Composer / Organist  Rayner  Brown

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

Rayner Brown


When thinking about composers of concert music in the Twentieth Century, certain styles emerge, and often the output depends on location.  Leaping from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and completely over-generalizing, on the East Coast, (setting aside the New England hymnodists of the previous centuries), in New York City itself there are the Uptown School and Downtown School.  In the Midwest, Chicago has its own styles which permeate a bit north to Milwaukee and south to St. Louis.  Then there are the composers who lived and worked on the West Coast.  Aside from the well-known names, several gathered themselves under the umbrella of Western International Music for publication and recording.  William Schmidt headed the operation, and others included Frank Campo, George Heussenstamm, Boris Pillin, Fisher Tull, William Kraft, Sharon Davis, and Rayner Brown.  [Names which are links on this webpage refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.]

brown Soon after contacting him, Rayner Brown agreed to allow me to call him for a conversation, and on the last day of August, 1987, we spoke of musical things . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Now is an acceptable time for a chat?

Rayner Brown:   Yes.  I’ll answer all your questions now!

BD:   You’ve been teaching for quite a long time, always at Biola?

Brown:   Yes, Biola University.

BD:   Do you teach composition, or harmony, or counterpoint, or all of those?

Brown:   I taught mostly composition and organ.  I was there about thirty years.

BD:   This is one of my favorite questions to ask a composer.  Is musical composition something that really can be taught, or must it be innate within each young student?

Brown:   I don’t believe you can really teach composition.  You can only guide students, and encourage them, change some points or something like that.  That’s what I was really doing, so I’d say no, it cannot be taught.

BD:   When you’re looking over a composition that young student has brought to you, what kinds of things do you look for, either positive or negative?

Brown:   Positive or negative, the first point is that I’m very particular about notation.  I don’t look at any score unless it’s very neatly notated.  This is a discipline all can put right.  It means it should have neatness, because if you have an idea and you write something, you have to put it down quickly.  You’re not going to write very much if you have to look up how to put on a stem, and all that type of thing.  So I stress that.  I’ve helped many people along in notating what they want to write.  But as far as looking for things, I play the music, or hear the music, and try to show them the weak points and the strong points.

BD:   What constitutes a weak point, or what constitutes the strong point?

Brown:   A weak point would be poor counterpoint, or poor harmonization, or poor progression.  Strong points would be just the opposite, when they’ve written a good melody and good harmony, and so forth.  Does that answer your question?

BD:   It’s moving in the right direction.  Eventually, this is leading to the big question
what constitutes greatness in music?

Brown:   Oh, come on now, don’t ask me that!  [Much laughter]  That question asks about art and literature and everything.  What is greatness in music is almost an impossible question to answer.  For example, it must consist of good melody.  Then you would ask what is good melody?  Is a twelve-tone row a good melody as well as something from the Romantic period?  Some people say yes, some say no.  So, you’re faced with that problem as to what is good music.

BD:   Then let me change it slightly.  Rather than what it is, who makes the decision as to whether it’s good or bad
is it the composer, or the performer, or the public?

Brown:   Hmmm... that’s a good question.  The decision is probably made not by the composers so much, but the public.  Everybody makes the decision.  Everybody has their influence on that.  The publisher has influence, the public has influence, and the performers have influence on deciding whether it is good or bad.

BD:   Is everybody right?

Brown:   Nobody is ever right.  [More laughter]  Everybody thinks they’re right, but nobody really knows.

BD:   Having observed quite a number of different students coming through your classes, have you been encouraged by the kinds of ideas that you have seen and heard?

Brown:   No, I don’t think so.  They’re either too simple, or trying to be too different.  Most of the time, if they’re writing music they’re ill-prepared to be a composition student.  They’ll bring you, for example, two lines of music.  You play that through about five times so you can play it beautifully.  Then you ask them what the hell you’re going to do for the rest of the hour.  Instead of bringing me two pages of music, they should have brought me eight lines of music, or one full page, or even ten pages of music.

brown BD:   Has any of this improved at all over the years, or has it gotten worse?

Brown:   I’m inclined to think it’s getting worse because many schools are dropping the idea of teaching fundamentals.  They’re not teaching basic harmony, or basic counterpoint, things that helped me the most.  For one thing, I had a teacher that taught in the old counterpoint, and gave me very hard exercises, which I had to work very hard to solve.  As I look back, solving these contrapuntal problems probably helped me more than anything, and they’re not teaching that at all in the schools.

