Attention to text and independence of musical line are the driving forces in Gregory W. Brown’s work. His primary focus is on vocal and chamber music, though he also conducts, creates technology, and publishes scholarly works.
Brown is best known for his Missa Charles Darwin, a work combining the structure of the standard mass with texts from Charles Darwin.
— The Crossing (@crossingchoir) June 24, 2017
un/bodying/s is a 30-minute cantata commissioned by The Crossing for the Month of Moderns series. The piece was premiered on June 24, 2017 and will be released on CD in Autumn 2017.
Commissioned work for mixed chorus and piano, with brief solo sections featuring mezzo and baritone. The work was premiered by the Da Camera Singers at Helen Hills Hills Chapel on January 20, 2012. There were two additional performances of the work as part of Da Camera’s 40th Anniversary Season: Jan 18 & 19, 2014. A recording of this piece as performed by The Crossing is available on my CD, Moonstrung Air. From the program note for Vidi Aquam by Da Camera Singers director, Sheila Heffernon: The text for Vidi Aquam comes from an unusual source. In the sixteenth century a group of Italian Catholic reformers (The Spirituali), wrote a book postulating the idea that salvation came simply through “faith alone.” This idea shook the foundation of the Catholic Church, and helped spur on the Reformation. The treatise, Del Beneficio di Giesu Christo Crocifisso was secretly passed from one member of the Spirituali to another, until it found a wider audience. In 1552 the original Italian was translated into French, with an introduction; from the French it was translated into English in 1575. It is from the English translation of the French introduction that Brown took his text for Vidi Aquam. The title comes from the chant that he incorporates into the setting of his text. The composer states: “The chant Vidi Aquam was a natural choice as a framing device for two reasons: firstly, the text of Vidi Aquam speaks to the notion of sola fide . . . secondly, the recurring images of water within the translator’s introduction invited connections to a chant with water as its main image.”
Love (&) Doubt uses two three-part choirs (SST & ABB) to depict the conflicting moods and emotions of poet Kevin Devaney‘s inventive split text. The structure is an architectural puzzle that mimics the layout of the poem, presenting each side of the poem first on their own, then marrying them together. The piece was created for the San Diego Pro Arte Voices — Disarm Hate — project in response to gun violence in America. perusal score
Dr. Brown won the 2015 Boston Choral Ensemble Commission Competition and created this work for their spring 2016 season. The text is from As You Like It and presents Rosalind (as Ganymede) telling Orlando all the horrible things she will do to him to cure him of his love, all the while with ulterior motives. It is rife with archetypal Shakespearian double meaning, assumed identity, and young love. score available on request
Swallows Travel To and Fro [satb + pno]
The Fabric of Streams [satb]
A Black Birch in Winter [satb]
Sonett XXV [satb + pno] (Shakespeare in German translation)
The Echoing Green [satb + orch]
Sweet Hour of Prayer [atbb] or [satb]
The Morning Trumpet [atbb] or [satb]
The Wind that I Love the Best [ssa + pno]
A Round (or Two) with the Bard [satb + pno]
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis [ss + org]
Five Women Bathing in Moonlight [ssaatb]
vox dicentes: clama [ssaa]
Abschied vom Leser [atbb]
Entrai, pastores, entrai [satb]
Vo girand per gli osterie [satbb]
…brevissima, in nomine pacis [smatb]
She’s Like the Swallow [ssa + oboe]
The Dying Californian [tenor solo + ttb]
(An Uncommon) Wassail [tttbbb]
Still, Still, Still [satb]
Shenendoah [satb + pno]
The Birds begun at Four o’clock — [satb / satb]
Four Miniature Love Songs [satb]
Prayer of Reflection [satb + org]
Panis Angelicus [satb]
Ave Maria [satb]
I had the privilege of working with an exceptional text for this art song: Caliban in After-life by Todd Hearon. Prospero (Magician and rightful Duke of Milan) is exiled by his usurping brother and stranded on an island for twelve years along with his daughter, Miranda. The sole non-magical inhabitant of the island is the man-beast Caliban, spawn (it’s said) of the Devil and a witch. Prospero’s relationship with Caliban is complex: Prospero both civilizes Caliban (serving as a father figure and school-master) and enslaves him (as punishment for aggressions against Miranda). At the close of the play, Prospero and a host of other Italians that have found their way to the island set sail back for Milan. All wrongs are set right… except that Shakespeare never tells us what happens to Caliban. In Todd Hearon’s imagined monologue we hear Caliban try to make sense of his circumstances as he is abandoned by everything he knows of humanity. Hearon’s text is at once a critique of colonialism and a heart-breaking cry of loneliness and confusion. The music is loosely in the form of a mini-opera with prelude, recitative, and aria-like passages. The instruments play various roles in Caliban’s shifting moods. His rage at Prospero becomes incandescent at times as he shifts between despondency, anger, and nostalgia. The music was written for Phillips Exeter Academy’s iconic Class of 1945 Library and their November 17, 2014, celebration of William Shakespeare’s life and work. The library’s copies of the Second and Fourth Folios were on display during the show.
We’ll to the Woods No More is a song-cycle collaboration with singer Geoffrey Silver with texts from A. E. Housman. For more information about the upcoming release of this set, please watch the video at left.
