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Eine Kleine Geistermusik: Variationen über ein eigenes Thema (A Little Spirit-Music: Variations on an Original Theme) for piano solo

By Joseph Dillon Ford

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Piano Solo - Advanced Intermediate - Digital Download
Composed by Joseph Dillon Ford. 21st Century, Neo-Classical. Score. 10 pages. Published by David Warin Solomons (S0.435591).

Item Number: S0.435591

A dramatic pianistic exploration of the lively relationship between the baroque and romantic styles, consisting of an original theme and twelve variations.

Eine Kleine Geistermusik was composed the first week of May in 2003. Although the title playfully nods in the direction of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the germinal idea for this unusual set of twelve variations was actually inspired by Schumann's "Im Rhein, in heiligen Strome"–the sixth song in the Dichterliebe cycle (see below). The influence of Handel, however, is equally evident in the powerfully baroque character of the theme and several variations.

This is not the first time the theme-and-variations genre has served a composer with strong historicist interests: Brahms created a monumental set of Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel (op. 23) for solo piano; Tchaikowsky wrote his superb Rococo Variations for cello in a style emulating the early eighteenth century; and the Variations on a Theme by Corelli (op. 42) would be the very last work for piano solo ever penned by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Eine Kleine Geistermusik is a further exploration of the lively interpenetration of the baroque, romantic, and modern sound worlds. It is dedicated to Mrs. Rosemary Brown, whose special relationship with Schumann, Handel, and other great masters of music so happily affirmed the living presence of the past.

Confessions of the Composer as a Young Necromancer

When I was a young man in my teens and early twenties, I often found that while my body was still asleep, my mind would suddenly leave the dream state and become conscious in much the same way that it is when I am physically awake. Of course, what I experienced while physically asleep but mentally awake was far different from objective reality in the ordinary sense. As I had apparently left my body, I could fly over all manner of extraordinary landscapes; visit museums filled with the most amazing artifacts; marvel at curious books with moving words and pictures; levitate or pass through seemingly solid objects; and converse with a host of interesting entities, some of whom claimed they had once lived on Earth.

Because I was a musician, I sought out opportunities to listen to and participate in the creation of music in this other world. Sometimes I would hear orchestras or soloists performing works I could readily recognize: a Bach harpsichord concerto, the Second Symphony of Sibelius, and other music resounded with such exquisite fidelity that I could readily discern individual instruments. Sometimes I would discover scores or hear music I did not know by composers both familiar and unfamiliar, including a fragment of a Requiem Beethoven ostensibly composed after his earthly demise in 1827. On one occasion I even found myself extemporizing beautiful music in a choir I joined during one of these spontaneous outings—something I could not begin to do when physically awake!

In spite of the unusual clarity characteristic of many of these experiences, and in spite of the fact that I could remain reasonably skeptical about the reality of what I was experiencing while I was experiencing it, I eventually decided that I did not want to become a so-called psychic. There were doubts, frustrations, and inconsistencies. There were unsettling recollections of hurtling through walls, feeling strange vibrations and surges of energy, being menaced by hostile entities, and otherwise being exposed to far too much of this sort of thing far too fast. By my early twenties, I had focussed primarily on my musical and academic interests, and these still unexplained phenomena gradually diminished in frequency and intensity.

Who Was Rosemary Brown?

During the same period in my life, I had heard about the British musical medium Rosemary Brown, and even managed to find a copy of her book, Unfinished Symphonies, in my college library. Later I acquired a recording of music she allegedly had dictated under the supervision of a society of celebrated composers who no longer lived in this world but in another not dissimilar to that I had witnessed during my nocturnal journeys beyond the shadowy world of dreams.

Mrs. Brown was born Rosemary Dickenson at Stockwell, south London, in 1916. When she was first "recognized" for her remarkable talent, she was living in the shabby Balham suburb of London. As she recalls in the notes accompanying "A Musical Séance" (a now hard-to-find LP released as Philips 900-256 around 1970),

"It all really began when I was a child. I had a vision of Liszt though at that time I was too young to be aware that it was him. He told me that when he was on earth he was a famous composer and pianist and that when I grew up he would give me music."

