Ronald Stevenson at 80 – Music by Stevenson and Composers Who have Inspired his Art
We are very grateful to Robert Matthew-Walker and Richard Whitehouse for the following reviews of the “Stevenson weekend” which appeared in www.classicalsource.com.
11 & 12 April 2008, St John’s, Smith Square, London
The Scottish composer, pianist, teacher and pedagogue Ronald Stevenson celebrated his 80th-birthday on 6 March, and to mark the event an entire weekend of concerts devoted to his music, including music by composers that Stevenson particularly admires or have influenced him, was held over three days under the artistic direction of Murray McLachlan. I was in attendance for the first two days and my colleague Richard Whitehouse for the third.
The composer himself was present to acknowledge this exceptional celebration of his art. Almost forty musicians took part, and the weekend kicked off with a rare complete performance of Stevenson’s large-scale song-cycle “Songs of Innocence”, settings of various Blake poems composed between 1945 and 1965. This extraordinary anthology was performed by The Artsong Collective, four solo singers (soprano Moira Harris,
contralto Phillida Bannister, tenor Wills Morgan and baritone Paul Keohone) with pianist Richard Black.
It is impossible to appreciate this work fully after a single hearing, the more so as none of the texts was printed in the programme, but in terms of grateful word-setting and fully appropriate piano accompaniments, every one of the settings is complete in itself with regard to mood – this was no ‘by-the-yard’ music – and, as the cycle progressed, moved inexorably towards the final four-part a cappella ‘On Another’s Sorrow’.
Unfortunately, the four singers of The Artsong Collective were none-too-well matched in ability; it transpired that Phillida Bannister was suffering from an infection – and didn’t appear the following day – and of the other three singers, only Paul Keohone could be said to be the most communicative, in tune and vocally assured. None the less, even within these drawbacks, it was clear that Stevenson is a natural song composer, one who
never places unnatural demands on the voice, and with over 250 songs to his credit, has clearly written a substantial body of work which should be far better known.
The second concert brought the Martin String Quartet Janá ek’s Quartet No.2 (Intimate Letters) and Stevenson’s ‘Voces Vagabundae’ (1989). The Janá ek was particularly convincingly played, a really fine performance, which comment could surely be applied to Stevenson’s work, a piece of considerable inventive skill and expressive intent, to the extent that one began to wonder if it were not in fact a conflation of two separate works – the first two movements and the concluding two forming distinct halves of a bipartite work –
ending with a succession of Scottish dances before a final group of contrapuntal dances ends the work in a jubilantly-fashioned whirl. Why this impressive work remains neglected is a mystery – it is significant that it needed a European-based ensemble to bring it to London.
The third concert, beginning at 10 p.m., opened with an attractive work by Savourna Stevenson, a movement from her Quintet for harp and string quartet (the Martin String Quartet again) in which the composer herself played the main folk-based material on which it is based. This was followed by a very fine account of Stevenson’s relatively well-known Peter Grimes Fantasy for solo piano, an extraordinary recreation of those
19th-century fantasias on popular operas with which many astrakhan-collared virtuosos of the period used to bring their audiences to their feet, and which earned the justified admiration of Britten himself. The excellent pianist was Marie- Louise Taylor, who played the work from memory; one’s only criticism of the piece is that it is somewhat short for the material; not that it is in the potpourri class, but one wished for a greater development of some of the ideas – perhaps a solo piano version of the ‘Passacaglia’ from that work would be a suitable follow-up. Joseph Long then gave the London premiere of a Piano Sonata composed in 1958 by Ronald Center (1913- 73), of which Stevenson himself had given the world premiere in Aberdeen in 1979. It is an exceptionally fine piece, the language of which certainly betokens its mid-century date, and which held
the attention throughout in what appeared to be an excellent and thoroughly committed performance. Finally, Long played two shorter Stevenson pieces for solo piano, the eruptive Beltane Bonfire and a Fugue on a Fragment of Chopin, the fugue subject itself being taken from Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, which separated these two pieces. It was a pleasure to hear these young artists, and more was to come on the morning of the following day, a Young Artists’ Piano Recital performed by prize-winning students of the Trinity College of Music; three pianists concentrated upon transcriptions, or works based upon earlier music – genres to
which Stevenson himself has made a number of significant contributions – and these were followed by a double two-piano recital. First, Allan Schiller and John Humphreys gave what many considered to be an outstanding performance of Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica, followed by Penelope Thwaites and
John Lavender, who played Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy (some of it!) and his Porgy and Bess Fantasy.
