Obituary: Ronald Stevenson, composer of “Passacaglia on DSCH,” 87

Posted on: April 1, 2015

In Tuesday’s (3/31) Independent (London), Martin Anderson reports that composer-pianist Ronald Stevenson died on March 28. “Stevenson was one of the great composer-pianists, a musician in the manner of Liszt, Rachmaninov and, his own personal idol, Paderewski.” Among his compositions are “a number of large-scale orchestral works, much chamber music and hundreds of piano pieces and songs—232 songs the last time I counted—and a huge body of transcriptions. Stevenson is best known for the piece reputed to be the largest single-movement work in the piano literature, his Passacaglia on DSCH, which uses Shostakovich’s musical initials to build up a monumental 80-minute structure…. Stevenson’s voice, with its gentle Scottish burr, and his playing became frequent features in BBC broadcasts, on the Third Programme and its successor, Radio 3. One major series, presented and performed by Stevenson, was on the piano music of Busoni (on whom he was the leading authority)…. He had a natural affinity for other maverick composers, championing—in concert, on air and in print—such figures as Havergal Brian, Nathaniel Dett, John Foulds, Leopold Godowsky, Bernard Stevens…. Stevenson was one of the first to take the music of Percy Grainger seriously.”

Posted April 1, 2015