Author Topic: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.  (Read 7736 times)

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Offline Dundonnell

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Some of the threads I start on less well-known composers take off, some get a few comments and some(like that on poor Paul von Klenau) get none at all ;D
I doubt this one will have much success but here goes anyway :)

Malcolm MacDonald(yes, the Havergal Brian guy ;D) rates Stevens as "one of the finest British composers of his time". Stevens was a pupil of Edward Dent, R.O. Morris and Gordon Jacob. He was Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music in London from 1948 to 1967. A member of the Communist Party until resigning from the party in protest against the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, Stevens was a friend of Alan Bush and other creative artists with left-leaning sympathies.

He came to a measure of prominence in 1946 when his First Symphony, entitled "A Symphony of Liberation" was performed under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent at the Royal Albert Hall. The Symphony had won first prize in a competition sponsored by the "Daily Express" for a composition to celebrate victory in World War Two.(Can you imagine that happening today :( particularly from that newspaper!) The adjudicators were Bliss, Constant Lambert and Sargent. A Second Symphony followed in 1964 although it was not heard until 1977.

Stevens wrote a Violin Concerto for Max Rostal, also premiered in 1946. Hanns Eisler, Alan Bush, Wilfred Mellers, R.O.Morris and Rubbra all praised the concerto as one of the finest British violin concertos ever composed and equated it to both the Walton and Britten concertos. The work shows some influence from the music of Ernest Bloch.

There is a noble Cello Concerto from 1952 and a superb Piano Concerto from 1955. The Piano Concerto received its premiere from Martin Roscoe on a Marco Polo disc

All of these major orchestral pieces have been recorded-as has a quantity of Stevens' Chamber Music-and the relevant cds, together with a number of extraordinarily enthusiastic quotations from reviews in a wide variety of music magazines in the UK and the USA  can be found at-

http://www.impulse-music.co.uk/stevens.htm#disc

Review of the Marco Polo Piano Concerto disc-

http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/m/mpl23480a.php

If you have missed out to date on this exceptionally fine British composer I urge you with all possible enthusiasm to investigate :) If you are in any way attuned to composers like Bloch, Shostakovich, Rubbra you are unlikely to be disappointed.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2011, 05:39:22 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline The new erato

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2011, 04:48:03 AM »
Didn't he write a book about the Bartok quartets? I think I have it, but have never heard his music.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2011, 04:50:38 AM »
I know Bernard Stevens, his name, that is, not yet his music. How? Because (a) recording(s) of his music was/were sponsored by the Rex Foundation, the same Rex Foundation that sponsered several Brian CDs. In the early 1990s I watched a documentary by the BBC about that 'wing' of The Grateful Dead. I remember they interviewed Stevens' widow and you heard a fragment of a symphony (iirc).


And that's how I know about Bernard Stevens..
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2011, 05:06:40 AM »
I know Bernard Stevens, his name, that is, not yet his music. How? Because (a) recording(s) of his music was/were sponsored by the Rex Foundation, the same Rex Foundation that sponsered several Brian CDs. In the early 1990s I watched a documentary by the BBC about that 'wing' of The Grateful Dead. I remember they interviewed Stevens' widow and you heard a fragment of a symphony (iirc).


And that's how I know about Bernard Stevens..

I may be able to help you with hearing some Stevens, Johan ;D ;D

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2011, 05:11:28 AM »
The city of Delft is prepared.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2011, 05:42:05 AM »
Didn't he write a book about the Bartok quartets? I think I have it, but have never heard his music.

That may have been Halsey Stevens, the American composer?

Offline The new erato

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2011, 05:57:34 AM »
That may have been Halsey Stevens, the American composer?
Now I really need to check my shelves when I get home.

cilgwyn

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2011, 06:35:56 AM »
I seem to remember a 'minor' fuss about Bernard Stevens,some years ago,when some recordings were released,then it all seemed to die away.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2011, 01:50:22 PM »
I have been reading up on Bernard Stevens, apart from listening to his Second Symphony (a strong piece I have to listen to a second time). I found this photo of the composer in an article by Ronald Stevenson from 1968.



Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2011, 02:52:49 PM »
Thanks for the photograph, Johan :)

Offline The new erato

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2011, 02:13:37 AM »
That may have been Halsey Stevens, the American composer?
Yes indeed it was. Good book IIRC.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2011, 06:35:47 AM »
The 'Symphony of Liberation' is excellent - I had it on audio cassette before I owned a CD player. It has some wonderfully eloquent passages, including, if I recall correctly, a wonderfully sad oboe theme. The Cello Concerto coupling is also fine - I must listen to his music again.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2019, 08:48:46 PM »
Well, eight years on from the thread starting I contribute.  ;)

I discovered Stevens a couple of years ago and have come back to listen to everything that obtainable recently. His music really is very good, the early chamber music sounds a bit like Rubbra, but his later music is serious, forceful and has a unique sound. Every piece of his starts out with purpose and carries on until it has achieved its purpose!

As some readers here may remember I maintain lists of Great Symphonies, Great Concertos and Great String Quartets. My standards are exacting ( :D) and there are only a handful of composers who make it to all three lists, but Stevens does! (the others are a select group: Beethoven, Chavez, Diamond, Dutilleux, Haydn, Holmboe, Matthews, Milhaud, Moeran, Mozart, Piston, Rubbra, Saygun, Sibelius, Simpson, Vasks and Vaughan Williams).


