsey ; New York : Agent for USA & Canada, A. Broude, c1980.
Physical description: 20 p. of music ; 30 cm.
Notes: Cover title.
Brown claims Schumann dictated the music by means of spirit communication.
Subject: Piano music.
Related name/work: Brown, Rosemary.
Jourdain, in consort with many musicologists, denounces Brown's composition as just that: composition. As far as we can ascertain, she wasn't really in communication with these other composers (her Bach, for instance, lacked counterpoint).
But, the fact that she is creating music is no less amazing, no less inexplicable than if she were somehow in contact with the dead.
If Brown was not in contact with the spirits of other composers, what was she in contact with? From whence does musical inspiration come?
And, for the sake of argument, lets assume that Brown was in contact with Bach (Spirit). From whence is Bach (Spirit) drawing his musical inspiration? Does of the source of Bach's inspiration differ from that of Bach (Spirit)'s inspiration? How does one make a possessive of "(Spirit)"?
This is all a long way of saying that I think that a study of improvisation must begin with composition. It is the aspect of musical creativity that is studied even if it is not understood.
But perhaps these labels too neatly codify our perception of the creative process. Don't composers improvise at the piano? Don't improvisers utilize composed devices? Taken further, don't some "improvisers" just perform what are essentially their own composed pieces?
Don't miss: "Listen to This" by Alex Ross. I've just discovered Ross, the music critic of the New Yorker. He's like the Chuck Klosterman who knows stuff about Sibelius.
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