BD:   Have to you tried to teach that in your classes?

Brown:   Oh, yes, of course.  I worked with the very fine theory teacher, and between the two of us we had our own text.  We taught in the strict, you might say ‘old-fashioned’ way, and that helps more.  If you’re going to write music, you have to understand music of all periods.  A composer can write something new, very modern in his own style.  A good composer also should, and can, write a little piece in the style of any composer.  It may not be a masterpiece, but it should sound like the composer.

BD:   How much of that is inspiration, and how much of that is just sheer technique?

Brown:   That’s technique.  I taught technique, and I happen to believe you need the technique where you can be inspired.  That would be my strongest effort in teaching.

BD:   Then when you’re writing a piece of music, where is the balance then between the technique and the inspiration?

Brown:   It depends on what you call inspiration.  Any person can visualize two chords.  If I were to ask you to write one full Amen for four voices, you could easily visualize all four voices, and if you have the technique, you could put it down on paper.  You will then develop that idea of visualizing two chords, after which you can visualize the whole movement of a symphony... maybe not all the details, but most of them.  That’s not impossible.

BD:   Then this just keeps going in any direction that you want to take it?

Brown:   Yes, yes.

BD:   What advice do you have for young composers, or even middle-aged composers, that are coming along today?

Brown:   The advice would be first that they must enjoy writing the music.  They can’t have the idea they’re writing to make money.  They can’t have the idea of writing to be famous, or writing to have performances.  They must first learn to write for the enjoyment of doing it.  Now I’m talking about classical music.  I’m not talking about popular songs.  If they want to write popular songs, then it’s a business.  You have to get into the Hollywood scene to do that.

BD:   Can I infer from this that when Rayner Brown was writing music, he enjoyed it?

Brown:   Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I practiced what I preached.

BD:   That’s good.  I assume you did have some commissions?

Brown:   Yes, I’ve had commissions.  The Ford Foundation was very generous, and a lot of the recordings were made from the Ford Foundation money.  I’ve also had private people ask for commissions, and I have won the ASCAP award for the past fifteen years at least.

BD:   When you’re getting commissions, though, how do you decide which ones you will accept, and which ones you will decline?

Brown:   I don’t have that many.

BD:   But there must be some criteria at which point you would rather not do it.

Brown:   No, really not.  I’ve never had more than one at a time, so I’ve never been overwhelmed.

BD:   Do you work on only one piece at a time, or do you have a couple of things going?

Brown:   Usually it’s one at a time.

BD:   I assume that there are some things you just feel you have to write, and so you write them even without commission?

Brown:   Oh, yes.  I write a lot without commission.  I write all the time now that I’m retired.  I have been retired ten years, so since 1977, when we’re home I usually write in the morning.  I get in three or four hours each day in the morning usually, and maybe sometimes as much as six hours a day.  It’s really my pastime now.  I’m going to be writing music until I get tired of it!  So far, I have been enjoying it, and I’ve been enjoying retirement.  So, I don’t have to think about anything else musically that way.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Have you basically been pleased with the performances that you’ve heard of your music over the years?

Brown:   I have been very, very lucky and very pleased.  I’m well acquainted with the Hollywood people, and the L.A. Philharmonic players, and probably a large percentage of my performances have been by players that are studio musicians, or from L.A. Philharmonic.  My latest large work that was performed was my Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra.  The Chamber Orchestra commissioned me to do that, and I had the first clarinetist of the Philharmonic as the soloist.  I’ve been very, very lucky in having very fine musicians play my music.

BD:   Are you ever surprised by what they find in your music?

Brown:   [Misunderstanding the question]  They all seemed to enjoy it.  I wouldn’t say there were surprised.

BD:   No, are you surprised?  Do they ever find things in the music that you didn’t know you’d hidden there?

Brown:   No, not really.

BD:   Maybe just a turn of phrase, or something that you hear later on, and are pleased and surprised that was there?

Brown:   No, not really.  I can’t think of any great surprises.  I am pleased that some things go well.  I’m rather good at orchestration.  That is one of my stronger points.  I know all the instruments quite well.  I was a pupil of Lucien Cailliet.  He was the orchestrator for the Philadelphia Orchestra when Stokowski was there.