The Artsong Collective returned (minus Bannister) to give a programme mainly of short sets of songs, or of song-cycles, by Stevenson, interspersed with various single songs by other composers. Of the three Stevenson cycles, “Hills of Home” (to poems by Robert Louis Stevenson) stood out as a totally unalloyed masterpiece, outstandingly well sung by Paul Keohone, but the first item, a set of Five Songs to poems by
Hugh MacDiarmid, ran it close as a work of art. Individual songs included Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer”, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Thou art” (a notably impressive song), a typically haunting arrangement of the folk-song “The Spring of Thyme” by Percy Grainger, and Two Songs by Francis George Scott. Overall, this recital gave a more rounded picture of Stevenson as song composer than “Songs of Innocence” the
previous evening. Another Young Artists’ Recital was next, a very mixed bag of solo piano, solo harp, wind quintet and string quartet pieces, mostly of course by Stevenson himself, and beginning with A Rosary of Variations on O’Riada’s Irish Folk Mass for piano.
Stevenson’s fascinating score is based upon the main musical themes from each part of the Mass composed originally by Sean O’Riada, each being a separate ‘bead’ of music. It was exquisitely interpreted by Sebastian O’Shea-Farren, followed by harpist Catherine Derrick, who played two Scottish Folk-Song arrangements, and another piece, Two Cambrian Cantos, by Stevenson. The Celtic connections were continued by an allfemale wind quintet from Chetham’s Music School, who played Stevenson’s Pan-Celtic Quintet, a six-movement piece each of which is inspired by a Celtic part of the British Isles, and ending with a Welsh fantasia on various folk-songs. Once again, one cannot but be puzzled as to why such elegantly written, and instantly-attractive, music is not far better-known than it is.
The Chopin-Godowsky Etudes are by no means easy pickings,and one admired the excellent and fearless playing of Arsha Kaviani in three of them, daringly choosing to begin with the left-hand Godowsky take on the famous Opus 10/Number 3. Here is a name to watch as is that of Christopher White, who concluded this over-long recital with two by no means insignificant pieces by Busoni – his account of the tripartite Toccata was a commanding piece of bravura and sensitive playing. In between these young male pianists came three short works by Stevenson for string quartet, the players also from Chetham’s. First was Four Meditations, a fascinating series of short, but not epigrammatic, pieces – nor were they necessarily studies for larger compositions. They were followed by Stevenson’s arrangement for string quartet of Busoni’s Third Sonatina for piano, re-titled Quartettino. By this time in the weekend, Stevenson’s compositional mastery was so self-evident that he could be forgiven anything, but there was no need to forgive such a musical and convincing version of a work which this transcriber must have known intimately in the original. The third string quartet item was Recitative and Air (DSCH), completed in 1975 and – owing to Shostakovich’s death that
August – inscribed to the Russian composer’s memory (it was intended as a 70th-birthday tribute, which Shostakovich did not live to see). This work exists in a number of versions and is a highly appropriate tribute to the master, successfully avoiding comparisons with his Eighth Quartet.
Shostakovich’s DSCH ‘signature’ provided Stevenson with his most famous work, the vast Passacaglia on DSCH for piano, which dates from the early 1960s. This is, one is quite prepared to believe, Stevenson’s masterpiece, and is without question a major addition to the repertoire – a continuous work, lasting 80-plus minutes, and holding the attention throughout. The work was, therefore, in the nature of things, the highlight of the Saturday concerts, and drew the largest audience, who were held spellbound by the mastery of the work itself and by the outstanding playing of Murray McLachlan, whose commitment to the composer in general, and to this work in particular, were self-evidently total. This was quite superb pianism, allied to a structural command that knows no peers. The Passacaglia is an out-and-out masterpiece, which will be played long after much music of the last 50 years is justifiably forgotten. And, despite another concert to come – by now running seriously late – the magnificent Passacaglia was enough for this listener!