Offline vandermolen

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2019, 09:34:47 PM »
Well, eight years on from the thread starting I contribute.  ;)

I discovered Stevens a couple of years ago and have come back to listen to everything that obtainable recently. His music really is very good, the early chamber music sounds a bit like Rubbra, but his later music is serious, forceful and has a unique sound. Every piece of his starts out with purpose and carries on until it has achieved its purpose!

As some readers here may remember I maintain lists of Great Symphonies, Great Concertos and Great String Quartets. My standards are exacting ( :D) and there are only a handful of composers who make it to all three lists, but Stevens does! (the others are a select group: Beethoven, Chavez, Diamond, Dutilleux, Haydn, Holmboe, Matthews, Milhaud, Moeran, Mozart, Piston, Rubbra, Saygun, Sibelius, Simpson, Vasks and Vaughan Williams).
The 'Symphony of Liberation' which, I think,  won a competition in the Daily Express (in the days when it was obviously a more serious newspaper than now!) remains a favourite of mine - a fine work.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline André

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2019, 03:56:46 PM »


Both works score very highly.

The violin concerto is a strongly profiled work, with not a little hint of the bountiful melodic and harmonic riches of Bloch and Respighi, although it remains strictly classical in feeling and construction. Very impressive. This has lots of ‘face’, something its cello counterpart somewhat lacks IMO.

The 2nd symphony is also a powerful, proficient work. Its structure is rather more complex than the first symphony. Although it has 3 movements, the scherzo has a substantial slow portion and the finale is preceded by a powerful slow section. It has an arch-like framework: I, IIa, IIb,IIc, IIIa and IIIb. It has power, bite, not a little seriousness, even verging on the desolate. Stevens seems to have been a serious, rigorous composer, with a slightly pessimistic bent. Not a trace of glibness or hollowness.

The violinist was unknown to me but a search revealed a number of recordings, including two of Krenek I already have - as violinist and conductor. I had never paid attention to the artists on these discs  ::). Orchestra and recording are excellent.

An important disc, and the one to start with to explore his orchestral music.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2019, 04:15:44 AM by André »

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #15 on: June 19, 2019, 09:04:51 PM »


Both works score very highly.

The violin concerto is a strongly profiled work, with not a little hint of the bountiful melodic and harmonic riches of Bloch and Respighi, although it remains strictly classical in feeling and construction. Very impressive. This has lots of ‘face’, something its cello counterpart somewhat lacks IMO.

The 2nd symphony is also a powerful, proficient work. Its structure is rather more complex than the first symphony. Although it has 3 movements, the scherzo has a substantial slow portion and the finale is preceded by a powerful slow section. It has an arch-like framework: I, IIa, IIb,IIc, IVa and IVb. It has power, bite, not a little seriousness, even verging on the desolate. Stevens seems to have been a serious, rigorous composer, with a slightly pessimistic bent. Not a trace of glibness or hollowness.

The violinist was unknown to me but a search revealed a number of recordings, including two of Krenek I already have - as violinist and conductor. I had never paid attention to the artists on these discs  ::). Orchestra and recording are excellent.

An important disc, and the one to start with to explore his orchestral music.
I agree +1  :)
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Christo

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #16 on: June 19, 2019, 09:27:22 PM »


Both works score very highly.

The violin concerto is a strongly profiled work, with not a little hint of the bountiful melodic and harmonic riches of Bloch and Respighi, although it remains strictly classical in feeling and construction. Very impressive. This has lots of ‘face’, something its cello counterpart somewhat lacks IMO.

The 2nd symphony is also a powerful, proficient work. Its structure is rather more complex than the first symphony. Although it has 3 movements, the scherzo has a substantial slow portion and the finale is preceded by a powerful slow section. It has an arch-like framework: I, IIa, IIb,IIc, IVa and IVb. It has power, bite, not a little seriousness, even verging on the desolate. Stevens seems to have been a serious, rigorous composer, with a slightly pessimistic bent. Not a trace of glibness or hollowness.

The violinist was unknown to me but a search revealed a number of recordings, including two of Krenek I already have - as violinist and conductor. I had never paid attention to the artists on these discs  ::). Orchestra and recording are excellent.

An important disc, and the one to start with to explore his orchestral music.
Heard part of the Liberation Symphony in the past and recall being impressed; yet another war symphony, I think - ordered for a copy immediately and will report back. Many thanks!  :)
… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #17 on: June 19, 2019, 09:33:35 PM »
Heard part of the Liberation Symphony in the past and recall being impressed; yet another war symphony, I think - ordered for a copy immediately and will report back. Many thanks!  :)
Symphony of Liberation is very good indeed. Look forward to hearing your views.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline relm1

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #18 on: June 20, 2019, 02:56:02 PM »
Wow, this was fantastic music!  Thanks for bringing him to our attention.  Definitely worth further exploration.  Sadly, not many recordings.

Offline Irons

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Re: Bernard Stevens(1916-1983): a grievously neglected British composer.
« Reply #19 on: June 21, 2019, 05:15:36 AM »
Wow, this was fantastic music!  Thanks for bringing him to our attention.  Definitely worth further exploration.  Sadly, not many recordings.

I am surprised how many there are. Had a look on eBay and discovered a CD of piano music shared with Howells, an issue of string quartets and also choral music. I am tempted by the Meridian release of the violin concerto after the strong advocacy on this thread but think I will listen first on YT before purchase.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2019, 05:24:09 AM by Irons »
You must have a very good opinion of yourself to write a symphony - John Ireland.