Reviews, Commentary, Discussion
of the Harold Brown “Music for Strings” CD
TROY1352 from Albany Records

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Feb 23, 2013

Dear Sigmund,
It as very nice meeting you at the broadway Bach concert. I listened twice to the CD with Harold Brown's chamber music. Especially the string quartet from 1930 is an excellent work and very well performed by the Tessera Quartet. The recording engineer did a superb job.
Best regards, Reinhard

Nov 9, 2012

I have (finally!) had the opportunity to listen to the CD of Harold Brown’s chamber music. Wonderful performances! The music is fascinating in that Harold Brown, in part, marched to his own drummer. I also wonder about the influence of Bartok’s String Quartet #4 – which came out in 1928 – because of Brown’s rhythmic incisiveness and motoristic elements. On the other hand, Harold Brown’s neoromanticism gives his chamber music a unique sound. Perhaps my favorite movement is #2 of the first string quartet; breathtaking in its music and the performance. There is no doubt in my mind but what these works should be played much much more often. Is anyone crafting publishable editions? I hope Tim Christie thinks about performing these in a future summer . . .

Thanks so much for letting me know about this recording. Congratulations to all involved.

Dr. Susan Pickett, Catharine Chism Professor of Music, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA 99362

Nov 5, 2012:

Should we take it as a good sign that the reviewer used precisely some of the same wording as in the liner notes? Now that is spooky.

Joshua B. Mailman

Mark Lehman in American Record Guide, Nov./Dec. 2012, pp. 109-110:

BROWN: Quartets (2); String Quintet
Tessera Quartet; Louise Schulman, va
Albany 1352—60 minutes

Harold Brown (1909-79) was a violist, teacher, and influential choral director who made his career in the Northeast. This very-well-played-and-recorded program reveals that he was also a skillful composer, though the two quartets show him evolving toward the less derivative voice evinced in his 1935 String Quintet.

    Before going on, I should mention that Brown’s first-written quartet is identified on this release only by its date of composition, 1930. The second-written quartet is very confusingly identified as “Quartet No. 1”, though it was begun in 1932 and completed later. I’ve tried to clarify this situation in my review by just using the dates.

    The 1930 quartet is a full-scale four-movement work of almost a half-hour’s duration. The language is late romanticism, and specifically German late romanticism; the notes mention kinships with Franck, Brahms, Strauss, Reger, Zemlinsky, and (very) early Schoenberg. I’d add Schubert, Dvorak, and Pfitzner, but you get the picture. This is backward-looking, staunchly traditional music in manner, mood, and formal outlines. The craftsmanship is quite polished and the emotions ardent but seemly. The long (11 minute) opening allegro makes particularly deft use of contrapuntal overlapping and touching harmonic shifts, and the pizzicato scherzo is elfin and half-spooky. The sweetly tender andante that follows, with its lovely duets in parallel thirds, and the rondo finale that concludes the work, are presided over by the benevolent spirit of Antonin Dvorak. However anachronistic this opus for a New York City boy born a decade after George Gershwin, it has genuine charm and melodic appeal, and I’ve enjoyed it from beginning to end every time I’ve listened to it.

    Brown’s next quartet was begun in 1932 but not finished until a decade or so later. It’s much shorter and in two movements only, fast and slow. The language is much more modern sounding—there’s a generalized influence of Bartok and other up-to-date figures—and, just as important, a troubling stylistic clash between the work’s two halves. I is mildly chromatic and tonally ambiguous but not very dissonant. There are lots of ostinatos, jouncy syncopations, and sinuous canonic passages; but the motives—mainly the little two-note spinning figure that opens the proceedings—are too rudimentary to be memorable. II is a melancholy, hymn-like nocturne over sighing chords imbued with an archaic, quasi-modal feel. It’s nice by itself but doesn’t fit with the opening movement, with the result that the quartet as a whole feels like a jerry-rigged contraption rather than a unified composition. (Something that, I should add, could be just as well said of Samuel Barber’s nearly contemporaneous 1938 String Quartet—a work the composer wisely rescued by detaching its sublime adagio from its clunky and incongruous opening allegro.)

    The three-movement (fast-slow-fast) string quintet (1935) also uses the quasi-modal harmonic idiom that Brown deploys in II of his 1932 quartet, though here with consistency—and thus more effectively. This sonorous enriched-modal language has a vocal quality to it, especially in the very beautiful hymn-like central andante, and is also somehow “American” sounding. Indeed, the quintet shows enough affinities with Harris and Copland that (unlike the string quartets) it could probably be identified as an American work of the middle 1930s. It’s certainly the most fully mature work here—though I still retain a special fondness for that dulcet 1930 quartet.

