from The American Rag February 2009 – by Dr Rosemary Hallum
The famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin called Ronald Stevenson “one of the most original minds in the world
of the composition of music.” Wow! And this same man was right there in person in Manchester, England, at the Chetham’s International Piano Festival Summer School that I attended in 2007 and 2008. Murray McLachlan, Director of the Summer School, told the students that Ronald is one of the greatest living British composers, so Chetham’s was proud and happy to have him there. Murray encouraged all of us to attend Ronald’s lectures, lecture recitals and lessons and to talk with him. We can just go up and talk with him? Murray laughed, responding, “Yes of course! He’ll love to talk with all of you!” He read a quotation from British musicologist Colin Scott Sutherland, calling Ronald “one of the 20th century’s most significant composers who remains completely approachable to all who love music.” Ronald was also warm and friendly and interested in
our musical journeys. We found out more about Ronald from each other, our instructors, music reference books and website search engines. This man has been tremendously busy as a composer, teacher writer and pianist. Just a list of his compositions fills over three single spaced pages in one reference book.
Ronald has been called a pianist “of staggering abilities” and a master pianist like Egon Petri, with a remarkable range of sound, beautiful cantabile, masterful control and artistic pedalling.
He has made several recordings, my favourite being The Transcendental Tradition, which contains an appealing variety of transcriptions from Bach/Busoni and Chopin/Godowsky to two Gershwin/Grainger songs, Love Walked In and The Man I Love. All his recordings attest to his virtuoso talent, monster technique, great inventiveness and his ability to make the music sing.
My first summer at Chet’s, I sat in on one of Ronald’s lessons to observe. He was coaching a young professional working on one of Ronald’s own concert pieces. At the end of the lesson Ronald and I introduced ourselves and I mentioned that I play mostly ragtime. His eyes sparkled! “I love ragtime!” he exclaimed.
“When I was working on Henry Purcell (English composer 1659-1695) I composed Little Jazz Variations on Purcell’s Scotch Tune. Why don’t you join me and my wife Marjorie for lunch (I did) and we can talk!” (We did). Ragtime can make fast friendships! We talked about the Big Three of ragtime – Joplin, Scott and Lamb – and why they deserve to be called that, about ragtime’s influence on composers worldwide, ragtime performers we know, one thing after another. Great fun!
When I got home I didn’t forget about Ronald. Instead I looked up more about him. I found out that his compositions show influences of folk music (especially African drumming and Indian raga), blues, ragtime and jazz. They even show influences of poetry and various languages, two of his loves.
My initial experience at Chet’s had been so interesting and rewarding that I decided to return for a second summer. Ronald was teaching composition again. But I don’t compose. However, accepted performance practice for ragtime players includes appropriate embellishment and improvisation on repeated sections, so I’m familiar with that. You may sense what this is leading up to… I knew I’d love to have one-to-one lessons with Ronald, a famous composer who loves ragtime. So I called Chet’s and asked if Ronald had any lesson openings. Yes! So I had the temerity and gall to sign up. And I’m sure glad I did.
I had three lessons covering different material in each. In the first lesson we went over sections of Henry Purcell pieces that could be arranged/altered/transcribed a little in ragtime style.
Ronald listened with active interest, checking the score. “Good!” he said, “You have the right idea!” On another, he commented, “You understand the essence of the music” “Your American Rag readers will know,” he commented, “that many of the famous composers including Bach Beethoven and Gershwin were famous improvisers. They also reworked themes of their own as well as melodic ideas and rhythms of others.”
In my second lesson I played some piano pieces showing ragtime influence, including Claude Debussy’s Le Petit Nègre (subtitled Cakewalk), Ernst Toch’s Jazz and Dave Brubeck’s Raggy Waltz. We discussed and analysed some sections. Interestingly, Mr. Stevenson’s favourite jazz American composers are (can you
guess who?) Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, Art Tatum and Dave Brubeck. “They have to be jazz!” Ronald said with a smile.
“American jazz is the one new musical contribution to world culture in the 20th century.”
In the third lesson we dealt with improvisation, composition and transcription, all of which are interrelated, Ronald says. We compared methods of guiding young students in improvising. For instance, have them observe and describe in their own words the layout of the keyboard with black and white notes. Then remembering the credo “You can never be too simple,” begin by improvising on one black note, then two, continuing incrementally to five black notes, the pentatonic scale.
He introduces his students to his viewpoint of music being “a reflection of reality” and “based upon the movement of the human body”. In simple terms, it is possible to: Walk directly forward like the statement of a musical theme or motif; Walk backward – retrograde motion in music; Stand on your head – inverted retrograde motion. “I like to deal with music in this way” he says delving into different scales, exploring rhythm,
melody, use of patterns. He quotes Carl Nielsen who said, “Music is the sound of life!”
This man really feels the heart of music and is able to communicate his feeling and fervour to others. Needless to say that I greatly enjoyed and appreciated my musical experiences with Ronald.