13 April 2008, St John’s, Smith Square, London
The third day of this festival ‘all around Ronald Stevenson’ got off to an unexpected start when the morning’s organ recital was cancelled owing to the indisposition of John Scott. Fortunately, pianist Karl Lutchmayer was on hand for a typically wide-ranging programme that began with Alkan’s highly inventive Fantaisie for the left-hand, besides featuring two pieces by Busoni that effortlessly elide the division between ‘composition’ and
‘transcription’. Sonatina super Carmen is a scintillating and yet organically-conceived medley from Bizet’s opera, while Bach’s D minor Chaconne is a locus classicus of creative transcription such as remains faithful to the spirit of the music – Lutchmayer favouring the stark conclusion that Busoni devised for his “Klavierübung” rather than the more familiar original. Taut and eloquent, Liszt’s Reminiscences on Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra
(his final such paraphrase) was a discovery, and though Lutchmayer apologised for a repeat airing of Stevenson’s Peter Grimes Fantasy (1971), his lucid way with this insightful piece more than justified its inclusion. A recital that augers well for Lutchmayer’s full-length recital at The Warehouse on the afternoon of 20 April.
Lunchtime then brought “A Garland for Ronald”, courtesy of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow. Busoni’s laconic two-piano transcription of the Overture to Mozart’s “Der Zauberflöte” was followed by a varied selection for piano duet – the inspiriting first piece from Busoni’s Finnländische Volksweisen, the first of Grieg’s Norwegian Dances, the poetic second piece from the Tatra-Album of Paderewski (a figure whose music and pianism has profoundly influenced Stevenson’s own thinking), and the deft stylisation that is
Stevenson’s Two Chinese Folksongs (1966). Goldstone and Clemmow returned to the two-piano medium for Britten’s Mazurka Elegiaca – a heartfelt memorial to Paderewski – and the B flat Sonata that Goldstone has himself realised from Mozart fragments: Mozartean both in its demeanour and followthrough, it brought this recital to an instructive and pleasurable conclusion.
The afternoon recital by Joseph Banowetz (a long-time colleague of Stevenson and advocate of his music) was among the most keenly awaited of this weekend’s events. His selection of Stevenson’s piano output took in two of the three Sonatinas which are among his earliest acknowledged pieces: the threemovement
First (1945) has an impersonality that may reflect the influence of Hindemith’s piano sonatas, while the twomovement Second (1947) is an appreciably more individual statement. Banowetz played them ably if a shade dutifully (John Ogdon performed the First Sonatina with far more verve), as if regretting his decision to have preceded them with the Berceuse symphonique (1951) – a prescient homage to Busoni and given with a limpid clarity equally evident in the Sonata Serenissima (1977), a memorial tribute to Britten and the more affecting for its brevity. Liszt’s Third Hungarian Rhapsody evinced a degree of overemphasis that was surely wrong for this most understated of the composer’s earlier such pieces, but Liszt’s transcription of Chopin’s song “My Joys” had a rapt serenity that underlined why Banowetz is held in such high regard by his peers.
Late afternoon brought ‘Inspiration and Influence’ – a diverse miscellany that opened in scintillating manner with Murray McLachlan playing four out of the nine transcriptions (1963) that Stevenson fashioned from songs by Francis George Scott.
The UK premiere of Marina Pikoul’s Sépia for violin and piano left regrettably little impression, but David Wyn Lloyd showed a keen sensitivity on switching to the viola for Britten’s Lachrymae – stylishly accompanied by Nancy Lee Harper. Martino Tirimo then took the floor for the London premiere of Stevenson’s winsome transcription (2002) of the ‘Romanza’ from Mozart’s D minor Piano Concerto (K466), before ending the recital with Beethoven’s Eroica Variations (Opus 35) – trenchantly given, if just a little stolid during the climactic fugue, though with the ominous approach to this and the coda realised in the subtly questing manner that has long been a Tirimo hallmark.
The ‘Final Concert’ was an epic in itself. Wyn Lloyd and Harper returned for Stevenson’s Recitative and Air on DSCH (1975) – a probing revisiting of the motif he had mined intensively over a decade before, and (sadly) more appropriate as the memorial it became than as the 70th-birthday tribute intended. Harper gave elegant accounts of Stevenson’s transcription (1958) of Purcell’s The Queen’s Dolour, a belatedly rediscovered A major Sonata by Domenico Scarlatti (receiving its London premiere), and Stevenson’s grandly rhetorical transcription (1955) of a Toccata once thought to be by Bach but latterly identified as Purcell.