Born May 22, 1891 at Dampierre-sur-Moivre, in northern France, Lucien Cailliet studied at several French music conservatories before graduating from the Dijon Conservatory at age twenty-two. He also received a degree from the National Conservatory in Paris. He was a bandmaster in the French Army and, in 1915, he toured the United States with the French Army Band.

cailliet In 1919, he joined the Philadelphia Orchestra as a clarinetist, saxophonist, and arranger, where he worked closely with Leopold Stokowski. In 1923, Cailliet became an American citizen and continued to play with the Philadelphia Orchestra while attending graduate school at the Philadelphia Musical Academy. After receiving his Doctor of Music Degree in 1937, he moved to California to teach at the University of Southern California. After teaching there for seven years, he decided to devote his time to guest conducting and composing film scores.

In 1933, Cailliet performed Reynaldo Hahn's Sarabande et Theme on bass clarinet with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1937, he made a new arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition.

As Cailliet said in a radio interview quoted by Obert-Thorn, the method of Stokowski was to sketch his orchestration on sheet music of the original work. He would indicate which instruments should play each phrase, where he wanted a certain reed, or where he wanted a combination of reeds and brass, as well as dynamics. Stokowski passed this along to Cailliet, who wrote out a full score according to Stokowski’s directions. Then Stokowski would rehearse the orchestra and make alterations after the rehearsal.

Evidence lies in manuscripts with Stokowski’s handwriting, where he wrote in French (such as “bois” for “woodwinds”) because the French-speaking Cailliet needed a guide to start his work. Cailliet said about the transcriptions, “It was his [Stokowski’s] idea completely, and of course he was himself a very good orchestrator. He made a very good choice of instruments.” That was a description of Stokowski’s transcriptions, whereas Cailliet’s  — as heard on this CD — were entirely his own. He also made several arrangements for clarinet choir that have become staples of the repertoire. Many Cailliet orchestrations were recorded by a plethora of orchestras.

He contributed to nearly fifty films as either composer or arranger. Among the best known of these films are She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Ten Commandments (for which Elmer Bernstein wrote the score), and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. His most famous orchestration is the virtuoso piece for piano and orchestra Midnight on the Cliffs by the pianist and composer Leonard Pennario, for the Andrew L. Stone film Julie (1956).  He died on January 3, 1985.

BD:   You’re also an organist?

Brown:   I’m an organist, yes.

BD:   I assume that quite a bit of your music has been written for organ?

rayner Brown:   Yes, I’ve written more for organ than anything else, and I’ve written a great deal for organ with the other instrumentslike organ and flute, organ and clarinet, and so forth.  Then I have seven concertos for organ with orchestra.

BD:   When you’re playing one of your own pieces, do you feel you’re the ideal interpreter of your own music?

Brown:   Not particularly, no.  I do all right.  I interpret it the right way, but I have heard several organists play these pieces fine.  Ladd Thomas and Cherry Rhodes come to mind.  [To read about these two organists, click HERE.]

BD:   I’m very glad.  It’s very approachable music.  You apparently have no hesitation about writing what might be termed ‘conservative’ music.

Brown:   [Chuckles]  Well, I’m conservative, I guess.

BD:   Do you feel a close communication with audiences, more so than, say, some of the twelvetone-ists?

Brown:   I can’t say that.  I can’t answer that.

BD:   When you’re writing a piece of music, do you have the audience or the performers in mind?

Brown:   If I’m commissioned, I have the performers in mind.  If I’m not writing for any special occasion, I write the way I want to write, but with no thought of the audience, no thought of the performer other than make it playable for the instrument I’m writing.  I think of the performer in that sense.

BD:   When you’re writing something for the organ, how much indication do you put into the score as far as registration?

Brown:   I put, you might say, a little less than average.  It’s clearly indicated what I want, but not in great detail.

BD:   Then your music would be easily adapted for various instruments, large and small?

Brown:   That’s right, yes.  I think it should be.

BD:   Have you ever written specifically for an organ that you know, or your own organ?

Brown:   Oh, yes, many times.

BD:   Is it gratifying to hear your own music being played either by yourself or by others?

Brown:   Yes, it’s very gratifying and very enjoyable.

BD:   Have you written some music for the voice?