Rosemary had a few piano lessons as a child, but like many young girls she aspired to a career as a ballet dancer. Circumstances did not, however, favor her artistic development, and she worked instead at the post office and other jobs until her marriage in 1952.

When her journalist husband died in 1961 after a protracted illness, Rosemary was left virtually penniless. Around the same time, her mother passed away as well. Rosemary valiantly managed to support her two children by working as a food services assistant in a Balham school, but as a middle-aged woman—and a widow—in the socially turbulent 1960s, her prospects must have seemed particularly bleak. An old upright piano was practically her sole source of creative nourishment. A devout Christian, she also began to take an interest in spiritualism during recovery from an injury on the job.

In 1964, when she was nearly fifty, Rosemary was seated at the piano. Suddenly she felt her hands were no longer under her own control. By and by she came to believe that Liszt had returned to keep his promise. Soon he would be joined by other discarnate composers: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff, to name only a few. Rosemary reportedly saw and heard them all, and began to dictate music they gave to her.

She never sought the publicity—both positive and negative—that attended her surprising emergence as a music medium. For some time, she confided her unusual talent only to a few close friends and acquaintances. But the British have a longstanding fascination with matters parapsychological, and she was eventually introduced to a wider and wider circle of musicians and scholars, some of whom formed a markedly favorable impression of at least a few of the literally hundreds of scores which she produced through a sort of automatic writing.

Rosemary Brown in Concert

Although no musically educated individual dared to pronounce the scores notated by Mrs. Brown as unqualified masterpieces—many were little more than charmingly unpretentious salon pieces—they revealed, nevertheless, a level of sophistication that far surpassed what one could expect from the extremely modest music education Rosemary had received as a child. The best of them were good enough to win the admiration of professional musicians:

"A lot of people can improvise, but you couldn't fake music like this without years of training. . . . Even if some of the pieces are bad, that doesn't mean anything. I produce lots of lousy pieces."

—Richard Rodney Bennett, composer

"There is no question but that she is a very sincere woman. The music is absolutely in the style of these composers. It is simple, but some of the tunes are very beautiful."

—Hebzibah Menuhin, virtuoso pianist

In the spring of 1968, Mrs. Brown was awarded the Scott Fund, which gave her five years of financial freedom during which she could dedicate herself wholly to composition. She would eventually give public concerts, including an appearance at the New York City Hall, and would appear on the BBC TV's "Music Now" program (1969) and "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. Additional albums of her music were recorded and released in 1977 and 1988, and she published several books describing her life as a music medium: the aforementioned Unfinished Symphonies (1971), Immortals at My Elbow (1974), and Look Beyond Today (1986). The scores she dictated were published by Basil Ramsey, and a few may still be found today (Chester Novello lists a piano music album.)

Her reply to the inevitable skeptics was both passionate and pointed:

"Many individuals highly gifted with extra-sensory aptitudes keep silent about their abilities, fearing that to reveal them would invite persecution from religious bigots and otherwise biased people, as well as from the ill-disposed, envious and ignorant." (Quoted in London's Daily Telegraph after Mrs. Brown's death in 2001.)

Although she finally enjoyed a modicum of success in her short but unorthodox musical career, Rosemary hardly became a wealthy woman. By the 1980s, with her health failing and her former celebrity fading, she was unable to continue with her prodigious musical acitvities. She passed away on 16 November 2001 at the age of 85.

The Legacy of Rosemary Brown

A great deal has been written and said about Rosemary Brown by scholars, critics, musicians, clairvoyants, and practically everybody who takes even a modicum of interest in such admittedly esoteric subjects. It is all too easy to dismiss Rosemary as a delusional housewife driven by poverty, the loss of loved ones, and perhaps even physical injury to the point of visual and auditory hallucinations. Her visions and previously untapped musical gifts, it might be argued, offered her a sense of solace and purpose in an all-too-cruel world where little people—and very often impoverished, marginalized women—are routinely crushed by forces far greater than they can withstand. Even those who are willing to admit at least the plausibility of her extrasensory claims might still believe she was taken in by mischievous spirits posing as great composers (thus accounting for the undistinguished quality of many of the scores she notated).

