|Ronald Stevenson - photo courtesy of the Ronald Stevenson Society|
I first met Ronald Stevenson in around 1977, he was a close friend of one of my friends in Edinburgh so it was inevitable that I was taken to one of Ronald's recitals. I don't remember that much about the specifics, the various Ronald Stevenson recitals which I attended during the five years I was in Scotland have rather blurred. What I do remember is the slightly nerve-wracking socialising afterwards, myself, my friend, Ronald and the friends with whom he was staying in Edinburgh.
Such occasions would become something of a commonplace over the years and were as much an education for me as the music. Simple but effective food (from that first I remember the cheese and the strong black coffee), and good conversation. Ronald was not only erudite but talked with wit and charm. He could be informative and entertaining, and his musical heroes were never far away, Busoni and Grainger.
This extended to his recitals, where Ronald talked even if it was intended as a 'straight' recital. He had a gift for elucidating, informing and entertaining. I remember one lecture recital where to illustrate a point he played the opening from Chopin's Revolutionary Etude which made you wish he was playing the whole thing.
The one lecture recital I remember in more detail was one on Bach transcriptions. The art of transcription was something close to Ronald's heart, something profoundly at odds with the musical times. And Ronald's Bach transcriptions recital included some remarkable byways, such as RVW's Bach transcription from Harriet Cohen's Bach Book. This recital finished with one of Ronald's warhorses, the Bach/Busoni Chaconne. He played from music, needing a page turner, and the friend who did so commented after that it was tricky as Ronald re-composed some passages and at one point he was required to take off Ronald's glasses and wipe them.
Regrettably I never heard Ronald play his great Passacaglia on DSCH. In fact, there were few opportunities to hear Ronald's music, certainly no large-scale pieces. This was the period after he had completed the violin concerto for Yehudi Menuhin, too late and too taxing in length for Menuhin to play so there was much discussion about a possible premiere (I don't believe it was premiered until the 1990s). But his music rarely if ever seemed to crop up in concerts unless Ronald himself was involved. That Ronald was somewhat out of step with the musical times was indicated by his love not only of transcription but of writing in romantic genres,
|Ronald Stevenson and Dmitri Shostakovich |
with the score of Passacaglia on DSCH
There was private music-making too. I remember a tiny piece of Ronald's with three piano parts which could be played by any combinations of three players with the part at any octave in the piano, so we played it in a variety of combinations.
Though Ronald was known for his strong political opinions, I don't honestly remember much about politics, perhaps it just went over my had as political matters did not interest me so much then. I know that Ronald was proud of his origins and when we visited him in West Linton he showed me a wooden artefact providing a link with the Lancashire mills where one of his parents had worked. (Also in his study, his 'den of musiquity', I remember a striking photograph of Busoni, and a couple of Edward Gordon Craig prints.) I do remember Ronald and Alan Bush going off to give a piano duet concert tour in the DDR, Ronald would have been in around 50 and Alan was nearly 30 years older than him. It seemed, to my younger self, to be two old blokes going off on adventure (and perhaps it was). They performed, I believe, their own music and were very well received in all the small places where they performed, in a way which would seem unlikely in the UK at the time.
Regarding his piano playing, what I do remembers was the vividness and sheer vitality, He could make even a familiar work line Paderewski' Minuet sound new, and he was the only pianist I heard ho could make playing very loudly sound expressive and nuanced.
Looking back, knowing Ronald Stevenson was an important part of my musical education. The sense no only of living your music but being true to it and making it part of your whole life. Music wasn't something Ronald did just in the concert hall, and his talk was as illuminating as his playing. I regret not getting to know Ronald better, but it is the me of 30 years later talking, and I am grateful to have known him.
- The Ronald Stevenson Society
- Ronald Stevenson's Obituary in the Daily Telegraph.
- Ronald Stevenson's Obitiuary in the Independent
- Ronald Stevenson: The Man and his Music. A Symposium, edited by Colin Scott-Sutherland
- Comrades in Art: The Correspondence of Ronald Stevenson and Percy Grainger, 1957-61, with Interviews, Essays and other Writings on Grainger by Ronald Stevenson
- Time Remembered: Alan Bush - An 80th birthday Symposium, edited by Ronald Stevenson
Ronald Stevenson on disc as pianist
- The Transcendental Tradition - live concert from Vancouver, 21 April 1976
- 20th Century Operatic Fantasy
- Percy Grainger: Salute to Scotland
- Passacaglia on DSCH (recorded in South Africa in the 1960s)
Ronald Stevenson's music on disc
- Kenneth Hamilton plays Ronald Stevenson, volume 1
- Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 - Murray McLachlan, Chetham's Symphony Orchestra, Julian Clayton
- Ronald Stevenson: Piano Music, volume 2 - Christopher Guild
- Ronald Stevenson: Piano Music, volume 1 A Celtic Album - Christopher Guild
- Ronald Stevenson Piano Music - Murray McLachlan
- Passacaglia on DSCH - James Willshire
- Passacaglia on DSCH - Raymond Clarke
- A'e gowden lyric: Songs by Ronald Stevenson - Susan Hamilton, John Cameron
Elsewhere on this blog:
- A leasure from end to end: Music for Epiphany from Clare College Choir - CD review
- Familiar & unfamiliar: RVW Discoveries from Albion Records - CD review
- Moving beauty: Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen in Bach cantatas - CD review
- Orchestral adventures:New South American Discoveries - Cd review
- Wintry Darkness: The Tallis Scholars at St John's Smith Square - concert review
- Ring of Achievement? - feature article
- The Ghost of Rosenkavaliers past - feature article
- Unjustly neglected: Francesco Durante's Requiem - CD review
- Second view: Rachel Willis-Sørensen and Anna Stephany in Der Rosenkavalier - opera review
- Live buzz: James MacMillan's Symphony No. 4 and Violin Concerto - CD review
- Ambitious & brave: Louis Langree on Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's concertos for orchestra project - interview
- Intimate and text driven: Classical Opera in Handel's Messiah - Concert review
- A touch of greatness: Renee Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier - opera review