Some Thoughts on R. Malcolm Brown’s Music
“My vocation is a university Professor of Biology....My avocation is music composition!”
R. Malcolm Brown, Jr. is truly one of the rare figures of our time; he is both a university professor of biology and an accomplished pianist, and his interests and activities, like those one finds in most eminent scholars of the Renaissance, encompass a number of other areas such as botany, photography, fine arts, traveling etc.
The first impression one receives when listening to Malcolm Brown’s music can be related to the words “relaxation” and “serenity”. Indeed, the author invites us to “relax and free our spirit” while enjoying his two CD’s entitled “Reflections” and “Intuition”. The music was composed on a digital grand piano using various timbres. These albums represent a kaleidoscope of images, each one bearing a title that creates a certain anticipation in terms of mood, character, and atmosphere. It is more than obvious that Brown finds his best expression in the genre of program music, drawing his inspiration from a variety of subjects and associations. As the French composer from the Romantic era Hector Berlioz often did, he provides the listener with information about each piece, which, apart from suggesting a direction of thinking, is conceived in the form of “poetical prose”, thus revealing another gift the composer possesses – a talent for writing prose.
I think that, stylistically, Malcolm Brown’s music represents a nice mixture of romanticism and impressionism with a slight prevalence of the latter style. A good example of romantic expression is found in the opening piece of the album “Reflections” which bears the same title; there is a touch of Chopin’s style in the embellished melodic figures that cannot be mistaken. I see typical “impressionistic” features in pieces such as “Tumbleweed”, “Freedom’s Call” (from “Reflections”), “Intuition”, “Our Journey”, “The Valley of Mist” (from “Intuition”), and others. The harmonies in the mentioned pieces involve seventh and ninth chords, sometimes in parallel motion. In addition, coloristic effects are sought through changes of the octave registers in the melody.
Brown’s compositions bear the spontaneity of improvisation and the simplicity of sincerely expressed feelings. These instrumental miniatures, with an average duration of two minutes each, are written mostly in free forms as their improvisatory character suggests. The musical gesture is fragmented and arises from motives rather than homogeneous phrases. The coherence of the compositions is achieved through the hierarchy among the melodic figures and the harmonies used; usually there is a prominent motive in each piece which occurs several times and after going through periods of permutations and modulations, finally settles down on its tonic chord.
It is interesting to note the motivic parallelism in some of the pieces. For example, “Love from the Heart” from the album “Reflections” opens in exactly the same way as “Thoughts of Things Past” from the same collection; both pieces explore the following motive:
There is similarity in the initial intonations of “Our Journey” and “The Valley of Mist” (both from “Intuition”). This approach contributes to the cohesion of the album itself and is in unison with the program notes accompanying each piece. Thus, “Thoughts of Things Past” is a reminiscence of beautiful times in which love and appreciation from the heart was experienced.
My favorite piece among the numerous beautiful miniatures in the two albums is “Freedom’s Call” from the CD “Reflections”. The story about the old eagle with a broken wing who is longing to fly in the air is moving. The timbre of the oboe is a perfect choice for depicting the character, and the opening motive sounds impressive:
The form unfolds freely through reiteration and slight permutation of the above-shown melodic figure. Contrapuntal voices derived from the same motive occasionally come in and go out. What is interesting in the first half of the piece is the disagreement between the Am chord implied by the theme (Ex.2) and the G-major harmonic support that spreads underneath. This is symbolic – the eagle’s will occurs on a different plane than the “will” of reality – and they do not meet. However, near the end of the composition, the key of A- minor is established, but the striving for free life has been transformed into resignation. The end of the motive is also changed to reflect this mood:
In my view, “Freedom’s Call” is one of Brown’s highest accomplishments in the genre of program miniature.
In conclusion, I would like to encourage an enrichment of your collection of audio CD’s with Malcolm Brown’s albums “Reflection” and “Intuition”. You will benefit from being in touch with the pure energy emanating from his spontaneously created music.
Dimitar Ninov, D.M.A. Austin, Texas, May 6, 2003