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Ronald Stevenson (Composer, Arranger)

Born: March 6, 1928 - Blackburn, Lancashirem, England
Died: March 28, 2015, West Linton, England

The Scottish pianist and composer, Ronald Stevenson, was Scots on his father's side and Welsh on his mother's, and is keenly aware of his Celtic heritage. He studied piano as a child, and began to compose at 14. He took courses in composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music from 1945 to 1948, graduating with special distinction. He studied piano with Iso Elinson (a pupil of Blumenfeld). Later, he studied orchestration at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome with the Ferruccio Busoni pupil Guido Guerrini on an Italian government scholarship (1955). Significant events in his musical development were his discovery of the music of F. Busoni, his friendship with John Ogdon - who became a fellow Busonian - and his correspondence with Percy Grainger.

Returning to Scotland, Ronald Stevenson was appointed lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (in the Extra-Mural Department) in 1962. He was on the music staff at the University of Cape Town (South Mrica) from 1963 to 1965. In 1966, for his Busoni centenary radio programme he was awarded the Harriet Cohen International Music Award, and in the same year he received a Living Artist's Award from the Scottish Arts Council. He was a visiting Professor at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1985. He also performed and gave seminars at the Julliard School, New York in 1987; he paid repeated visits in the 1980's to the Universities of Melbourne and Western Australia. Now he is a Fellow of the Royal Manchester College of Music.

A fervent intellectual, Ronald Stevenson contributed cultured articles to the Listener and other publications; engaged in a thoroughgoing bio-musical tome on Ferruccio Busoni, with whose art he felt a particular kinship. Between 1970 and 1980, Stevenson gave 26 BBC radio programmes of Busoni's music and in 1974 he scripted, introduced and performed as piano soloist in a Busoni TV documentary on BBC2 - a film of 1½ hours. In 1981, he scripted and broadcast a series of radio programmes on the Scots Pipe, Harp and Fiddle.

Ronald Stevenson adheres to neo-Baroque polyphony; a formidable exemplar is his Passacaglia on DSCH for Piano, a Brobdingnagian set of variations in 3 parts, 80 minutes long, derived from the initial D of the first name and the first 3 letters of the last name of Dmitri Shostakovich, in German notation (D; S = Es = E-flat; C; H = B), first performed by Stevenson himself in Cape Town on December 10, 1963. Other premiere landmarks as a composer-pianist included: the song cycle Border Boyhood with Peter Pears, Aldeburgh, 1971; the Piano Concerto No 1 with the Scottish National Orchestra and Sir Alexander Gibson, Edinburgh, January 6, 1966; his Piano Concerto No 2 with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and Norman Del Mar, London (Proms), 1972. In 1992 Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who commissioned Stevenson's Violin Concerto (The Gypsy), conducted its world première with Hu Kun (violin) and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow. His most recent commission was for a Cello Concerto in memoriam Jacqueline du Pré, commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, which received its première in Glasgow in 1995, with Moray Welsh as soloist.

Other works include: Anger Dance for Guitar (1965); Triptych, on themes from F. Busoni's opera Doktor Faust, for Piano and Orchestra; Scots Dance Toccata. for Orchestra (Glasgow, July 4, 1970); Peter Grimes Fantasy for Piano, on themes from Benjamin Britten's opera (1971); Duo-Sonata for Harp and Piano (1971); Ben Dorian, choral symphony (1973); Violin Concerto, The Gipsy (1973); Corroboree for Grainger for Piano and Wind Band (1987); St. Mary's May Song for Soprano and Strings (1988); Voces Vagabundae for String Quanet (1990). In his œuvre, Stevenson includes chamber works, many hundreds of works for solo piano and his vast work in song, as well as numerous settings for voice and piano and for chorus of Scottish folk songs; transcriptions of works of Purcell J.S. Bach, Frédéric Chopin, Berlioz, F. Busoni, Paderewski, Delius, B. Britten, Alban Berg, Pizzetti, P. Grainger, and many others. His music was published variously by Oxford University Press, Schott, Boosey and Hawkes, Novello, and Roberton, and recordings issued by EMI, Altarus, Marco Polo and Olympia.

In 1987, the Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland commissioned from the Scottish painter Victoria Crowe, ARSA, RSW, a portrait of Stevenson which hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. And in 1988-1989, the National Library of Scotland mounted an exhibition of Stevenson's manuscripts for his 60th Birthday - letters, photographs, portraits and memorabilia - and published Malcolm MacDonald's biography of him. The BBC honoured Stevenson with a Birthday concert at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, and his friends with a concert at the Wigmore Hall.

Ronald Stevenson's scholarly publications include: An Introduction to Western Music (Kahn & Averill, London 1971); Bernhard Ziehn: Canonical Studies (Kahn & Averill, 1976); the bilingual study The Paderewski Paradox, (Klavar/Société Paderewski, 1992); and he contributed many papers and articles on music as well as on song and poetry to various learned journals and publications. His extensive study on Busoni is being finalised and awaits publication.

Ronald Stevenson is Vice-President of the Workers' Music Association, a Patron of the Artsong Collective and of the European Piano Teachers' Association, a member of the Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain, and of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain, a Doctor honoris causa of the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee and Stirling and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Ronald Stevenson Society Website ; Dr)James Reid-Baxter (December 2013)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2007)

Ronald Stevenson: Short Biography | Piano Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Ronald Stevenson Society
Home - Ronald Stevenson @ Scottish Music Centre
Ronald Stevenson Biography (Naxos)
Ronald Stevenson, composer and pianist (Altarus)

Ronald Stevenson (Wikipedia)
Pianos and Pianists - Ronald Stevenson, Composer-Pianist - A memoir (Music & Vision)
Toccata Press: Ronald Stevenson - The Man and his Music


M. MacDonald: Ronald Stevenson: A Musical Biography (Edinburgh, 1989).

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