Earle Brown belongs to the group of American composers (along with Cage, Feldman, and Wolff) who redefined the music of the 20th century. Brown composed some of the most original works of this group. His contributions include the introduction of “open form,” proportional and graphic notations and the use of indeterminacy as part of performance.
Brown (born 1926 in Lunenburg, Massachusetts) first studied mathematics and engineering and attended the Schillinger School of Music to study techniques of composition and orchestration. In 1951, while living in Denver, Colorado, Brown met John Cage, who was touring with Merce Cunningham. After seeing Brown’s scores and hearing his music, Cage invited Brown to New York, to join the newly formed group (Cage, Morton Feldman, David Tudor and Christian Wolff). Brown moved to New York in 1952, where he became an integral part of Cage’s inner circle. With Cage and Tudor, he became associate composer with the Project for Music for Magnetic Tape (1952-55). At the same time, Brown’s first wife, Carolyn Brown, became a member of the Cunningham Dance Company, where she was the leading dancer until 1972. Shortly after his arrival in New York, Brown created his goundbreaking composition Folio (1952) in which he introduced graphic and proportional notations, ideas which influenced Cage and Wolff. In further developing his musical ideas, Brown introduced the concept of “open form” in 25 Pages for 1-25 pianos (1953), and extended it to orchestral works in Available Forms I (1961) and Available Forms II for two orchestras (1962). The concept of “open form” was influenced by Brown’s encounter with the work of sculptor Alexander Calder and painter Jackson Pollock.