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Alan Rawsthorne

Alan Rawsthorne

(1905 - 1971)

The British composer Alan Rawsthorne (May 2, 1905 - July 24, 1971) concentrated mainly on instrumental music, both orchestral and chamber. He originally studied both dentistry and architecture before quickly coming to his senses and entering the Royal Manchester College of Music at the age of 20. He's one of the few first-rank British composers not to attend either the Royal College of Music or the Royal Academy of Music. Indeed, as far as I know, he never formally studied composition. He trained in both cello and piano and went for further piano study in Europe with Egon Petri. He returned to England in 1932 and taught at the Dartington School in Devon. He wrote music fairly steadily for six years before achieving a sort of breakthrough with his Theme and Variations for Two Violins in 1938. He consolidated this success in 1939 with his Symphonic Studies, a symphony in all but name. Both gained international recognition. However, World War II soon took Rawsthorne out of the composing game and into military service. Even so, he managed to complete at least two major orchestral scores.

From the Fifties on, Rawsthorne's music was to a large extent hidden due to the new musical winds from Europe. However, unlike figures like Ralph Vaughan Williams and William Walton, he never suffered from a critical eclipse. This may have arisen from the fact that his music wasn't all that widely-played in the first place, despite the steady commissions and prestigious premieres. Even in the face of such "pops" works as Practical Cats (one of the few successful examples of speaker and orchestra), the Street Corner Overture, music for the Ashton ballet Mme. Chrysanthème, and a number of film scores (including The Captive Heart, The Cruel Sea, and The Man Who Never Was), the main body of his work is characterized by a certain austerity and distance. Don't expect another Vaughan Williams, Walton, Gustav Holst, or Benjamin Britten. It's highly chromatic, though tonal, and resembles more composers like Paul Hindemith and Arthur Honegger on the continent. It doesn't easily warm the cockles (or mussels) of your heart. It does possess a steely, idiosyncratic, and powerful logic, and almost all of it is remarkably good – the symphonies and concerti in particular. ~ Steve Schwartz

Recommended Recordings

Orchestral Works

Naxos 8.554763
Cello Concerto, Oboe Concerto, Symphonic Studies/Naxos 8.554763
Alexander Baillie (cello), Stéphanie Rancourt (oboe), David Lloyd-Jones/Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Concerto for String Orchestra, Concertante pastorale, Light Music, Suite, Elegiac Rhapsody, Divertimento/Naxos 8.553567
Conrad Marshall (flute), Rebecca Goldberg (horn), John Turner (Recorder), David Lloyd-Jones/Northern Chamber Orchestra

Violin Concertos #1 & 2, Fantasy Overture "Cortèges"/Naxos 8.554240
Rebecca Hirsch (violin), Lionel Friend/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Chandos CHAN9125
Piano Concertos #1 & 2, Improvisations on a Theme of Constant Lambert/Naxos 8.555959
Peter Donohoe (piano), Takuo Yuasa/Ulster Orchestra

Piano Concertos #1 & 2, Concerto for 2 Pianos/Chandos CHAN9125 reissued on CHAN10339X
Geoffrey Tozer (piano), Tamara-Anna Cislowski (piano), Matthias Bamert/London Philharmonic Orchestra

Piano Concertos #1 & 2, Concert Overture "Street Corner", Symphonic Studies/Lyrita SRCD.255
Malcolm Binns (piano), John Pritchard/London Philharmonic Orchestra & Nicholas Braithwaite/London Symphony Orchestra

Lyrita SRCD.291
Symphonies #1-3/Naxos 8.557480
Charlotte Ellet (soprano), David Lloyd-Jones/Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Symphonies #1-3/Lyrita SRCD.291
John Pritchard/London Philharmonic Orchestra; Tracey Chadwell (soprano), Nicholas Braithwaite/London Philharmonic Orchestra; Norman Del Mar/BBC Symphony Orchestra

Chamber Works

Naxos 8.570136
Bagatelles, Sonatina, 4 Romantic Pieces w/ Stevens/Lyrita Mono SRCD.1107
James Gibb (piano)

String Quartets #1-3, Theme & Variations for 2 Violins/Naxos 8.570136
Laurence Jackson (violin), David Angel (violin), Maggini String Quartet

4 String Quartets/Academy Sound & Vision CDDCA983
Flesch Quartet

Academy Sound & Vision CDDCA1061
Piano Quintet, Piano Trio, Viola Sonata, Cello Sonata/Naxos 8.554352
Mark Messenger (violin), John McCabe (piano), Julian Rolton (piano), Helen Roberts (viola), Martin Outram (viola), Rogeri Piano Trio

Concerto for 10 Instruments, Sonatina for Flute, Oboe & Piano, Quintet for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Cello & Piano, Suite for Flute, Viola & Harp, Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon & Piano/Academy Sound & Vision CDDCA1061
Fibonacci Sequence