ALBUM: Contemporary British Piano Music Volume 2
ARTIST: John McCabe

Sleeve Notes

Theme and Four Studies- Alan Rawsthorne (1905-71)
Theme (Allegro moderato): Allegro: Grave: Allegro agitato: Poco lento, ma con lento
Discovered among his papers after his death, and first performed by John Ogden at a Rawsthorne Memorial Concert in 1971, this charming, relatively light-weight work consists of four free variations in the form of character pieces on a simple and eloquent theme also related to tunes in his later Concerto for String Orchestra and the film music for Lease of Life - it is thought that this piano work was written in the early 1940s, possibly during Rawsthorne's wartime service in the Army. Lisztian virtuosity and rhetoric mark the first and third studies, while the second (Grave) is a stately, almost Handelian variation, and the fourth a sensitive Epilogue reminiscent of the last of his more famous Bagatelles for piano. Throughout, his characteristic skill in keyboard writing, personal yet superbly suited to the instrument, pervades the music, and the work as a whole makes a lovely, often unregarded contribution to the piano repertoire. © 1997 John McCabe

Piano Sonata No.1 - David Ellis
This work was written whilst the composer was still a student at the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1955. It was a significant time, for two reasons: firstly, there were several fellow-students who had already demonstrated extraordinary pianistic skills, of whom John Ogdon and David Wilde were particularly outstanding. Secondly, there was something of a major revolution within the composition school; the emergence of the so-called Manchester group of composers, with Goehr, Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle much in evidence, made a considerable impact on the music scene at that time. Not surprisingly, this Piano Sonata is a reflection of those close influences, particularly in the grand gestures of the bravura piano writing, and, to a lesser extent, in the musical language. The first performance was given in 1956 in the Wigmore Hall by one of the virtuoso student pianists who did much to bring the music of their fellow composers to a wider audience, Patricia Cunliffe, who, incidentally, is now the composer's wife. There are three movements, each one developed from the same tiny cell heard at the outset: a rising minor third followed by a semitone step up. The first is mainly contrapuntal in a clearly defined sonata form structure. The second uses a rich harmonic palette and is a set of variations The finale contrasts irregular rhythmic patterns with more straight frorward melodic ideas until the two merge at the close, revealing themselves to be closely related to the first movement's basic idea. Then after the "grand gestures" have worked themselves out of the system, there follows a quiet coda: brief and questioning as the unresolved harmony dies away.

Prelude, Minuet and Reel - Thomas Pitfield
This was one of the composer's earliest publications (OUP), first performed in Sydney, Australia by Beatrice Tange who also recorded it for HMV. The same pianist played it at a reception for Sybil Thorndyke who asked the composer's name and left a message to contact her if he was ever in the same town where she happened to be performing. This he did and they became friendly, eventually becoming fellow members of the PPU (a pacifist organisation). There were many performances of the work in the 1930s and it was later re-published by Lewis Dyson Publishing.

Three Palindromic Preludes For Piano - John R. Williamson
The three preludes are selected from the Twelve Palindromic Preludes, one of several preludes written using the twelve tonal centres from C chromatically. Whilst not using major and minor modes specifically, harmonic relationships and derivations are evident in his style.

Diptych No. 1 Stars in a Dark Night - Christopher Beardsley
Composed in the late spring of 1997, Stars in a Dark Night is the first of two portraits for piano collectively entitled Diptych which present musical portraits of different aspects of the sky. Stars in a Dark Night reflects my fascination since a child with the night sky. In trying to give this fascination some kind of shape, my thoughts often run from a sense of familiarity with the patterns and shapes which perpetually wheel about our heads every night, through to an ever present sense of awe at the unfathomable distances involved in such a scene and, in a deeper sense, questions of a more philosophical nature relating to creation.

Four Piano Pieces After Charles Messier - David Forshaw
1. M45 (The Pleiades in Taurus) : 2. M22 (a globular cluster in Sagittarius) : 3. M57 (The Ring Nebula in Lyra) : 4. M31 (The Great Galaxy in Andromeda)
In 1758 the French astronomer Charles Messier, with his rudimentary 3" telescope, set about putting together a catalogue of celestial objects; galaxies, various star clusters, nebulae and asterisms of all kinds - 105 in all (five more have been added since). They appear in numerical order after the M initial. In this present work four of the objects have been chosen as the subject of pieces for piano. Certain aspects of them as astronomical phenomena have evoked a musical parallel in my mind. They are all very different - M45, the Pleiades, is an open cluster of newly born stars, traditionally seven in number, (the Seven Sisters- although there are considerably more). So the accent is on the number 7 in this piece. - M22, an old tight cluster of over 200,000 stars, is presented in a somewhat minimalist way, very sparse at its edges and extremely dense at its centre. -M57 is an old star whose surface has been blown away, leaving what appears to be a smoke ring in the sky.The central star is still there together with a rogue star which can be observed within the ring. Therefore this very tranquil piece has a central focal point (A) with a 'rogue' F# not far away. (The remains of the 'explosion' can be heard in very quiet chord clusters throughout the piece.) Finally M31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest comparable galaxy to our own (it is only 2,200,000 light years away!) is portrayed in its vastness by a very slow tempo and its breadth by the use of the full range of the instrument.