Although I still harbor many doubts of my own about claims of the paranormal and fully appreciate the need to weigh the evidence very carefully, I have, nevertheless, been deeply touched by Rosemary's amazing story and that still small part of her musical legacy I have been privileged to hear. It is well to remember that she left behind not only a copious quantity of music that people can enjoy regardless of their views about the paranormal, but also a fascinating written record of her role in the illustrious musical society she claims to have served as a dedicated amanuensis. On the occasion of the release of her "Musical Séance" album, the celebrated composer and musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey allegedly wrote these inspirational words:

In communicating through music and conversation, an organised group of musicians, who have departed from your world, are attempting to establish a precept for humanity, i.e., that physical death is a transition from one state of consciousness to another wherein one retains one's individuality. The realisation of this fact should assist man to a greater insight into his own nature and potential super-terrestrial activities. The knowledge that incarnation in your world is but one stage in man's eternal life should foster policies which are more far-seeing than those frequently adopted at present, and encourage a more balanced outlook regarding all matters. . . . When man has plumbed the mysterious depths of his veiled consciousness, he will then be able to soar to correspondingly greater heights.

As I reread these lines some thirty-three years after they were first published, I recall my own youthful experiences in realms of human consciousness that still remain largely unexplored and unexplained, and am moved to wonder anew at their significance.

Lest readers regard spiritualism as something generally alien to Christianity and the New World, it is well to recall that it once had an enormous influence on the religious lives of millions of Americans. Spiritualism attracted (but did not sustain) the interest of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a number of prominent clerics and thinkers, among them many Unitarians and Universalists. Closely allied to the progressive movements of their day, spiritualists espoused a number of important causes with far-ranging humanitarian consequences, including the abolition of slavery, women's rights, and welfare reform.

In England spiritualism found advocates in the persons of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. Spiritualist churches are still active in Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Canada, the United States, and several other countries.

My Musical Tribute to Rosemary Brown

When I set out to write what has emerged as Eine Kleine Geistermusik, I had only recently completed "The Tears of Ishtar," and was still overcome by the dreadful news about the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. I could scarcely imagine the Philistinism of an American government and military that had taken such great pains to secure Iraq's vast oil fields while utterly neglecting to allocate a single tank or soldier to protect humanity's oldest artistic and scientific treasures from wholesale depredation and destruction.

The theme which became the basis of my variations haunted me persistently for several days. I began to hear the score taking shape in my mind before I even thought to commit it to paper. It simply would not leave me alone.

Theme from

Even after I had notated the theme itself, I did not know what to expect next. I felt I had neither the time nor the inclination to compose the music I was hearing, as other important projects and chores demanded my attention. So I put the eight-bar theme on the New Music Classics web site with an appeal to other composers to contribute one or more variations expressing their own sense of loss over the tragic turn of events in Iraq. Thus I hoped through collaboration to minimize the burden that seemed to have been placed on me by influences unsought and unseen.

It quickly became apparent, however, that this oddly baroque-sounding theme and the eclectic variations that began to issue from it had taken on a life of their own apart from the musical requirements of a project intended to remember the destruction and pillage of ancient Mesopotamian artifacts. (Accordingly, I substituted a theme from an earlier unfinished piano composition for the Ishtar Project, which can be found by clicking the "?" link on the main New Music Classics Control Panel.)

I seemed to have no choice but to turn my attention once more to the eight-bar theme that refused to retreat into the shadows. Its strongly declarative dotted rhythms, dramatically descending melodic contours, and classically simple harmonic structure summoned to mind not only the music of Handel, but also a German song I thought I had all but forgotten. Examining the score to Schumann's "Im Rhein, in heiligen Strome"—the sixth song in the Dichterliebe cycle, especially measures 35-39, I finally discovered who might have been trying so relentlessly to inspire me!