Published two decades ago, Stevenson’s transcription (1987) of the opening Adagio of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony was only publicly aired in 2002. Now, as then, Alton Chung Ming Chan was the performer and yet his manifest pianistic skills eschewed even a hint of rubato – without which this could not be other than ‘Mahler by numbers’. A pity, as the transcription is masterly even by Stevenson’s standards (one might paraphrase his comment on Liszt transcriptions by saying that if all other evidence of the piece’s existence vanished, one would still have an innate understanding of its essence through this transcription), and requires much more than just technical proficiency. Ending the first half (!), Noriko Ogawa gave a fine account of Takemitsu’s haunting Rain Tree Sketch and one of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata that brought virtuosity and pathos into persuasive accord.
The second half opened with Chopin’s late but masterly Cello Sonata – evidently a favourite chamber work of Stevenson and played with real style and sensitivity by Moray Welsh and Martin Roscoe. A lighter dimension was provided by a veritable relay of pianists, led by Penelope Thwaites and John Lavender, in “A
Grainger Salute” – recklessly resourceful arrangements by Grainger of Harvest Hymn, Country Gardens, Zanzibar Boat Song (a minor masterpiece), and (along with an increasingly audible contribution from the audience) The Keel Row and Ye Banks and Braes. Welsh and Roscoe returned for the cello and piano version of Stevenson’s Recitative and Air on DSCH and, by way of conclusion, A’e Gowden Lyric (1965) – an
arrangement of a song to words by Stevenson’s close friend Hugh MacDiarmid, and whose twelve bars exude an inward ecstasy that makes this a brief but not a minor masterpiece.
Whatever its excesses, this was a timely celebration of a figure whose protean creativity has long been acknowledged but too little recognised, and Murray McLachlan can take great credit for putting the weekend together. Could I second Robert Matthew- Walker (in his review of the first two days) in urging Stevenson
to make a transcription of the ‘Passacaglia’ from Britten’s “Peter Grimes” and suggest that the “major independents” consider issuing the recently premiered choral work “Ben Dorain”, as well as the violin and cello concertos that (along with the two piano concertos) otherwise comprise the composer’s major orchestral achievements. Such works were inevitably outside the scope of this series, which was nevertheless a milestone in the dissemination of Stevenson’s music and will hopefully be built upon in the coming years. By his own admission, Stevenson is still hard at work and one can only wish him many years yet of creativity.
The Ronald Stevenson Seminar or “The Fabled Bookshelf”
I have had the privilege of being comfortably seated in the music room/study at Townfoot House, West Linton, Scotland engaged in
animated discussion with Ronald Stevenson. I compare my discussions with Ronald to in-depth graduate seminars on music,
literature, history, and the humanities. I cannot play a musical instrument or sing; and, for that matter, I have no background in
music. I am not a creator of music, but am an avid consumer of it.
So how did it come to pass that I had the opportunity to become a friend of one of Scotland’s greatest composers, pianists and
scholars? The answer is that I married scholar and author Teresa Balough, who knew Ronald through their mutual devotion to the
work of composer/pianist Percy Grainger. I first met Ronald at one of his Grainger lecture recitals in the United States at the White
Plains, New York Public Library, around the corner from the Percy Grainger house. That first meeting lead to several visits to West
Linton and several visits by Ronald and Marjorie to our home in Old Lyme,
On one visit to us,, Ronald gave a performance of his composition Passacaglia on DSCH and a lecture for the students and faculty of
Eastern Connecticut State University, where Dr Balough is adjunct professor of music and I was at the time Dean of the School of
My visits to Townfoot House always included the opportunity to sit with Ronald in his study for free ranging discussions and musical
interludes. I sat in a comfortable chair in the small study dominated by a grand piano and bookshelves along two walls crammed with
books mostly on music art and biography. Music manuscripts lay scattered on most available surfaces, obviously in current use A
picture of Ronald’s father was prominently displayed on a lower bookshelf Ronald sat on the piano bench facing me and would
often turn to illustrate a musical example on the piano. I vividly recall a discussion on Percy Grainger’s compositions and Grainger’s
energetic piano playing style. Ronald turned to the piano and played Shepherd’s Hey from memory with such force flair and energy
that Marjorie and Terry rushed from the kitchen to enjoy the impromptu concert. I thought at the time how Ronald’s style must
resemble that of Percy Grainger.