Brown:   Not very much.  I’ve written a Mass.  One of my recent pieces for voice was a Mass to St. Winfred.  St. Winfred, in case you don’t know, is Winnie the Pooh!  This is all in Latin.  I combined the regular Mass with the appropriate remarks for each section from Winnie the Pooh.  I haven’t heard that one yet [it would be premiered on February 23, 1990, by the Pasadena Pro Musica, conducted by Edward Low], but I got permission from the publishers to use it.  So, it’s all ready to go now.  It took me several months to trace down somebody to get permission to use the Latin translation.  I finally got permission from the publisher in England.

BD:   Is this intended to be a humorous piece?

Brown:   Not at all!  For months I debated whether to write this.  I just got the idea that it might be interesting, and I thought nobody would probably want to do it, so I guess I won’t do it.  I finally said I guess I will, and I will just write it suit myself.  So, I wrote it, and since I was just writing it with nobody in mind, I put in a rather large orchestra.  Now I’ve got it all written with the large orchestra, and people I’ve shown it to think it’s very good... but they can’t afford the orchestra unless they should happen to be doing some other piece.  It would be a short work, maybe twenty to twenty-five minutes, and no choir would give a concert and hire fifty men just for twenty minutes.

BD:   You had no thought of reducing the orchestra to organ. or a chamber group?

Brown:   No, I can’t.  I think orchestrally, and this doesn’t reduce.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask another great big philosophical question.  What do you feel is the purpose of music in society?

Brown:   I never thought of it quite that way.  There are too many purposes.  There are all kinds of purposes.  It’s entertainment, and it can be used as therapy... There is so much that I can’t answer the question very well.

BD:   That
s all right.  Well move ahead...  When you’re writing a piece of music, at what point do you know that the piece is finished; that you have tampered with all you want to tamper with?

Brown:   I don’t tamper.  Believe it or not, I do not tamper.  I write quite slowly, and I’ve written a lot.  People think I’m a prolific composer, and they call me that.  No, I work rather slowly, and I don’t go on to a new section until the first section is right.  I don’t go on really much more than a phrase.  It stays put, and that may be a weakness of mine, but that’s the way I like to write, and the way I do.

BD:   Then when you come to the double bar, it’s done?

Brown:   When it’s done, it’s done!  Then I type it.  I read it in tempo, then I type it.  I have a Musicwriter.  Most of my published music now is done with the typewriter.  It’s called a Musicwriter.


BD:   Is that the machine Cecil Effinger was working on?

rayner brwon Brown:   That’s it.  I just got a letter from him.  He is working on another one now.  This is the one I have, and the one they do now is put out by Olympia, but he keeps the business himself [Music Print Corporation].  That machine will do everything except put in the slurs.  I publish my own music now completely, and anything I write is available through Augsburg Publishing House.  It’s really a Lutheran publishing house.  They have a store in Minneapolis, and seven or eight stores throughout the country.  Anyway, they sell all my music.

BD:   Is this one of the things that is the bane of the composergetting the music actually published?

Brown:   Oh, it’s very hard to get anything published, especially now that they’ve all the music companies have gone broke.  There’s no more Schirmer’s, there’s no more H. W. Gray, no more Carl Fischer.  All those companies have been taken over by someone else.  So it’s very difficult to get any serious music published.

BD:   At whose feet can we lay the blame for this?

Brown:   Partly the performers who do not buy enough new music, but probably the people are too busy with other things to buy music like they used to.  H. W. Gray company published a great deal of organ music.  They were known for their organ publications.  There’d be a couple of new things every month.  They put out all of Leo Sowerby’s music, and things like that.  There’s not a company which does that now.

BD:   How do we get the performers, and perhaps even the public, interested in hearing more new music?

Brown:   Probably only by people like you.

BD:   [With a slight blush and a smile]  I do what I can in my small way.

Brown:   There are also other people doing their bit in a small way, but it’s very difficult.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of music?

Brown:   [With a big sigh]  It depends on what phase it is.

BD:   Yes, that’s true.  It can be divided into several phases... the actual writing of new music, the performing of various pieces, and the consumption of music are all different points.

Brown:   I don’t doubt there’ll be plenty of music for TV and the movies.  That’s where you make money for music.  As far as classical music such as symphonies and concertos, as I said earlier, you must want to write that kind of music and you must be willing to enjoy doing it while not expecting performances nor to make any money.  So, I guess my views of the future for classical modern music is a bit pessimistic... not very bright.

BD:   It seems that in many places the line between concert music and popular music is getting blurred.  Do you think that’s a good thing?