Schumann, Excerpt from No. 6 from Dichterliebe

Several of the love songs in this cycle are lightly tinged with religious sentiment, but No. 6 is the most pervasively "spiritual" in tone:

Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome, [In the Rhein, in the holy river,]

da spiegelt sich in den Well'n [reflected in the waves,]

mit seinem grossen Dome, [with its great cathedral

das grosse, heilige Köln. [is the great, holy city of Cologne.]

Im Dom da steht ein Bildnis, [In the cathedral there is a picture]

auf goldenem Leder gemalt; [painted on golden leather;]

in meines Lebens Wildnis [in the wilderness of my life]

hat's freundlich hineingestrahlt. [it shone with a friendly glow.]

Es schweben Blumen und Englein [Flowers and little angels float]

um unsre liebe Frau; [around our beloved Lady]

die Augen, die Lippen, die Wänglein, [her eyes, her lips, her little cheeks]

die gleichen der Liebsten genau. [so closely resemble those of my Love.]

Schumann in a baroque guise? What could any of this possibly have to do with Rosemary Brown? Perhaps nothing. I can offer but a few insights that may shed a little further light on the matter:

In July of 1982 I took a Rhine River cruise. Cologne Cathedral was the only German house of worship on my itinerary, and made an especially deep impression on me. Other than his music, the river and the cathedral are the two strongest physical links between my life and that of Schumann.
In February of 1854, a clinically depressed Robert Schumann attempted suicide by leaping into the Rhein River. That same month, Schumann set down a melody he claimed came to him from the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn. It is identical to the theme at the beginning of the slow movement of his Violin Voncerto (1853). Had his unbalanced mental state disposed him to hallucinations, or had it perhaps opened up doors of perception that normally remain closed?
This "Geisterthema," published simply as "Thema (Es dur) in Breitkopf and Härtel's Robert Schumanns Werke, became the basis of a fine set of four-hand piano variations (Op. 23) by his intimate friend, Johannes Brahms.
The Violin Concerto as a whole, pronounced unsuitable for performance by Joachim, entered the Prussian State Library at Berlin in 1907, with strict orders from Joachim's heir that it was neither to be published nor played until a hundred years after Schumann's death. But it was rediscovered by psychic violin virtuosa Jelly d'Aranyi, who claimed that the spirit of Schumann visited her and urged her to make the work known to the public. With the aid of B. Schott's Sons (Mainz), the work was released for publication, and D'Aranyi performed the solo part with the BBC symphony under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult in February of 1938.
Robert Schumann was one of Rosemary Brown's most prolific sources of inspiration. Among the many works of his she allegedly brought through was a charming set of Twelve Cameos, each vividly expressing a particular human emotion or state of mind. The collection ends, rather appropriately I think, with "Dankbarkeit" ("Thankfulness").
Robert Schumann has long been one of my favorite composers, and I have both publicly performed and privately taught his piano music.
The name "Rosemary" is intimately connected to the Virgin, one of whose traditional symbols is the rose—-a flower that figures prominently in Dichterliebe, No. 3.
The herb rosemary is a traditional symbol of remembrance.
My Eine Kleine Geistermusik was composed the first week of May—perhaps the most important month in the Marian calendar. The first line of the first song in Dichterliebe is: "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai"–In the lovely month of May.
Although none of the above proves anything about spiritualism or musical mediums, it does at least begin to explain, I think, some of the psychological factors that inspired my music. I have only to add that I can identify the influences of at least twelve different composers in the score: Lully, Corelli, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, and an unknown Englishman—perhaps Sir Donald Francis Tovey, one of Rosemary's contacts and a particularly strong advocate of Schumann's "lost" violin concerto at the time of its introduction to the British public. For such a thoroughly eclectic work, I myself am surprised at how well it seems to hang together!

I leave further analysis of the score to interested listeners and performers, but would like to share a parting thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Quotation and Originality":

Swedenborg threw a formidable theory into the world, that every soul existed in a society of souls, from which all its thoughts passed into it, as the blood of the mother circulates in her unborn child. . . .

If the thinker feels that the thought most strictly his own is not his own, and recognizes the perpetual suggestion of the Supreme Intellect, the oldest thoughts become new and fertile whilst he speaks them.

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