I recall how topics moved smoothly from music to art to literature to history to biography. Insights and facts came effortlessly from
Ronald’s memory. “I have a reference to that somewhere here” was a frequent refrain His fingers would flick along a bookshelf, a
relevant volume found, retrieved and thumbed through to the desired passage. The book would be placed in my lap and the
conversation continued, a mutual give-and-take seminar, not a lecture. Reference books piled up in my lap as subjects moved from
topic to topic. Besides Grainger, we talked of Busoni, Whitman and many other great figures. Ronald mentioned Nathaniel Dett, an
Afro-American composer who at one time taught music at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), an historically Black
University in Virginia. I was particularly interested in Dett because my father, a graduate of Hampton, was probably there during the
tenure of Nathaniel Dett. Also, when I was a child I remember the Hampton Quartet visiting our home in New Milford, Connecticut
while on concert tour. An admirer of Dett, Ronald produced several references from the fabled bookshelf.
Marjorie’s call to lunch or dinner would break the spell; then came Ronald’s welcome invitation “ready for a wee dram ?” the toast:
“Slainte!” Slainte mhath!” (Gaelic for “Your Good Health!”), then off to one of Marjorie’s magnificent meals.
Owen Peagler Old Lyme, Connecticut, U.S.A. October 2007
Ronald Stevenson Society Symposium, Episcopalian Cathedral of the Isles, Millport, Cumbrae
24 – 27 July 2008
In this, Ronald Stevenson’s 80th anniversary year, and
continuing an emphasis apparent in the earlier celebrations held
at St.John’s, Smith Square, Westminster, special attention was
paid to two dominant influences in his achievements as
composer and performer – Busoni and Grainger.
The opening session operated under the Graingeresque concept
of “Elastic Scoring for All” and explored a number of that
composer’s versions of folk melodies dished up for whistling
lips, voices, multiple handed pianos, fiddle, organ etc. Richard
Black made an interesting comparison with his own experience
in the lively English folk music scene.
Friday morning began with a fascinating discourse by Michael
Jones on the development of tonality, with specific reference to
the two featured composers and the equally Stevensonian
Paderewski, but ranging from Bach, Mozart and Beethoven to
Medtner and beyond. Particularly memorable were
performances of the postlude from An die Jungend and a
Mahlerian prelude from the 1980s by the Englishman
Next came an illustrated discussion on folk music: Tim
Mottershead demonsrating RS’s various approaches to treating
folk melodies as exemplified in his Scottish Folk Settings of the
1960s, ie: unharmonised, a la Kodaly, and a la Grainger.
Additionally, Richard Black performed Grainger’s richly
harmonised Irish tune from County Derry, while Joseph Long
lit up a disconcertingly competent Beltane Bonfire, effortlessly
transcending the limitations of the upright Challen in the
Cathedral’s library. Emphasis was made of Ezra Pound’s insight
that folk tunes were the work of individual, albeit anonymous,
geniuses; concern was expressed as to what sort of people are
being created by today’s commercial music.
In the afternoon, the young Scottish violinist Rowan Bell gave a
fine recital comprising the first movement of Busoni’s Second
Violin Sonata( which he considered his real opus one), and the
sonatas of Ravel and Elgar. Recollection was made of the
remarkable feats of memory of Enescu and others.
The evening session was devoted to a very personal exposition by
Professor Neil McKelvie of the life and work of the pianist and
composer Ignaz Friedman. A number of his works were
performed, perhaps the most characteristic being a Mazurka
which, in contrast with Chopin’s salon style, was more down to
earth, reflecting the Jewish pianist’s youthful experience of
playing more popular music in his native Poland. Friedman was
recalled as a life affirming and romantic artist from the golden
age of pianism.
Saturday began with an illusrated lecture by Alistair Chisolm:
Busoni, Epstein and Van Dieren. Beginning with an account of
the career of van Dieren’s wife, the pianist Frida Kindler, the
multifaceted life of this enigmatic composer was charted, special
emphasis being laid on the disastrous Wigmore Hall concert of
1917, from which he has possibly still to recover. Most
interesting was a performance on 2 pianos of the Intermezzo
Contrapuntistica(originally for strings) from his Diaphony. This
esoteric and very chromatic music, which perhaps revealed van
Dieren as a co-national of Sweelinck, was clearly an influence on
Tim Mottershead brought us back to the realm of folk music,
more specifically the evolving field of “World Music”, a concept,
as Tim pointed out, apparently named by RS himself. Among
several examples of such music for piano were an Afghan piece
featuring hindu ragas, the work of the Kosovan Stakic reflecting
Serbian, Turkish and Greek influences and the Toccata by the
Soviet Armenian Khachaturian!