Brown:   It depends on what you mean by popular music.  I don’t think it’s good thing if the two are getting blurred.  That’s very bad, but that doesn’t mean some of the elements you find in popular music cannot be used in symphonic music, such as jazz rhythms.

BD:   Do you feel that the concert promoters should try and go out and get some of the popular music audience into the concert halls?

Brown:   Do you mean by playing less classical music, or more popular music?

BD:   Or just hitting them over the head and dragging them into the concert hall.  [Both laugh]

Brown:   I would say no to that option.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You were talking earlier about the teaching of music from the standpoint of guiding young professionals to be composers or performers.  Do you feel that the teaching of music for music consumers is being done well today?

brown Brown:   No, I don’t because I’m a firm believer that you need a strong background for any type of music.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that many colleges don’t want to teach any traditional music.  However, most people can tell the difference between somebody that’s been properly trained or not.  It is the same with some of this modern art.  Some of it is just paint thrown on the page, and others show great technique because they have gone through an art school.  It is the same way in music.  They should have a thorough knowledge of all the periods of music, and then they can write in the style of any composer.  This will show even if you’re trying to write for the movies.

BD:   Do you feel that music works well on recordings?

Brown:   Yes.  I don’t have a compact disc player yet, but I have the recording equipment and it sounds quite realistic.  They say that the compact discs are better yet, so I would say yes to your question.

BD:   Do you feel that a recording which has been edited and perfected, sets up an impossible standard for anyone trying to perform it live?  In other words, does the public get spoiled listening to a recording that doesn’t have horn cracks and out of tune notes?

Brown:   I don’t know.  I can’t answer that, really.  I think most people are busy watching TV, and they don’t listen to many symphonies.

BD:   That leads directly to my next question.  Do you think that symphonies work well on television?

Brown:   I’d say, yes.  Not as well as in person in the concert hall, but yes, I’d say definitely.

BD:   We talked a little bit about composers, but have the performers gotten better over the last twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years?

Brown:   I can speak for organists, and I would say definitely, very much so.  I don’t know about whether there are better singers now than they used to be, but I know there have been great strides to good organ playing compared to what it used to be.

BD:   When you say the organists are better, are they better technically, or are they better musically, or both?

Brown:   Both!  Definitely both.  Organists have always been mostly confined to churches because that’s where the organs are, and there are many churches that have very poor organs, and very poor players.  So, the organist’s lot has a very poor reputation.  But for concerts like here in Los Angeles, there are ten or twelve organs that are just tops.  You couldn’t be in any better place.  I have seen this change.  My first job playing the organ was in 1928, so I’ve been playing for about sixty years.  It’s definitely improved so much that it’s hard to believe.  You ask other organists, but they’ll tell you the same thing.

BD:   The organist has to do all of his own registration.  Does that tend to make them more complete musicians than, say, violinists or even pianists?

Brown:   Well, I’m an organist and I’d say definitely yes!  [Both laugh]  I am not only saying this because of my experience, but an organist has to understand and adjust himself to a building.  Every organ is different, and every building is different, so he has to understand acoustics, and musicianship, because he has to play on it for many different circumstances.

BD:   Is there ever a case where the organ console is the best place to hear the sound of the instrument?

Brown:   Usually the console is not the best place.  It’s usually too close to the organ, or over on the side.  In many places you have to have somebody listen for you for balances.

BD:   When you have someone listen for balances, do you then let that other person sit at the console with your registration, and then you go out and listen?

rayner brown Brown:   Yes, that’s right.

BD:   Do you ever get involved with the tuning and the maintaining of the organs?

Brown:   No, I do none of that, and have never done any of that.  Very few organists are also technicians.

BD:   Let me ask a question I’ve never asked before.  Has there ever been a case where an organ has been moved successfully from one building to another?

Brown:   Yes.

BD:   [Genuinely shocked]  Really???

Brown:   You can move an organ.  It
s a little bigger job than moving a piano, because of all of the stuff that’s built into the building, but...

BD:   I just assumed that the whole thing was designed for the space that was there.

Brown:   Yes, but it can have a little bit added to it, or a little bit taken away.  A few changes can be made when they make the move.  I‘ve known places where you take an organ out of one place and put it someplace else.  Some large church may get a new big large organ, and they sell the old organ to a smaller church, or maybe discard part of the organ.  You’ll have a very nice organ out of the old organ.

BD:   Do the organ builders these days keep up the standards of years past?

Brown:   There are good ones and there are bad ones, and the good ones have very high standards.