A suite of three art songs for soprano with alto flute (doubling piccolo) and piano on texts by Rainer Maria Rilke. The set was written for and is dedicated to soprano Mary Hubbell. This recording also features Alice Jones (flute) and Brent Funderburk (piano). score available on request
The Dawn Redwood (sop + pno)
Unstable Dream (mezzo + pno)
Three Songs for Countertenor (countertenor + continuo org)
Sulla riviera di Acheronte (baritone + pno)
Look down, fair moon (baritone, cl, tbn, guitar, cello)
If you and I awakening… (mezzo + pno)
Stanzas (sop + continuo org)
This set of quirky waltzes for piano sprang out of a commission from Judith Gordon, who did a set of short waltzes by local composers. I enjoyed the process so much that I wrote two more. score
The phenomenon of sunshine during rain is recognized around the world as an unusual and (possibly) supernatural event. In some Asian cultures it is referred to as a “fox’s wedding” [kitsune no yomeiri in Japanese], a time when the forest creatures would come out and celebrate the union of two foxes. This piece depicts piercing sunshine coupled with persistent, quiet rain, opening into a brief glimpse of the wedding ceremony and concluding recessional, back into the deep of the forest. I first became aware of this bit of folklore from the opening of Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990). Fox’s Wedding won First Prize in the Grumo Festival Call for Scores (2012). perusal score
Sweet & Twenty was originally scored for solo guitar, here rewritten for piano. It was premiered alongside Leos Janácek’s “Dobrou noc!” [Good Night!] from On an Overgrown Path. The two works have some commonalities that will be obvious to the listener, as Sweet & Twenty quotes from the Janácek quite clearly. There are other commonalities that may not be so clear. Sweet & Twenty also subtly references Janácek’s second string quartet, Intimate Letters, which is a passionate musical plea to a much younger woman. Sweet & Twenty is a reference to Feste’s song O Mistress Mine from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Pianist Thomas Stumpf has recorded this piece on his 2CD set: Reflections on Time and Mortality
[NB — Czech diacritics are not supported in this font, working on a solution…]
Vasalisa the Wise [pno trio + narration/dance]
Fantasy Variations on Amazing Grace [sax 4tet (satb)]
Nine Bagatelles for Guitar Trio
Concertino for Horn [hn + ob, bs, vl, vl, vla, vc, cb, marimba]
Suite for Solo Cello
Are you an Anarchist? [pno]
Intermezzo, Op. 119, No. 3 (Brahms) [arr. brass quintet]
Bagatelle for String Quartet
Four Short Movements for Brass Quintet
Green Beans! [2 vla]
Pour le Petit Poisson [pno]
Invasion of the Pod People!!!!!!!!!!!! [2 pno + slide projector]
The Slow Coming of Spring [woodwind quartet]
Mongolian Riddles [chamber ensemble]
Arabesque is a reference to a recent OSX screensaver. The cello plays three short phrases which are sampled and regurgitated to created a flashing, undulating texture. Moiré Idle is a reference to a screensaver that was popular in the early ’90s and which created moiré patterns from simple moving lines. The piece samples a live, four-minute, steady glissando to create an aural moiré pattern.
The Lily in a Crystal features the composer’s voice reciting the eponymous Robert Herrick poem — pre-recorded and digitally modified — sounded (along with various sine tones) through the piano strings via electromagnet. The text is rendered essentially unintelligible, but the sense of covered speaking, or distant conversation modulated by some unknown medium, is a near-constant presence. This piece relies on technology that is explained at length here.
I had the pleasure of working with dancer and choreographer Paul Matteson (Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company from 2008-2012; Bessie Award winner) to create a new work for the Fall 2014 Mount Holyoke Faculty Dance Recital. The dancers were all excellent undergraduates from the Five College Dance program. The piece grew over many iterations, with the sound and movement evolving over the course of the semester. The audio portion of the piece is in four large chunks — the first and last of which contain samples from tracks by New York Polyphony (used by permission). The middle sections focus on prepared-piano techniques, including some electromagnetic preparations and sonorous vessels in the manner of Alvin Lucier.
The Buzzing is a reworking of Samuel Beckett’s 1972 monologue Not I, as performed for BBC2 by Billie Whitelaw. The original audio was extracted and used to create a collage which was then added to the original to create an asynchronous dialogue. Video distortion is triggered by the audio. The accretion of sensory input makes for varying levels of coherence. The piece was created with a combination of ChucK and Jitter on Max/MSP.
I was part of a large team that worked together to restage Merce Cunningham’s minEVENT for the Five College Fall Faculty Dance Concert in November 2011. The collaborators included Eitan Mendelowitz (video), Dan Rist (lighting), Emily Dunn (costume), and the dancers and faculty of the Five College Dance Department. The process was fascinating, as we did our best to work in the same manner that Cunningham, Cage, and Rauschenberg had — i.e., we were (to the degree possible) unaware of what the other collaborators were doing until the very last minute, and many decisions had strong elements of chance involved. For my part, I was given free reign over the theater’s 14-channel sound system and no stipulations other than an approximate length of 20 minutes. The three scores that I composed all make use of water sounds and were created (in part) with various algorithmic processes. By necessity the mixes at left are stereo, but all were originally 12- to 14-channel in full surround. [These pieces use samples from freesound.org, used under Creative Commons]
The sounds for The Jeweled Prize are created by the dancer (Chris Aiken). His improvised movements are processed through a Microsoft Kinect device — typically used with the Xbox 360 gaming system — here run through laptop, triggering events and textures, all mixed live by the composer. The piece is a reflection on marriage and love using samples from Harry Partch’s hobo-graffiti-inspired Barstow (1941) and W. C. Williams’ reading of his 1950 poem, The Ivy Crown.
Spring/Made was a collaboration with Five-College dancers under the direction of Chris Aiken. The event took place April 17, 2015, at the Smith College’s Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station in West Whately, MA.
breednoise [algorithmic compositional interface]
life/game [electronics + video]
Shrine of the Broken Needles [trumpet + electronic audio (tape)]
natus/natatus 1 [2-channel audio]
Ichabod [midi pno + video]
Subduction [4-channel audio]