Saturday afternoon allowed us to see a video of RS’s 1974 film
for the BBC on Busoni. Contrasting starkly with the quality of
today’s television, the film presented a comprehensive vision of
the composer(whom Ronald now considers to be of the same
nationality as Mozart- Austrian); the place of Arlecchino and
Faust in his oeuvre was made particularly clear, as was his
expertise in the field of Goethe scholarship. After a discussion
on Faust with knowledgeable contribution from Jamie Reid
Baxter, Tom Hubbard read his “Mephistophelean Ballant-
Scherzo on ane Fife Legend”.
In the evening, Guildford based violinist Ron Tendler started
the proceedings with a couple of pieces by Gliere and
Khachaturian , followed by a composition of his own dedicated
to his granddaughter. Joseph Long next gave us some
humoresques by Nielsen and a tonally and pianistically
adventurous set of variations from the 1960s by John McCabe.
At the organ, Mark Spalding played firstly the Passacaglia from
Shostakovich’s Lady MacBeth and then RS’s Recitative and Aria
on DSCH. Paul Keohone and Richard Black’s contribution
included a particularly memorable Crowdieknowe by FG Scott,
and the evening concluded with Richard and Michael Jones
playing on two pianos RS’s Duo Sonata written for harp and
Sunday morning was focused on the recording of the splendid
performance in Glasgow City Halls earlier in the year of Moladh
Beinn Dorain. The music and the text, by Duncan Ban
MacIntyre, were introduced by Tim Mottershead to the
enthusiastic reception of those present, some of whom were
hearing the masterpiece for the first time. The main question
was how could this music be performed again; the notion was
voiced – hopefully not in vain – that Alex Salmond and the
Scottish government’s “Homecoming” initiative would be the
ideal platform for another hearing. Doubts were also raised
about the use of the term “epic” to describe the work The public concert in the afternoon began with the Bach-Busoni
Chaccone from Joseph Long and continued with movements
from Ysaye’s 4th sonata for solo violin from Fergus
Heatherington. After two short organ pieces by RS (Reflections
on a Psalm Tune ; Prelude and Chorale) played by Mark
Spalding, Kevin Bowyer played the fascinating Harpichord
Sonata of 1968, returning to that instrument after 10 years.
After the interval, Richard Black accompanied Joao Lima
Duque in the piano Concerto No 1 “A Faust Triptych” and
then Paul Keohone in Hills of Home and excerpts from
Busoni’s Doktor Faust. Michael Jones and Alastair Chisholm
finished with Grainger’s Lost Lady Found.
The final evening event began with Richard and Michael playing
Busoni’s Cortege and Sarabande; after the organ prelude “O
Mensch bewein” played to commemorate the centenary of
Albert Schweitzer’s book on Bach, Fergus Heatherington and
Professor McKelvie performed some improbable and Iberian
duets and we finally ended as we had begun, with Grainger’s
Country Gardens, the familiar counterpoint played with
particular zeal by Alastair Chisholm.
The scheduled events were, however, only half the story.
Conversation in the refectory, common room and the pub in
Millport invoked the shades of numerous worthies: John
Ogdon, Erik Chisholm, Alkan, Medtner, Karg-Elert, Marcel
Dupre, Messiaen, Nietzsche, Karl Barth, not to mention the 4th
pedal on Fazioli pianos, Philip Pullman, Scottish devolution and
the relation of Russia to the EU.
Thanks are patently due to those who made the weekend
possible: the clergy and staff of the cathedral and Alistair
Chisholm; office holders of the society, especially Marjorie
Stevenson and Richard Black; and of course Ronald Stevenson
Mark Spalding firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter from America
I so much enjoyed being able to come to Cumbrae for the first time. In past years, my annual trip to Scotland, England, and the
continent had to start early in August, and the Cumbrae meeting was always in July. This year, since I am now “emeritus Professor”, I
had the leisure to come earlier.
