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James Brown

Members will be very sorry to learn of the death, on 21 December 2004, of Mr James C Brown, former Senior Lecturer in the Department of Music and University Organist.

Mr Browns longstanding friends and colleagues have contributed the following obituary:

James Clifford Brown was born at Ipswich, Suffolk, on 18 August 1923, and died at Scarborough on 21 December 2004 at the age of 81. He received his early musical training locally, mainly from the Borough Organist, Jonathan Job, and was a chorister at Ipswichs civic church until 1940. At this time he was already composing songs and operettas. He became organist and choirmaster at All Hallows Church, Ipswich (19401), before going up to St Johns College, Cambridge, on a choral studentship to read Music and English. After war service (19425) Brown returned to Cambridge and was appointed organ student. He held the John Stewart of Rannoch Scholarship in Sacred Music, and in 1947 won the Barclay Squire Prize for his edition of Thomas Whythorne's Songes for Three, Fower and Five Voyces (1571). He held the Cambridge degrees of MA and MusB.

In 1948 he joined Edward Allam and Frank Mumby in the Leeds Music Department, being promoted from Assistant Lecturer to Lecturer in 1951 and to a Senior Lectureship in 1972. He was Acting Head of Department from 1 April to 31 December 1981. From the first he acted informally as the University's organist, and was given the title of University Organist when that office was instituted after the building of the new organ in the Great Hall (1958). He was a fine pianist and organist, taking the Associateship of the Royal College of Organists in 1941 and the Fellowship in 1948: in Leeds he was a frequent performer at University concerts. His childhood interest in operetta was continued with theatrical work at Cambridge (where he was a member of the Footlights and contributed music to its revues) and in the Leeds University Union Theatre Group and Light Opera Society. In the Department of Music he directed (from the piano) an Opera Circle in which he rehearsed student singers in many of the standard operatic works, to the genuine satisfaction of all. He also performed regularly at the Leeds Music Club and elsewhere, and valued his many friendships outside the academic world.

Brown was a very fine and underestimated composer, many of his works being first performed at the University. He took a years leave in 1961/2 in order to study in Rome: although well-informed about contemporary musical techniques, his own style developed on highly personal lines, characterised by elliptical harmony, and he was, in his own words, "always attracted by wayside flowers". He had a strong sense of occasion, which resulted in many commissions and other requests for new works: these included the music for the historic performance of the York Mystery Plays in 1951 and works for University events such as the Jubilee in 1954 (the recently recorded anthem "The fear of the Lord is honour and glory"), the centenary celebrations of 1974-5 (the cantata "Ad Incensum Lucernae", to words by Geoffrey Hill) and the honorary degree ceremony of 1983, the last at which he played the organ before his retirement on 30 September that year (the "Processional on the Old 44th"). Brown was much too modest to press for performances, and it is sad that so many of his works were rarely performed. Among these is the Symphony (1951-6, but under revision until 1996), of which the slow movement was played by the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra in 1953, but which otherwise remains unheard. His continued activity in retirement also resulted in the fine Piano Concerto (1994), when he was already 70.

Although there were always other composers among his colleagues, Brown undertook the bulk of composition teaching in the Department. Some of his former students have become professional composers, and these usually name him as the most important professional influence on their lives; but there are many others who valued him as a teacher, mentor and friend. Brown was an inspirational teacher, whether of composition, opera, or harmony and counterpoint, with an impressive knowledge of the musical repertory, a seemingly infallible ability to play whatever music was put in front of him, and a ready sympathy for the problems of any serious student. For the same reasons he was an unfailing pleasure to work with, a good colleague and a loyal friend. His life and work were clearly (but never ostentatiously) guided by an unswerving Christian faith.

Brown moved from Kirkstall to Bridlington in June 2003, shortly before his 80th birthday. There he remained in touch with friends, writing his beautifully-phrased letters in almost unimpaired script to the last. In the summer of 2003 he donated most of his musical manuscripts and papers to the University: he saw a complete draft of the catalogue of his work in the autumn of 2004 and was surprised and delighted to see the true range and extent of his compositions. Equally important to him was the issue during his last years of recordings of three of his works: extracts from the music for the York Mystery Plays (1951), the anthem "The fear of the Lord is honour and glory" (1954) and the "Salute for a Centenary" (1979, for the Schultze organ centenary service in St Bartholomew's, Armley).

Brown's elder brother Tom died in late 2000; his sister Dulcie now lives in Canada. To his sister, and to Tom's daughter Susan Parker and her family, we offer our sincere condolences.