[Mark Lehman has a doctorate in English literature from the University of Cincinnati (where he taught until recently) but his true love (besides his wife) is music. His specialty is unusual modern music, which he's been covering for ARG since 1991; he also edits and contributes reviews to another magazine. He's a dedicated (but selective) record collector, and his library of broadcast tapes of 20th Century music includes thousands of pieces not yet commercially available. His Pilgrim Songs, a cycle for soprano and piano, was issued by Enharmonic.]

Oct 9, 2012

It is wonderful to finally have a commercial Cd of Harold Brown’s music, let alone with performances as outstanding as they are. As a composer myself, I can say with a small degree of expertise that he was a very fine composer, and deserves to be better known. This Cd will be one of the treasures of my very large collection.

David Kuperman

Oct 2, 2012

I spoke by phone with Shostakovich’s biographer Dr. Laurel Faye, who lives in Staten island. She told me of several sponsored tours of the USA preliminary to the 1960 #8 Quartet. Possible that ACA editions/Composers were known to DS, who was a collector. We should know from HB’s letters if he had known DS!

She referred me to David Fanning in Manchester for further information and will obtain the HB CD to compare. {N.B.- Dr. Faye had years ago been recommended by Dr. Loeffler as expert at Columbia on M. Milner, iconic Yiddish composer, who survived the war & Stalin, and whose song "in chederl" I researched & used to sing}

According to Chelan, Harold’s family until he was 8 went to Temple (which in those days probably for the working class meant the Orthodox Shul), and he was unhappy when they discontinued this as he was fond of the Jewish Music.

One wonders that cantillation could influence his later Liturgical (if R.C.) proclivities & Brownian esthetic.

It had that effect on me!


Oct 1, 2012 from Sig Rosen:

To my unstudied ear there are similarities, but perhaps HB & DS drank from a well of folk dance rhythms? DS was ultra familiar with Jewish+ sources, but the only other HB example I know is the 'Klezmer-inflected' dance from the 1945 Divertimento for small orchestra. It could be possible as most of HB's ACA editions (even from the '30s) were copyright dated 1952, but I doubt DS knew Harold.

Sept 29, 2012 from Carl Pearlston

Driving home from the opera last night, was listening to the local classical music station, and they announced and played the Shostakovich Quartet #8. I was really startled to hear a work that sounded like it could have been by Harold Brown—it had so many elements in common with his style and motifs. But Shostakovich wrote this in 1960. Seems Brown was really ahead of his time.

On the drive to the concert today, listened to the CD again, which reinforced my last-night's impression. The music bears up on repeated listening; my favorite is the Andante from the 1930 Quartet—track #8.

Sept 2, 2012, quoting Ned Rorem:

Sig reminds us that it was in a 1979 letter in response to Harold’s death that Ned Rorem coined the term “Brown Modality.” He said he composed “three good songs” with Harold in 1944 that were “highly influenced, by what can only be called The Brown Modality.” In the same letter he wrote: “I’m happy to note that I remember, clearly as in a photograph, every one of Harold’s beautiful, human, careful, excruciatingly delicate yet forceful pieces of music.” And recently: “Alas, I cannot be with you on September 23, but my heart is forever with Harold.”

8/28/2012 10:35 AM

I've enjoyed the CD tremendously; it's now clear to me, given the direction Modernist music was moving, and given Harold's own predilections, why he turned away from composing and gave his attention to Renaissance music. His music is truly beautiful, not a quality appreciated or even noticed by the angular modernists.

Best, Styra

27 Aug 2012 13:12 to Sig

Congratulations on the CD; it really is a fabulous accomplishment.

Best, Marie

26 Aug 2012 19:08 to Sig Rosen

This has been a marvelous project! Harold's music is more beautiful than I could have imagined; the next thing is to get the printed music made available so groups can play it. Congratulations again on a superb outcome of a wonderful idea.


August 6, 2012, 4:07 pm from Carl Pearlston

We drove up to Santa Barbara yesterday to attend a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.... Just before the last scene of the second act, there was a beautiful, sad orchestral passage in the strings which jarringly reminded me of Brown’s chamber music which I had heard just the other day; to my ear they were astonishingly similar in construct. I then realized the influence the younger Stravinsky must have had on your uncle’s compositions in developing that “Brownian modality”. I wonder if Stravinsky had ever heard Brown’s works— was there a mutual influence?

