Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Smart

English Horn


Earle was probably one of the finest orchestrators I have ever heard. One needs only to listen to pieces such as Available Forms I and Available Forms II and later works such as Cross Sections and Color Fields and Windsor Jambs: these are lush scores, rich in orchestral textures and bold, brilliant chords. After composing Trailing Vortices (1986), my Fromm commission, I visited New York City.

I showed it first to a composer of some renown – with a Pulitzer Prize, Academy Award and the Metropolitan Opera in his pedigree – and he correctly identified a problem in the work but only offered criticism (I am grateful that he pointed it out). A low oboe line that appeared throughout would not blend softly as desired, but would instead stick out like a sore thumb.

The part could not simply be bumped up an octave, as it was part of a unison chromatic pattern that was integrally staggered with the ensemble. I left the meeting with one thought, ‘How can I fix this part without wrecking the whole piece?’

The next day, I met with Earle at his home and showed him these problematic sections. He took one look at the score and said, ‘Oh, that’s no problem, just give those lines to the English horn!’ (The result was that it sounded great. Thank you, Earle!)

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375


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