Ronald Stevenson

Ronald Stevenson

Ronald Stevenson (born March 6, 1928 in Blackburn, Lancashire) is a British composer, pianist, and writer about music.


The son of a Scottish father and English mother, Stevenson studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music (now incorporated in the Royal Northern College of Music), studying composition with Richard Hall and piano with Iso Ellinson, graduating with distinction in 1948. He moved to Scotland in the mid-1950s. As author and performer he was instrumental in reviving the works of Ferruccio Busoni, and corresponded with Percy Grainger.

Among his many compositions, the largest (in terms of duration) and most famous is his "Passacaglia on DSCH" for solo piano, written between 1960 and 1962, based on a 13-note ground bass derived from the musical motif "D, E-flat, C, B": the German transliteration of Dmitri Shostakovich's initials ("D. Sch."). (Shostakovich used these four notes as a musical 'signature', for example in his Eighth String Quartet). Stevenson's work takes more than an hour and a quarter to perform and may be the longest unbroken single movement composed for piano, though the first movement of Sorabji's Fourth Piano Symphony exceeds it by over 10 minutes.

Stevenson's other works include two piano concertos, the second of which was first performed at a Prom in 1972, a violin concerto commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin, and a cello concerto in memoriam Jacqueline du Pré. He has also written several chamber works including a String Quartet and Piano Quartet, numerous songs (among these, many settings of Hugh MacDiarmid, William Soutar and James Joyce) and works for solo piano. In 2007 he completed a choral symphony, "Ben Dorain", on Hugh MacDiarmid's translation of the poem of that name by Duncan Ban MacIntyre. This work, for full chorus and chamber choir with chamber orchestra and symphony orchestra, was begun in the 1960s and laid aside for many years. The world premiere was given in City Halls, Glasgow on 19 January 2008 by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Chamber Choir--Glasgow University Chapel Choir, Chorus--Scottish Opera Chorus and the Edinburgh Singers) conducted by James Grossmith.

Stevenson has been very active as a transcriber of other music than his own, chiefly for the piano, in the tradition of Busoni, Grainger and Leopold Godowsky. He has made dozens if not hundreds of transcriptions of composers as diverse as Henry Purcell and Frederick Delius. Notable examples include piano solo versions of Grainger's "Hill Song No.1" (originally for wind orchestra), the first movement of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, and of the six unaccompanied violin sonatas of Eugène Ysaÿe as piano sonatas. There is also a collection of piano solos based songs from the 19th and 20th centuries entitled "L'art nouveau de chant appliqué au piano", a title that recalls deliberately the collection of song-transcriptions by Sigismund Thalberg. In addition Stevenson has made many arrangements of folk music from countries as far apart as Scotland and China, while many of his own works exist in several different instrumentations.

Stevenson is noted as a teacher. He was senior lecturer in composition at the University of Cape Town in the mid 1960s, delivered seminars at the Juilliard School in New York, and was responsible for a course entitled "The Political Piano" at the University of York in the early 1980s. His daughter Savourna Stevenson (born 1961) has recorded many works on the Scottish harp. His granddaughter Anna Wendy Stevenson is a noted Scots folk fiddler.

List of Works (selection only)

(Full list to 2005 in Symposium ed. Scott-Sutherland listed in References)


* "Berceuse Symphonique" (1951)
* "Jamboree for Grainger" (1960-61)
* "Scots Dance Toccata" (1965)
* "Young Scotland Suite" (1976)
* "Strathclyde’s Salute to Mandela" for brass band (1990-91)

olo Instrument and Orchestra

* Piano Concerto No.1, "A Faust Triptych" (1959-60; reworking of "Prelude, Fugue and Fantasy" for solo piano)
* Simple Variations of Purcell’s 'New Scotch Tune' for clarinet and strings (1967 reworking of 1964 piano variations)
* Piano Concerto No. 2, "The Continents" (1970-72)
* Violin Concerto, "The Gypsy" (1977-79)
* "Corroborree for Grainger" for piano and wind band (1989 recomposition of "Jamboree for Grainger")
* Cello Concerto, "The Solitary Singer" (1968-94)

olo Voice and Orchestra

* "Variations Vocalises sur deux themes de 'Les Troyens' de Berlioz" for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (1969)
* "St Mary's May Songs" for soprano and string orchestra (1988-89)

Choral Music

* "The Weyvers o' Blegburn" for chamber choir, texts in Lancashire dialect (1962)
* "A Medieval Scottish Triptych" for a cappella chorus, medieval Scottish texts (1967)
* "Anns an Airde, as an Doumhne" for a cappella chorus, poems by Sorley MacLean (1968)
* "4 Peace Motets", Biblical texts (1976)
* "Domino Roberto Carwor: 12-part Motet in memoriam Robert Carver", text by James Reid-Baxter (1987)
* "In praise of Ben Dorain": Symphony for full chorus, chamber chorus, symphony orchestra and chamber orchestra, Gaelic text by Duncan Ban MacIntyre and translation by Hugh MacDiarmid (1962–2007)