August 4, 2012, 1:48 am

Carl, that’s what I hear too; something happened c.1932 to move HB from wistful (1931 – 2 Experiments) to that Brownian mood. The 1930 “Christopher Robin” seemed to invoke the frothy Vienna. The 1937 Suite for String Orchestra, and later works, went further in uncompromising structural rigor with less lyrical relief. I'm exploring what it would require to record them. There are old recordings at NYPL/Eastman. Exciting to discover such treasures.


August 3, 2012, 11:08 pm to Sig Rosen and others

Around 1 AM last night, with a tumbler of single malt in hand, I Iistened to the other two pieces on the CD. They were really engrossing and exquisitely played, albeit suffused with a nostalgic, rueful, sweet melancholia, a wistful longing after what might have been, a bitter-sweet reflection on what is and what can be. Now, was that Brown or just my reaction to the music? I confess to being a romantic with a deep emotional reaction to music, and sometimes it’s easy to mistake that reaction for composer’s intention. But I noted that Brown studied with Aaron Copeland, whose music, or at least that with which I’m familiar, seems to be bright, optimistic, joyful, upbeat, happy; I found none of that in Brown’s pieces. He seems to have rejected the teacher and found his own voice, largely in a minor mode. Earlier I had mentioned that the mood of this music reminded me of Samuel Barber. But in one place, the Andante of the 1930 quartet, I was reminded of Richard Strauss, especially his Sextet overture of Capriccio, with its lovely interweaving of Straussian harmonics; Brown seems to have prefigured that. And of course, Strauss was the master of sweet melancholia. The last movement, faster, continued the mood, until at the very end, it snapped out of it, as though to wake up and face the world. This music has stimulated me to take a self-help course in music theory on DVD, the first lesson to be tonight.

Note that the website has all sorts of music clips, which will provide lots of interesting listening. Thanks so much.

Carl Pearlston

July 24, 2012 4:07 pm to Sig Rosen

Hi Sig,

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve listened to the CD and find the music beautiful! Thank you for sharing it with me.

Hope all’s well with you, Dorrie and Theo.
Best, Aileen

July 23, 2012 9:02 pm From Sig Rosen to David Horowitz

There were, I think 3 stages to his moods. I¹ve some of his letters to your mom and his mom, and later with Noah. He was a raw teenager too- being jealous of his “pals” for their success with the “dames”. He wrote seriously witty stuff in his 1930-1931 works. The Two movement ­ 1932+ (It badly needs a professional musicologist to sort this out) highly influenced, by the Stravinsky era ­ turns into “Brownian modality” slightly- the second mvt completed MUCH later is fully Brownian. The 1935 is seriously Brownian, that 2nd mvt modulation to me was his description of Europe under Fascism/?Stalinism disintegrating. He then got deeper into Gregorian Chant, his “No Worst” SSAAAA sort of resolves. The orchestral work has a klezmer dance Mvt in the 1945 Divertimento, and 1948 “Sylvia” is hilarious. These were his good days, but during the War, as Gollins & Rorem write, he was dour & depressed/ing. Hard to get unanimity as there were personality issues, and not everyone talks. Partners were changing too in those circles. Jim Gollins knew more than he wrote. Harold could be jealous, found more emotional support and less opposition with us amateurs. He was, beyond it all, as Joel & others observe, a Visionary. How do 20+ year-olds do this?

Carl is really right. Looking forward to his comments.

July 23, 2012 3:05 pm PDT to David Horowitz

What a pleasant surprise! Thanks so much for the CD and the nice comment. Just finished listening to the first Quartet—insistent, driving, nagging, desperate first movement yields to slow despair in the second, and that beautiful portrayal of despair goes on to permeate the entire piece, until it ends on a slight resolution of reconcilement. Was your uncle a happy man? Music sort of reminded me of Samuel Barber, who went into depression after the rejection of his last opera. But I digress—I liked what I heard—was engrossing, even though very modern and not at all romantic. Will listen to next two pieces, and then read the notes you recommended.

Carl Pearlston

July 2012, to Sig

...Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have listened to my Harold Brown CD three times now, and I have read all the introductory notes and the analysis of the three string quartets by Joshua Mailman. I like the music very much. I am generally fond of string quartets—I especially like those of Beethoven, William Walton and Schoenberg—because this is a very intimate form. You can hear everything. It's like four people at a small dinner party talking to each other about interesting things....

I read in the notes that Harold Brown felt he was bravely going against the grain by writing "romantic" music in the 1930's. I'm not quite sure why he thought this. Rachmaninoff was incredibly popular all through the thirties and forties. And still is, for that matter. And other important young composers with a romantic streak were beginning to show their heads in the 1930's, composers who became very successful. William Walton, Aaron Copland, William Shuman, Benjamin Britten, and Robert Ward would all be examples. Walton's symphony and his violin concerto are just gorgeous, and later in the 1950's his opera, Troilus and Cressida, is extravagantly romantic. He wrote the love theme shortly after he fell in love with the woman who became his second wife.