BD:   Do you think the public is really aware of the organ as a concert instrument more than just a church instrument?

Brown:   The public as a whole is not aware of the concert possibilities.

BD:   How can we get them more aware?

Brown:   Oh, don’t know.  Radio will help.  Anything you do will help!  It all helps.  There’s a program from Minneapolis called Pipedreams.  They’re on for almost two hours every Sunday night, and they play all kinds of concert music for organ.  Things like that are bound to help.

Pipedreams is a radio music program produced and distributed by American Public Media (APM) based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, created and hosted since its inception by J. Michael Barone. Each one- or two-hour show features organ music, and centers on a theme such as a particular instrument, venue, organ builder, performer, composer, period, etc. The program has been in weekly national broadcast syndication since 1983 (following pilot episodes in 1982), and it remains the only nationally syndicated radio program in the United States devoted to organ music. The program is available on APM-affiliated stations and on the website. In recent years, Pipedreams' weekly radio audience has fluctuated around 200,000 listeners. The program's major sponsors include the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America, and the program's major accolades include the 2001 Deems Taylor Radio Broadcast Award for Excellence from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

BD:   Can any of the electronic organs, that you know of, compete successfully with the great pipe organs?

Brown:   No.  They’ve got an electronic organ that’s a movie organ that you can’t tell from the real thing, but they haven’t been able to do it with the concert organ as yet.  Some day that will happen, but not yet.

BD:   Are there composers today writing great music for organ?

Brown:   Very little.  There must be more than I know about because it’s not being published, and it’s not available.

BD:   Have you played some of the big works, such as the Saint-Saëns Third Symphony, or the Poulenc Concerto?

Brown:   I haven’t performed either one of those two.

BD:   I assume you’ve played some organ concertos besides your own?

Brown:   No, I really haven’t.

BD:   Did you use some of the existing organ concertos as models for the ones you wrote?

Brown:   There’s quite a number of concertos.  Start with the early ones, such as Handel.  There’s a bunch of them, and then you go up to Romantic period.  You also have the modern ones from Hindemith, Kurt Hessenberg... there are a lot of German names including Reger and Rheinberger.  Then coming back to the twentieth century, we have a wealth of organ music there.  One of the best ones is Johann Nepomuk David.  He’s one of my favorite composers, and he’s written a lot of organ music, including a concerto.  If you ever get a chance to hear his Fifth Symphony, it’s one of the greatest twentieth century pieces written.

Johann Nepomuk David (November 30, 1895 - December 22, 1977) was born in Eferding Austria. He was a choirboy in the monastery of Sankt Florian and studied at an episcopal teacher training college in Linz, 1912–1915, after which he became a school teacher. He studied briefly (1921–2) at both the Musikhochschule (where was a composition student of Joseph Marx) and the university of Vienna (where he studied with Guido Adler). He returned to Linz in 1922, where he acted as musical director of the Linz "Kunststelle" until 1924. From January 1925 until the autumn of 1934 he was a teacher at a local catholic school, founded and directed a Bach choir, and was organist at a Protestant church at Wels. He then became professor of composition and theory at the Musikhochschule in Leipzig (November 1934 – January 1945). From 1945 to 1947 he was professor of music at the Mozarteum, Salzburg, and finally, from 1948 to 1963, professor of theory and counterpoint (practically: composition) at the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart. At Stuttgart, he also directed the Bruckner choir (1949–52), the academy's chamber orchestra (1950–53).

david David wrote a number of orchestral works including eight symphonies (of which the fifth has been recorded, as have some other works including a disc of organ music), several concertos including an organ concerto and three violin concertos, instrumental works including many for or with organ, and many choral works. His general style changed from the modal tendencies seen in his first two symphonies to the more acerbic though still tonal sound of the later ones.

David died, aged 83, in Stuttgart. His son, Thomas Christian David (1925–2006), was also a composer.

His pupils included Johan Kvandal (1919-1999), Hans Georg Bertram (1936–2013), Seóirse Bodley (born 1933), Helmut Lachenmann (born 1935), Hans Stadlmair (born 1926), and Ruth Zechlin (1926–2007).

