Rosemary Dickeson Brown was convinced that from her earliest childhood, she was a psychic who had communication with the spirit world. As she herself put it, “I've always had the ability, ever since I can remember, to see and hear people who are thought of as dead.” Such people are not particularly unusual. What made Brown unique was what she eventually did with these alleged powers.
When she was seven, she claimed, the great composer Franz Liszt visited her with the information that when she was older, he would return “and give you music.” If she is to be believed, he kept his word. In March 1964, the widowed Brown was occupied with raising her two children and working as a kitchen helper at a grade school near her London home. This humdrum existence was transformed by Liszt’s reappearance. He led her to her piano and guided her fingers over the keys. Although her musical skills were "very shaky" at best, under his instruction, she found herself playing competently. He also taught her how to transcribe music to paper.
Brown said Liszt explained to her that she had been selected as an ideal “intermediary” for him and other deceased composers. “You have sufficient training for our purposes,” he said. “Had you been given a really full musical education, it would have been no help to us at all. In the first place, a fully musical education would have made it much harder for you to prove that you could not be writing our music yourself. Secondly, a musical background would have caused you to acquire too many ideas and theories of your own. These would have been an impediment to us.”
According to Brown, she soon found herself in the company of Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Grieg, Berlioz, Stravinsky, and other musical greats, all of them eager to share their posthumous works. Brown said she got to know these musicians and their distinct personalities quite well. Chopin, she wrote, was a cheerful spirit, "lighthearted and bantering...very considerate," who loved gaudy clothes and was “appalled” by television. Schubert was modest, kindly and charming. Liszt was a “fusspot” who liked to accompany her when she went grocery shopping (although the high prices alarmed him.) The "very moody" George Gershwin was frequently annoyed by her lack of knowledge about jazz. Debussy was "a hippie type." Bach was silent and stern, with no sense of humor. He would simply dictate his works, and leave. (The fact that she admitted that she had no great liking for his music possibly influenced his attitude.) She even confessed that she had a crush on Beethoven, temperamental and brusque though he was.
Word eventually reached the media about Brown’s remarkable story, and she became a minor media celebrity for several years. She made numerous radio and television appearances, wrote several books dealing with spiritualism, and several albums were released of these “new” works from beyond the grave. For one of these recordings, musicologist Sir Donald Tovey—who had died thirty years earlier—provided the liner notes. Unsurprisingly, he gave it a rave review. Tovey's spirit said these composers were not conveying this music “simply for the sake of offering possible pleasure in listening thereto” but rather to stir humanity “into exploring the unknown of man’s mind and psyche…The knowledge that incarnation in your world is but one stage in man’s eternal life should foster policies which are more far-seeking than those frequently adopted at present.”
As can be imagined, there was a great deal of skepticism about the actual authorship of these musical pieces. Few doubted her sincerity, but musicologists often dismissed her “transcriptions” as substandard imitations of genuine works of these composers. (However, it must be said that most critics gave the impression of allowing their disbelief in spiritualism to color their views of the music Brown presented.) Perhaps the best argument against the authenticity of Brown’s “spirit music” is the fact that no one considers any of it to be an unqualified knock-your-socks-off masterpiece. If the ghosts of these composers wanted to prove these works were truly theirs, it has been argued, would they not give the world a new “Hallelujah Chorus” or “Ode to Joy?” On the other hand, skeptics have never convincingly explained how a woman with only a handful of childhood piano lessons, a disinterest in classical works, and a general musical inaptitude was able to compose these works at all. The British composer Richard Rodney Bennett commented, “If she is a fake, she is a brilliant one, and must have had years of training…Some of the music is awful, but some is marvelous. I couldn't have faked the Beethoven.”
Ian Parrot, a prominent Welsh music professor, commented, “I believe any flaws [in Brown’s “transcribed” works] are due to her problem in communicating. Writing down a symphony is almost a super-human task. Poor Beethoven would probably find it virtually impossible to give it to her.”
Malcolm Troup, professor at the London Guildhall School of Music, perhaps summed it up best: “I cannot explain it…The music is so true to the works we know by the great composers that she would have to be the most fantastic expert on every branch of music to even try and make it up. There are some things we cannot explain. This is one of them.”
Brown took the naysayers with calm good humor, and for many years, continued quietly with her “transcribing,” even after the media lost interest in her. She eventually produced over four hundred works. In the mid-1980s, her health began to fail, which probably weakened her powers, as the ghostly “visits” ceased at about that time. She died at the age of 85 on November 16, 2001.
If she was right about the afterlife, she had a lot of very important old friends waiting for her.
[Note: Below are clips of Brown's "transcriptions" from Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin.]