Everyone I met seemed to be both musically knowledgable – including the poets – and friendly. I think that we have all been touched
by the personality and wide interests of both Ronald and Marjorie, and that is what I felt. I shall not give a detailed account of the
lectures and musical experiences, but just say how impressive were the playing skills of so many. I think my single most memorable
moment was hearing the beginning of “Ben Dorain”, when the orchestra comes in for the first time.
My sincere thanks to everyone! Neil McKelvie email@example.com
An 80th birthday year retrospective list of performances
15 March Edinburgh Society of Musicians presented: 80 yrs – A
Celebration of a Life of Music for Ronald Stevenson in a concert of his
piano music and songs performed by Harold Taylor piano,
Catherine Lawrie Jones, soprano, Colin Kingsley, piano and
Salvatore Tomasino, clarinet.
11 13 April St John’s Smith Square, London. (see reviews).
22 April In the Foyer Europeen, Luxembourg, The Martinu
Quartet from Prague played Borodin, Martinu and Stevenson in
a concert entitled Hommage a Ronald Stevenson. This concert
was sponsored by Les Concerts du Foyer Europeen in
collaboration with Music Enterprise.
26 April Peebles Orchestra conducted by Robert Dick performed
the May Songs sung by soprano Susan Hamilton.
25 May European Piano Teachers Association (EPTA) arranged a
Children’s Concert for Ronald at the Society of Musicians,
24 28 July Ronald Stevenson Society Symposium, Isle of
Cumbrae . (see review)
28 July EPTA UK 30th Anniversary at Hope University,
Liverpool, opened with an 80th Birthday tribute. Splendid
performances by pupils of Chetham’s School of Music included
Ronald’s Three Scots Fairy Tales (Matthew and Callum McLachlan,
age 8 and 9), A Wheen Tunes for Bairns Tae Spiel (Cindi Li, age 11),
Two Chinese Folksongs (Cindi Li and Dominic Degavino, age 11
and12), Barra Flyting Toccata (Daniell Chappell, age 15) and
finally the Scottish pianist, Sheena Nicholl, played Andante
Sereno (1950) excerpts from A Carlyle Suite (1995) and two items
from Scottish Folk Music Settings for piano (1965).
In addition to the above, Murray McLachlan has recently
performed the Passacaglia on DSCH eight times! Here are the
dates and places:
November 2007 Novi Sad as the Gala concert in the 29th EPTA
International conference in Serbia
November 2007 Chopin Academy, Warsaw
February Genessin Institute Moscow
February Moscow Central Music School
March St Mary’s Cathedral Edinburgh (for EPTA Scotland)
April St John’s Smith Square (Ronald Stevenson at 80 weekend)
April RSAMD, Glasgow
July Xinghai conservatory, Guangzhoi, China
August Chetham’s International Festival and Summer School
Michael Tumelty’s five star review in The Herald, April 17 2008,
encapsulates the experience of the listener at any of these
“Over the years, I have witnessed – in concert and on record –
many spectacular feats of pianism from Murray McLachlan. But
what this remarkable musician achieved on Wednesday night, in
an Olympian performance of Ronald Stevenson’s colossal
Passacaglia on DSCH, represented not only a high point in his
own performing career but a testament to Stevenson’s greatest
composition, one of the most extraordinary pieces in the
literature of the piano.
“… The dramatic ferocity and unremitting concentration of
McLachlan’s playing would, alone, have made this performance
a tour de force. But it was his intellectual command of the
structure of the piece, from those four tiny notes to the largest
paragraphs and sections, which gave the music total coherence
and a gripping intensity.”
Recent recordings of the music of Ronald Stevenson
Rhapsody – Lyric Music of Ronald Stevenson
| Dunelm Records DRD 0268 | Duration 78’ | £12.50 |
Sheena Nicoll, piano
• Three Lyric Pieces (1947–50)
• Three Nativity Pieces (1949)
• Symphonic Elegy for Liszt (1986)
• A Carlyle Suite (1995)
• Scottish Folk Music Settings: Waly, Waly; A rosebud by
my Early Walk; The Hielan Widow’s Lament; Hard is my
Fate; Ne’erday Sang
Passacaglia on DSCH
Ronald Stevenson’s recording from 1963 has been reissued on
APR with the original cover design of the LP retained. The
Passacaglia is also available in a recording by Ronald on Altarus,
and by Murray McLachlan on Divine-Art.