Chamber Music

* Sonata for violin and piano (1947)
* Variations on a Theme of Pizzetti for unaccompanied violin (1961; NB unrelated to piano variations, though same theme)
* "4 Meditations" for string quartet (1964 arrangements of movements from "A 20th-Century Music Diary" for piano)
* Variations and Theme ('The Bonnie Earl o' Moray') for cello and piano (1974)
* "Recitative and Air: In Memoriam Shostakovich" for violin and piano (1976 arrangement of piano original; also for cello & piano, bassoon & piano, viola & piano, string quartet and string orchestra)
* "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza": Duo for 2 guitars (1982-83)
* "Scots Suite" for unaccompanied violin (1984)
* Fantasy Quartet, "Alma Alba" for piano, violin, viola and cello (1985)
* "Bergstimmung" for horn and piano (1986)
* "The Harlot's House" – Dance Poem after Oscar Wilde for free-bass accordion, timpani and percussion (1988)
* String Quartet, "Voces Vagabundae" (1990)
* "Pan-Celtic Wind Quintet" (2000)

Keyboard Music

Piano and Harp

* Duo Sonata (1970-71)
* "Chiaroscuro: Homage to Rembrandt and his Biographer Van Loon" (1987)


* Sonata (1968)


* Prelude and Fugue on the 12-note theme from Liszt's "Faust Symphony" (1961-62)

olo Piano

* Sonatina No.1 (1945)
* 18 Variations on a Bach Chorale (1946)
* Sonatina No.2 (1947)
* "Vox Stellarum" (1947)
* Sonatina No.3 (1948)
* "Chorale Prelude for Jean Sibelius" (1948)
* Fugue on a Fragment of Chopin (1948; also version for 2 pianos)
* "3 Nativity Pieces" (1949)
* "Andante Sereno" (1950)
* Variations on a Theme of Pizzetti (1955; NB unrelated to violin variations, though same theme)
* "A 20th-Century Music Diary" (1953-59)
* "6 Pensées sur des Préludes de Chopin" (1959)
* Prelude, Fugue and Fantasy on Busoni's "Faust" (1949-59)
* Passacaglia on "DSCH" (1960-62)
* Simple Variations on Purcell's 'New Scotch Tune' (1964; rev and enlarged 1975 as "Little Jazz Variations on Purcell's 'New Scotch Tune"')
* Scottish Folk Music Settings (c. 1959-65)
* A Scottish Triptych (1959-67) (originally "A Modern Scottish Triptych": consists of "Keening Sang for a Makar (in memoriam Francis George Scott", "Heroic Song for Hugh MacDiarmid" and "Chorale-Pibroch for Sorley MacLean")
* "South Uist Folksong Suite" (1969)
* "Peter Grimes Fantasy" on themes from the opera by Benjamin Britten (1971)
* "3 Scottish Ballads" (1973)
* "Recitative and Air" (1974) (published 1976 as "Recitative and Air: In Memoriam Shostakovich")
* "Sonatina Serenissima" (In Memoriam Benjamin Britten) (Sonatina No.4) (1973-77)
* "Norse Elegy for Ella Nygard" (1976-79)
* "Barra Flyting Toccata" (1980)
* "A Rosary of Variations on Seán Ó’Riada’s Irish Folk Mass" (1980)
* "Symphonic Elegy for Liszt" (1986)
* "A Threepenny Sonatina: Homage to Kurt Weill" (Sonatina No.5) (1987-88)
* "Motus Perpetuus (?) Temporibus Fatalibus" (1987-88)
* "Beltane Bonfire" (1989)
* "A Carlyle Suite" (1995)
* "Le Festin d’Alkan": Concerto for solo piano without orchestra (1988-97)
* Fugue, Variations and Epilogue on a Theme of Bax (1982-83; 2003)

ong Cycles

* "19 Songs of Innocence" for four solo voices and piano with a cappella chorale, texts by William Blake (1947-8, rev. 1965)
* "Four Vietnamese Miniatures" for high voice and harp (or piano), texts by Ho Chi Minh (1965)
* "Border Boyhood" for tenor and piano, text by Hugh MacDiarmid (1970)
* "The Infernal City" for tenor and piano, texts by Hugh MacDiarmid and Sorley MacLean (1970-71)
* "9 Haiku" for high voice and harp or piano, texts from Japanese poets (School of Bashō) translated by Keith Bosley plus one poem by Keith Bosley (1971)
* "Songs of Quest" for baritone and piano, texts by John Davidson (1974)
* "Hills of Home" for baritone and piano, texts by R. L. Stevenson (1974)
* "Songs from Factories and Fields" for bass-baritone and piano, texts by Hugh MacDiarmid (1977)
* "Lieder ohne Buchstaben (Unspelt Songs)" for tenor and piano, texts by A. D. Hope (1982)
* "A Child’s Garden of Verses" for soprano or tenor and piano with optional treble or young soprano, texts by R. L. Stevenson (1985)


*Raymond Clarke, recording notes for Stevenson: "Passacaglia on DSCH". Raymond Clarke (piano). Marco Polo 8.223545.
* [ Chris Walton, "Composer in Interview: Ronald Stevenson - a Scot in 'emergent Africa'"]
*"Ronald Stevenson, A musical Biography" by Malcolm MacDonald (Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, 1989)
*"Ronald Stevenson, The Man and his Music, A Symposium" edited by Colin Scott-Sutherland with a foreword by Yehudi Menuhin (London, 2005) ISBN 0-907689-40-X

External links

* [ The Ronald Stevenson Society]
* [ Ronald Stevenson at the Scottish Music Centre]
* [ Ates Orga "Ronald Stevenson Composer-Pianist: A Memoir" (June 1999)]
*Digitised scores of Stevenson's compositions can be viewed through the [ Five Centuries of Scottish Music] collection hosted by [ AHDS Performing Arts]

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