Ronald Stevenson - obituary

Ronald Stevenson - obituary

Ronald Stevenson, Hon DMus (1998) from the University of Aberdeen, has died

Ronald Stevenson - an obituary by Joseph Long

The composer and pianist Ronald Stevenson, who I had the privilege to be a personal friend of for over twenty years, passed away on 28th March 2015.

What Ronald did for us all - his music, his ideals, his warmth and kindness, the way he moved people so deeply, bringing them together and making friends of them, showing genuine interest and a desire to bring out the best in everyone - is impossible to capture fully in a short obituary. One thing is certain, though: Ronald's influence was such a positive force that the essential qualities he embodied, both musically and personally, cannot fail to live on in those with whom he came into contact.

Ronald’s desire to reach out and make friends - both with those to whom he felt he could offer inspiration and with those who had, in turn, been a source of inspiration to him - was inexhaustible. Back in 1962, he presented his seminal 80-minute piano work “Passacaglia on DCSH” (based on Dmitri Shostakovich’s monogram) to Shostakovich himself. He corresponded with many other celebrated composers, including Walton, Grainger, Bliss, Britten, Stokowski and Sibelius.

In addition to a considerable amount of piano music, much of it influenced in various ways by these composers as well as by Busoni (who he referred to as his "mentor in absentia"), Ronald wrote many choral and vocal settings for poets such as Hugh McDiarmid and Sorley McLean. He took pride in merging the musics of different cultures in his works (a notable example being his Violin Concerto which is based on Indian ragas), and he spoke in his writings and discussions of the concept of a “world music”, a term he used not to signify music that seems somewhat “exotic”, but rather to point to a visionary style in which a deep and sympathetic understanding of all cultures is evident and in which they all come to be seen as united, much as all humanity can be said to be united. He strongly believed that music knows no border posts, and he frequently cited Busoni’s famous sentence: “Music was born free; and to win freedom is its destiny”.

In addition to composing, Ronald was a pianist with formidable technique and musicianship. He often presented programmes with striking literary, musical or political themes, juxtaposing works that would otherwise not normally be heard side by side, and introducing his audiences to unfamiliar works in this way. Starting in his late sixties, a series of strokes gradually but decisively put an end to his professional performing career, but he continued to inspire those he came into contact with, through informal playing, through his continued composing, and above all through his warm, compassionate and deeply illuminating discussions.

He is survived by his wife Marjorie, his two daughters Gerda and Savourna, and his son Gordon.



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