On the last day of the summer session, before I could thank him, Ronald said “Thank you!” to me. So did Marjorie. “We so appreciate your interest and American Rag’s interest in music, ragtime, and me!” said Ronald. “If you’re ever in Edinburgh, please look us up and come visit!” Wouldn’t that be fun!
Reprinted by kind permission of Dr Rosemary Hallum and Don Jones, Editor/Publisher of The American Rag :
The recording project – Jim Pattison
Writing at Easter-time, 2009, the amount now promised for the Divine Art Group’s recording project of a selection of the piano music of Ronald Stevenson – including the world première recording of Le Festin d’Alkan, among others – has reached £7066.61, leaving us only £939.39 short of the estimated budget to produce this projected 2-CD set. The details are:
1. Total money at the bank on April 10 2009 £5,309.80
2. Money sent directly in dollars to our USA branch ($35) £29.81
3. Money expected this month (April) £200.00
4. A grant from the Ida Carroll Trust which will be received when the project has been completed £750.00
5. Promises outstanding £777.00
Total (when all promises have been fulfilled) £7,066.61
6. Estimated cost £8,006.00
Amount still to be raised £939.39
The response has been worldwide with contributions from Luxembourg, Germany, Singapore, Canada, USA, England and Scotland.
Letters of encouragement have been received with some donors sending a greater contribution than that originally promised. Liz Gibson wrote: “Good news that the project is under way! A cheque is in the post. I wish you and Murray every success with the recording and sponsorship and sales.” Dr. Peter Hick, who commissioned Le Festin d’Alkan over 20 years ago for the Alkan Centenary Year (1988), writes, “I was in the audience for Marc-André Hamelin’s première performance in Blackheath (South London) but I have not heard it since … so it will be a real treat to hear Murray perform it. Wishing your project the success it deserves.”
A word from our treasurer, Malcolm Porteous
June 1st is the start of the Society year and annual subscriptions are due shortly. The rate remains the same at £15. As you know, this goes to the cost of typesetting Ronald’s music and covers the cost of the newsletter, Fuga. Running costs of the Society are minimal because all the labour is voluntary.
If you have already arranged to pay by standing order, the bank will do everything for you and include an entry on your next bank statement.
If you are paying by cheque or Sterling notes, complete the top section of the enclosed form and post it to the address at the bottom of the form.
If you wish to join those who are already paying by standing order, complete the bottom section of the form. The space in front of your surname should be left blank so that we can insert a code which will help us identify your payment on our bank statement. So please return the form to us and we will forward it to your bank. Those living abroad should not use this arrangement unless you have a Sterling account in UK. You can of course cancel this arrangement at any time in the future by contacting your bank.
A Review of aims and achievements Thanks to the loyal support of our membership we have achieved more than we ever imagined was possible over the last 15 years. Our main task has always been the publication of
Ronald’s music to a high standard of presentation.
At the present time, our catalogue amounts to: 14 chamber works; 55 piano works; 3 for organ; 1 for harpsichord; 5 for solo violin; 3 for harp; 11 song cycles (comprising 75 songs); 37 individual songs; 9 choral works; 3 orchestral works.
Whilst we have been unable to promote concerts of his music, we have given financial support to others who have organised concerts and recordings, eg the St John’s Smith Square weekend last year; The Martinu Quartet featuring Ronald’s big String Quartet Voces Vagabundae; Dunelm Records recital by Sheena
Nicoll (piano); Musaeus Art Song Collective (3 song cycles); Delphian Records recital by Susan Hamilton (soprano); and the forthcoming Divine Art recording by Murray McLachlan (piano).
Music sales at concert events and sales through the website have provided additional monies to be ploughed back in towards our typesetting programme.
The most successful idea to date has been that of various members offering to sponsor the typesetting of a particular work which they wish to be associated with. These include: A Rosary of Variations on Sean O’Riada’s Folk Mass (piano); Irish Folk Song Suite (piano); A Carlyle Suite (piano); Festin d’Alkan
(piano); Fugue on a Fragment of Chopin (2 pianos); Variations on a theme of Bax (piano); Sonata (harpsichord); Ballatis of Luve (choral); 19 Songs of Innocence (Blake)
A recent very generous donation by a member who wishes to remain anonymous has allowed us to embark on the typesetting of Ronald’s most recent orchestral work, Sinfonia Elegiaca (22 mins approx).
After this, we hope further sponsors will come forward to help us towards our goal of achieving the typesetting of:-
• Young Scotland Suite (15 mins) written in 1976 for
Youth Orchestra: full score and parts.
• Violin Concerto (50 mins): score and parts.
• Cello Concerto (20 mins): score and parts.
• 2nd Piano Concerto (35 mins): score and parts.
We wish to thank all our members who clearly value Ronald’s significant contribution to music in the 20th century. Your subscriptions, donations and sponsorship has helped to put Ronald’s music securely on the map of the 21st century.
from Mary McCarthy
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 |
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 |
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 |
“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 |
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 |
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)