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Ronald Stevenson.

Walton, Chris, ed. 2009. Song in gold pavilions: Ronald Stevenson on music. Stellenbosch: Sun Press. 148 p. Price: R180,00. ISBN: 978-1-920109-68-4.

Song in gold pavilions offers a wide selection of the writings of the composer and pianist Ronald Stevenson. This volume contains writings on his music, British music as well as on the music of the continental traditions.

The title of the book is derived form a line in Ronald Stevenson's song cycle Border boyhood to texts by Hugh MacDiarmid. In many ways, Stevenson, both as a prolific composer and pianist, has been a throwback to an earlier music era--an era of pianistic virtuosity and transcription as propounded by Liszt and carried on by Godowsky, Busoni and Percy Grainger. As a composer, Stevenson incorporates much folk music into his works, divulging numerous ethnic styles, including African, Indian, Chinese, various European, and, of course Scottish, Welsh and English music. As a pianist, Stevenson was a regular guest in the leading concert halls of the world where he often introduced and concertised his own works as well as those of many other composers.

One does not often find that composers write about music (either about their own or other composers' music). Stevenson has produced a large body of writings dealing not only with his own music, but also those composers who have been an inspiration to him.

This volume contains a grouped collection of essays by Stevenson on his own music, on British composers (including Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius, Alan Bush, William Walton, Bernard Stevens and Benjamin Britten), a shorter section on Scottish national music and lastly on music of continental composers such as Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Sergei Rachmaninov and Igor Stravinsky.

In the section on his own music, Stevenson reflects on various compelling aspects of some of his works--most notably his well-known Passacaglia on DSCH, a gigantic, almost eighty minute long piano work. Shorter essays are republications from the newsletter of the Ronald Stevenson Society. Particularly interesting is Philip Hutton's interview with Stevenson regarding his views on visual art and poetry.

The following group of essays on British composers mainly deals with analytical discussions of selected works. These writings offer enlightening insights into various compositional processes and techniques used by his fellow countrymen. Here his discourse is fluid and devoid of unnecessary complexity. Various musical examples from scores add to the clarity of Stevenson's analytical observations and comments.

In the section on Scottish music, Stevenson shows his keen awareness of his Celtic heritage. Having worked in Scotland and of Scottish ancestry, he is deeply concerned with Scotland's musical and cultural identity. Here he affectionately writes about Gaelic folk song and poetry as well as the traditional Irish harp--the Clarsach.

The remaining writings on music from continental Europe display Stevenson's vast knowledge and appreciation of some works by prominent composers. He discusses aspects of the creative careers of Szymanowski, Meyerbeer and Rachmaninov. These essays are thoroughly informative regarding the conception, creation and performances of highly original musical works. His narratives are relaxed, imaginative and sometimes pleasantly humorous.

As editor of this book, Chris Walton's exquisite craftsmanship is displayed with authority, good taste and finesse. His introduction to the book provides the reader with a clear contextualisation of the essays that follow, and his thorough research of the general subject matter is evident in his inclusion of detailed footnotes as well as a comprehensive index of names and works. The layout of the texts, musical examples and high quality reproductions of photographs make this book a pleasure to read.

Composers are frequently unfairly pigeonholed as lofty idealists, far removed from the general music public. Whilst Stevenson's extraordinary intellect is indeed impressive, these writings are firmly placed at the service of his remarkable passion and his earthy intensity of feeling.

This book will appeal to a large audience, including performers, musicologists, concert promoters and music lovers of all ages and tastes.

Reviewer: M.C. Watt

South African College of Music, University of Cape Town
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Title Annotation:Song in gold pavilions: Ronald Stevenson on music
Author:Watt, M.C.
Publication:Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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