Recent Ronald Stevenson Society Publications
Fantasy in F minor, Mozart K608 (1952)
| RSS 524 | 16 pages | Grade (d) | Duration 7’ | £9.00 |
Mozart’s wrote this piece for mechanical organ. A recording by
Joseph Banowetz and Ronald Stevenson in Busoni’s version for
two pianos is on RSS 967, Altarus AIR CD9044
A Carlyle Suite (1995)
| RSS 336 | 24 pages | Grade (m) | Duration 35’ | £10.00 |
1. Aubade – “Here is dawning/Another blue day” (Carlyle)
2. Souvenir de Salon (Jane Welsh Carlyle listens to Chopin):
Introduction – Andante – Prelude alla mazurka – Alla
strathspey – Andante (Polish folk carol) – Poco lento
(Souvenir of Scots psalm Martyrs) – Psalm and Mazurka
combined – Postlude –
3. Encore: Valse à deux temps
4. Variations – Study in historical styles on Frederick the
Great’s Theme [as used by Bach in A Musical Offering,
1747]: Maestoso barocco – Allegro rococo [with Alberti
bass] – Allegro ardente, romantico – Modéré
impressionistico – Recitative and March – 12-note
expressionist – Calmo: sketch for new classicality!
5. Jane Carlyle’s Wit: scherzino
6. Serenade (referring to the Aubade)
Recorded by Sheena Nicoll on Rhapsody – Lyric Music of Ronald
Stevenson Dunelm Records DRD 0268
Irish Folk-song Suite (1965)
| RSS 581 | 23 pages | Grade (m) | Duration 10’ | £9.00 |
1. The Mantle So Green
2. Luvlie Willie
3. Grá geal mo chroi (Lily-white Love o’ my Heart)
Preludio con fuga, J S Bach BWV551 (1948)
| RSS 525 | 16 pages | Grade (d) | Duration 7’ | £9.00 |
Harpsichord Sonata (1968)
| RSS 601 | 26 pages | Grade (m) | Duration 18’ | £9.00 |
Also performable on piano
1. In heroic style
2. Dirge (Ground – Sarabande – Variation on Ground)
“Edward” – Scottish Ballad
| RSS 523 | 10 pages | Grade (d) | Duration 6’ | £6.50 |
A transcription of the duet song, Ballade, op75, by Brahms
A Ghanaian Folksong Suite (1965)
| RSS 553 | 9 pages | Grade (m) | Duration 7’ | £7.00 |
1. Song of Valour
3. Leopard Dance
Kadenzen für Mozarts Klavier Konzert in D moll, K 466
| RSS 339 | 9 pages | Grade (d) | £6.50 |
A Rosary of Variations on O’Riada’s Irish Folk Mass
| RSS 340 | 16 pages | Grade (d) | Duration 3’ | £9.00 |
Fantasy on Busoni’s Dr Faust (1949)
| RSS 342 | 24 pages | Grade (d) | Duration 11’ | £11.00 |
A revised version of this piece was later incorporated into the
Prelude, Fugue & Fantasy on Busoni’s Faust (1959)
Rigolet Rag (1973)
| RSS 343 | 3 pages | Grade (m) | Duration 2’ | £3.50 |
Fantasia polifonica (1983–84) for harp
| RSS 615 | 20 pages | Grade (d) | Duration 9½’ | £9.00 |
1. Prelude. Volante
2. Canon I, at the octave. Moderato
3. Canon II, at the ninth. Un pochiss. più moto
4. Canon III, at the tenth. Allegretto
5. Aria con larghezza
6. Passacaglia Maestoso
7. Ritornello funerio
8. Ritornello no. 2
9. Ritornello no. 3
10. Canon IV, at the fourth. Allegretto
11. Canon V, at the fifth. Allegro
12. Canon VI, at the sixth. Andante
13. Canon VII, at the seventh. Largo
14. Canon VIII, at the octave. Tranquillo
15. Corale a accordi giganteschi
16. Fugue. Andante pensoso
A’e Gowden Lyric (c.1965) for cello and piano
| RSS 246 | 2 pages | Grade (e–m) | Duration 1½’ | £2.50 |
A version of the song for high voice and piano (RSS 734)