Rosemary Brown (27 July 1916 – 16 November 2001) was a spirit medium who claimed that dead composers dictated new musical works to her. She created a small media sensation in the 1970s by claiming to produce works dictated to her by the spirits of Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Johann Sebastian Bach, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Franz Schubert, Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy, Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Brown claimed to have been only seven years old when she was first introduced to the world of dead musicians. A spirit with long white hair and a flowing black cassock supposedly appeared and told her he was a composer, and would make her a famous musician one day. Rosemary did not know who he was until, about ten years later, she saw a picture of Franz Liszt. Many other members of Brown's family were allegedly psychic, including her parents and grandparents, and she herself displayed psychic powers at an early age. She told her parents of events before her birth, and when asked how she knew, she replied that her 'visitors' had told her.
Liszt apparently did not reappear until 1964, by which time Brown had married and brought up two children. Living in a Victorian terraced house in Balham, South London, she was now a seemingly unexceptional middle-aged widow. Before 1964 she had paid little attention to music and had had little instruction in it. After the Second World War she had bought a second-hand piano and taken lessons (for three years, according to some sources). But a neighbor, once a church organist, was not impressed. "She could just about struggle through a hymn," he said. Then in 1964 Liszt 'renewed contact' and original compositions began flooding in from great musicians of the past. Mrs Brown transcribed pieces from Brahms, Bach, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, Grieg, Debussy, Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven (even though, in life, he was deaf), and Liszt himself. These included a 40-page Schubert sonata, a Fantaisie-Impromptu in three movements by Chopin, 12 songs by Schubert, and two sonatas by Beethoven as well as his 10th and 11th Symphonies, both of them unfinished.
Mrs. Brown claimed that each composer had his own way of dictating to her. Liszt controlled her hands for a few bars at a time, and then she wrote down the notes. Others, like Chopin, told her the notes and pushed her hands on to the right keys. Schubert tried to sing his compositions to her "but he hasn't got a very good voice". Beethoven and Bach simply dictated the notes — a method she said she disliked since she had no idea what the finished product would sound like. Interestingly, all of these composers spoke to her in English. Brown stated this did not surprise her. "Why shouldn't they go on learning on the other side?"
A recording of some of the music produced by Brown was released, and various books by her (including Unfinished Symphonies: Voices from the Beyond) were published.
The opinions of musical critics were varied on the merit of Rosemary's transcriptions. Some agreed that in their style they bore a great resemblance to the composers' published works, though there is no way to validate these subjective opinions and they may have been a case of people hearing what they expected to hear. Forgeries and imitations had frequently been made in the past, but considerable musical knowledge is thought to be required for this.
Mrs. Brown maintained that she had never had any musical training aside from a few piano lessons, though Harry Edwards in a piece in Investigator Magazine in 2005, says "… a perusal of newspaper reports about Ms Brown elicit contradictory information about her alleged lack of musical education. Originally she stated that she had had no musical training, later she was reported to have had only a couple of years of music lessons, and recently admitted to belonging to a musical household and being a competent musician and pianist."
It was suggested that she may have had advanced musical training but then forgotten it in a bad case of amnesia. This suggestion was, however, described as preposterous by the Browns' family doctor. Brown claimed her musical skill was such that she was unable to play many of the pieces she claimed had been dictated to her.
Rosemary was thoroughly investigated by both musicians and psychologists. None could find any way in which she could be cheating. Other explanations were put forward. One was that the composers had left behind them unknown, written music and that Rosemary was able to read these sheets, unwittingly using a form of telepathy. Another suggestion was that she picked up music from people around her by telepathy. However, she did not spend her time in the company of musicians who might have been composing works in the manner of Bach and Brahms.
Of the music itself, Richard Rodney Bennett, the British composer, said: "A lot of people can improvise, but you couldn't fake music like this without years of training. I couldn't have faked some of the Beethoven myself." This assumption has yet to be tested.
Hephzibah Menuhin was also impressed. She insisted: "There is no question but that she is a very sincere woman. The music is absolutely in the style of these composers."
Alan Rich, music critic of New York magazine, took a more sceptical line. Having heard a privately issued record of piano pieces allegedly by the spirits of several dead composers, Rich concluded that they were just sub-standard re-workings of some of their better-known compositions.
In 1969 she was put to a test by the British Broadcasting Corporation, who set her at a piano where she waited for the spirit of Liszt to appear to her. In due course she produced a piece, supposedly dictated by Liszt. Brown claimed the piece was too hard for her to play so another pianist was engaged to play it. The piece was subsequently studied by a Liszt expert, who said it had definite similarities to Liszt's work, but, as Harry Edwards wrote:
"Just because a composition is written and played in the style of a particular individual it doesn’t follow that they wrote it. Many entertainers, such as Liberace, Winifred Atwell and Victor Borge, often entertained audiences with modem songs rendered in the familiar style of the old maestros, and some teachers of music composition set exercises in the style of earlier composers."