In my view, romantic (as applied to music) is a very slippery word. For some it refers to a period in the history of music, a period in which some of the music does not seem especially romantic. On the other hand, Vivaldi's double violin concerto thrills me in a very romantic way, and it was written long before the romantic period in music. But "romantic" as a quality in music (as opposed to a historical period) means to me work that expresses personal feeling, high drama, or sometimes a narrative or imagistic intention that escapes from classical forms. It also may involve "romantic" harmony—augmented or diminished seventh and ninth chords that gives the wonderful "slushy" feeling that is so common in pop music and jazz ballads of the forties and fifties and beyond. But some feel that Impressionism, which clearly meets some of these criteria, belongs in a separate category. Thus I really don't understand Harold Brown's point. Not that it matters. His music is wonderful.

In the liner notes, Professor Mailman mentions that in the 1930 String Quartet the first movement is "contrapuntal" and "driven by continuous motivic development." I think this is true of all four movements. The first movement of the 1932-1940 quartet has a driving rhythm that is controlled by the repetition of short phrases (motifs) and beautiful counterpoint. This is all wonderful stuff. I think it's great that you guys are promoting the work of such a talented but almost completely unknown composer. I see that he does not even get a mention in The Oxford Companion to Music. Perhaps because of your work this will be remedied in the next edition.

I enjoyed some of Mailman's commentary, but I have to admit that much of what he has to say is way over my head. When he states that a melody is "accompanied by a tension-building ostinato in E minor, thus simultaneously satisfying and thwarting the traditional imperative to employ transposition of expository material during the recapitulation of a sonata form," I get lost. He is talking here about the first movement of the 1930 quartet. I do understand the sonata form and I know what an ostinato is (although I couldn't find it in this movement), but my musical education is very limited. Most of what I know I have learned on my own. My compositions and my performances have gone over well, especially recently, but I probably know one ten-thousandth of what Joshua B. Mailman knows. Is he as frighteningly brilliant in person as he seems to be on paper?

Thanks again for the wonderful gift, and best wishes to all of you in your important work. You are making the world a better place.

Lloyd K.

July 14, 2012

Most impressive music, most impressive performances.
David K.

July 13, 2012

Love my CD. Thank you, Sig, for spearheading this project.
Julia A.

June 1, 2012 from Albany Records



Albany Records is proud to announce the release of Harold Brown: Works for Strings. Repertoire includes the two string quartets and the string quintet. The music is played by The Tessera Quartet—Emily Daggett Smith, violin; Cordelia Paw, violin; EdwardKlorman, viola; Karen Ouzounian, cello—with Louise Schulman, viola.

Throughout his life, Harold Brown was known to the world as a violist, teacher and choral director and as one of the pioneers of the early music movement in North America, but this recording is the first to draw attention to his creativity as a composer. Indifferent to the various fashions and dogmas of 20th century classical music, Mr. Brown always marched to his own drum when it came to his compositions. His chamber works for strings, presented here, were composed mostly in the early to mid 1930s, representing his youthful, passionate style. Mr. Brown earned degrees from Columbia University and held teaching positions at New York’s High School of Music and Art and Mansfield State College.

The Tessera Quartet is one of the most exciting chamber ensembles currently emerging on the concert scene, captivating audiences with its glowing sound and bold interpretations. A compelling mosaic of four accomplished young soloists, the Tessera Quartet was formed under the guidance of the renowned Juilliard String Quartet in 2007 and made its official New York debut on the storied Schneider Concerts series at the New School. Committed advocates for new music, the Tessera Quartet has worked closely with composers Aaron Jay Kernis, Russell Platt, and Lowell Liebermann. Other special collaborations include projects with pianists Claude Frank, Hamish Milne, and Orli Shaham, clarinetist Charles Neidich, and bassoonist Peter Kolkay.

The Renaissance Chorus Association began life as an outgrowth of the Renaissance Chorus of New York, which was founded by Harold Brown in 1954. The RCA is dedicated to preserving Mr. Brown’s legacy and has organized several concerts and recordings of his music. One such concert, held in New York in 2009 to celebrate the centennial of Mr. Brown’s birth, featured the Tessera Quartet with violist Louise Schulman. This recording is the happy result of that collaboration.

HAROLD BROWN (TROY1352) is available online at,
at fine record stores or from

Albany Music Distributors, 915 Broadway, Albany, NY12207 • 1.518.436.8814

For More Information:Susan Bush • June 2012