Ronald Stevenson

1928 - 2015

Composer, pianist and musicologist. Born in Blackburn (Lancashire, England), the son of a Scot, Stevenson trained at the Royal Manchester College of Music, graduating with special distinction in 1948, and studied orchestration at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. He moved to Scotland in 1950, settling in West Linton in 1955. He was a prodigious composer, producing works for the piano, harpsichord, organ and orchestra, as well as choral music and chamber music. He wrote songs inspired by the words of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94), Hugh MacDiarmid (1892 - 1978) and William Soutar (1898 - 1943). Another of his works is a rarely-performed Passacaglia on DSCH, a homage to Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich which is played uninterrupted and lasts about eighty minutes, one of the longest piano pieces every written. Stevenson presented Shostakovich with a copy of the score at the Edinburgh Festival in 1962. His Piano Concerto No 1 was first performed in 1966 by the Scottish National Orchestra under Alexander Gibson (1926-95).

A committed socialist and pacifist, he was imprisoned when he refused to undertake National Service and wrote songs based on texts by the Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh.

Described as a maverick, Stevenson was also a remarkable pianist, whose playing and teaching influenced many across the world. He was also a musicologist, becoming a peripatetic lecturer at the Universities of Cape Town (1962-65), Melbourne and Western Australia (1980s), the Shanghai Conservatory of Music (1985), the Juilliard School in New York (1987) and gave a course entitled The Political Piano at the University of York in the early 1980s. He also wrote and presented several series of radio programmes for the BBC. His portrait by Victoria Crowe hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Stevenson died at his home in West Linton and his funeral, which took place at Warriston Crematorium (Edinburgh), featured his own music. The Ronald Stevenson Society was established in 1993 in Edinburgh to promote his work.

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