Among his prizes are:
  • 1949: Franz Liszt Prize (Weimar)
  • 1951: City of Vienna Prize for Music
  • 1952: Buxtehudepreis (Lübeck)
  • 1953: Grand Austrian State Prize for Music
  • 1955: Mozart Medal (Mozartgemeinde Vienna)
  • 1963: Bach Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg
  • 1963: Anton Bruckner Prize (Linz)
  • 1966: Austrian Decoration for Science and Art
  • 1966: Mozart Prize of the Goethe Foundation in Basel by the University of Innsbruck
  • 1966: Berlin Art Prize

BD:   Do you keep up with some of the other trends in music, such as the Minimalist movement?

Brown:   Oh, I’m very familiar with all these things.  We have a great deal of that type of music played in Los Angeles.  The University has done has many concerts of music of that type.  The Schoenberg Institute is there, and they have lots of twelve-tone music played there, and they have a series of contemporary music in Los Angeles.

BD:   Are the concerts well-attended?

Brown:   As a whole, no.  Some of them are fairly well-attended, and some of them are not, but they’re going very well.

BD:   Where is music going today?

Brown:   I think they will become a little bit more Romantic, and they’ll begin using more electronic equipment as it becomes more sophisticated.  We’ve had twelve-tone music which has been kept alive by a very small minority of composers, but who are very active.  They’ve kept that alive, and they have the Minimalists, and others who use tone clusters, and all that stuff.  When I talk about new music, that’s twelve-tone and John Cage’s music.  I was studying at the time when we were getting tired of John Cage, and we were playing tone clusters in 1930.  So, when this new bunch comes along in 1980, the young crowd, when they played some tone clusters they think they’ve discovered something new, whereas I think it’s very old-fashioned.  So maybe I’m not a very good judge on some of that.  But when I played tone clusters, and made crazy sounds and so forth, my teachers were very tolerant of me.  So I always would say that when young students now play that kind of music, be tolerant, and let them have their fun.  In the long run, a lot of these ideas will simply die out.  They’re already losing steam, and many composers are already bringing more melodic, more Romantic type music and less-sharp dissonance for dissonance sake.

brown BD:   Do you have an idea of why it is happening?

Brown:   If you work with tone clusters, you must get tired of it.  I can’t see how they wouldn’t get tired of it.  They can’t create too much by just having all tone clusters.  If you have good musicians as performers, you can tell the difference between a good composer and one who is not.  You’ll find with some of these modern ideas that they can’t get anywhere with it, so they’re writing something more Romantic.

BD:   Is this, perhaps, what helps to constitute a great piece of music
one that you don’t get tired of?

Brown:   I think so, yes.  That could be.  It wears well, as we say.  Sometimes a piece wears well, and you play it over, and over, and over, and you still can enjoy it and see something to it, whereas a poor piece of music you play it over, and over, and over, you get to the point where you can’t stand it.

BD:   Does the music of Rayner Brown wear well?

Brown:   I don’t talk about my music.  That is the best way.

BD:   What is next on the calendar for you?  What is the music you’re working on right now?

Brown:   It’s not quite done, but I
m finishing a Sonata for Organ and Soprano Saxophone.  I also have one for organ and string orchestra.  Ladd Thomas and Cherry Rhodes are playing a duet recital in New York at Trinity Church.  They did one here a year or so ago.  They’ll premier my piece for organ duet, saxophone and percussion.

BD:   That’s a piece that requires two organists?

Brown:   Two organists at one console.  You say piano four-hands, but with organ you say with two players because you don’t want to say organ with four-hands and four feet!  Although, I did write a Sonatina for Four Feet.

BD:   How did it turn out?

Brown:   It turned out fine.  It sounds good.

BD:   Now when you write for two organists, do you demand that they each use two hands and two feet?

Brown:   Oh, yes.  There’s no point in writing for two of them unless you can make something sound like two people are playing, which is very hard to do.

BD:   How do you keep it from getting too muddy?

Brown:   Well, I do have to write clearly, I guess!  [Laughs]  You just don’t write muddy.  It’s like writing for several instruments.  One person plays the clarinet stop and a flute stop, and the other person will play a string stop.  There are lots of things you can do, but it’s awfully hard to do because you often get to the point where if I make a couple of changes, one person can just as well do it.  It
s the same as writing for two pianos.  It’s awfully hard to make it sound.

BD:   It’s been fascinating talking with you.  I have learned a lot and I look forward to playing your music on the air, and sharing some of your comments with our listeners in Chicago.

Brown:   My pleasure.  I tried my best to answer your questions.


© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded on the telephone on August 31, 1987.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1992 and 1997.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.