Piano Sonata (For John McCabe) - David Golightly
Allegro volante: Expressivo delicato: Allegro scherzando
This piano sonata is a three movement work dedicated to John McCabe. In 1996 John and David were invited to be the classical representatives for the PRS Advisory Group, established to assist the company review its public performance and broadcast policy. The sonata was composed during the concluding period of this commitment and may be one of the many interesting results of this two year period.

John McCabe - Piano
Photo: John McCabe

John McCabe’s dual career as a composer and pianist has established him as one of the leading British musicians of his generation His integral recording on London of the complete Piano Sonatas of Haydn (12 CDs) was greeted by Gramophone magazine as “one of the great recorded monuments of the keyboard repertoire", likening it to Schnabel’s Beethoven sonatas. His many other interests include British and American music. His large output of compositions, which have been performed all over the world, cover most of the genres, and among his most successful works are the ballet Edward 11 (Stuttgart Ballet 1995, Birmingham Royal Ballet 1997), numerous orchestral works including Concerto for Orchestra (Solti/London Philharmonic Orchestra 1983) and four symphonies,and a widerange of keyboard, chamber and vocal music. Recent works have included a Flute Concerto for James Galway and the London Sympony Orchestra, Tenebrae for piano (Barry Douglas), and chamber works for the Verdehr Trio (Fauvel's Rondeaux) and the Raphael Ensemble (Pilgrim for string sextet).

John McCabe has also written several musical monographs (on Rachmaninov, Bartók, and the Haydn Piano Sonatas). He is currently working on a book on the music of Alan Rawsthorne: Portrait of a Composer is due for publication by OUP in Autumn 1998. He was appointed C.B.E. by HM The Queen in 1985 for his services to British music.

Thomas Pitfield
Photo: Thomas Pitfield

Thomas Pitfield left school at the age of 14 to be pitchforked unwillingly into an engineering apprenticeship. At the end of this seven and a half year period, and having reached the age of 21, he enrolled as a composition student at the RMCM for a year - although there was no serious provision for such at that time, apart from instruction in harmony and counterpoint. In 1947 he was invited to join the College staff. He became professor of composition, stepping over to the RNCM until his 70 birthday. Thomas’s work has been printed by 60 publishers including foreign companies. In addition he has had several text books published.

Chris Beardsley
 Photo: Chris Beardsley

Chris Beardsley lives near Longridge in Lancashire and was born in Derby in 1956. He began composing whilst studying music at Huddersfield Polytechnic from 1989-1992. Whilst there he won the Woods prize for composition and two works, River and A Rock; consider it were performed by the Firebird Ensemble. A year’s study with John Casken at Manchester University followed, during which time his work Amber was performed. In 1994 Aubade for oboe and strings was premiered by Richard Simpson and the Goldberg Ensemble at the SPNM Regional Day in Manchester. Further performances of Aubade, a String Quartet and Vain Battle for strings were given by the Goldberg Ensemble in 1996 as was Life’s Pride and Caredfor Crown by the Hilliard Ensemble in London and Sweden. Divertimento won first prize in the Composers’ Competition at the Gregynog Festival.

Alan Rawsthorne
Photo: Alan Rawsthorne
Born in Haslington, Lancashire. Rawstorne studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and then with the great pianist Fgon Petri in Poland and Berlin. Having decided to concentrate on composition as a career, he lived mainly in London from 1934 yo 1935, following which he moved to the country, near Saffron Walden. During the pre-Second World War years he began to establish an international reputation with instrumental and orchestral works, and after the war, during which he managed to complete several outstanding works despite the rigours of military service, established himself as one of Britain's leading composers. His output was predominantly instrumental for many years, with two solo piano concertos, three symphonies, two violin concertos, the Symphonic Studies, and several other notable orchestral pieces as well as much chamber and piano music of the highest quality. In later years, as his expressive range deepened, vocal music became more prominent, culminating in the magnificent choral and orchestral work Carmen Vitale in 1963. Rawsthorne died in 1971, and despite the inevitable neglect most composers suffer postumously, several of his works have retained a hold on the repertoire - there are distinct signs that a large-scale revival of interest in his music is underway. The Theme and Four Studies for piano is included on this recording as a tribite to one of the greatest of this earlier generation of North-Western composers.
David Forshaw
Photo: David Forshaw
Although approaching his 60th birthday David has not lost his love for life and his sense of fun. This is often reflected in his music which is strong, rhythmic and passionate. He has lived in the environs of St. Helens all his life - with brief educational sojourns in Cardiff and Huddersfield. His interests in astronomy and travel have recently crept into his lifelong obsession with music. He writes for voices, all manner of instruments, and combinations of the same, mostly for specific performers.
David Ellis
Photo: David Ellis
David Ellis was born in Liverpool in 1933 and studied at the Royal Northern College Of Music from 1953-1957. It was at this time his compositions gained recognition, not only through performances but also in the form of commissions and awards: the Royal Philharmonic Prize, the Royal College of Music Patron’s Award, the Theodore Holland Award, the Royal Manchester Institution Silver Medal, the Ricordi Prize and a Gulbenkian Award.
John R. Williamson
Photo: John R. Williamson
John R.Williamson was born in Manchester and educated at William Hulme’s Grammar School, and studied p and composition with Richard Hall at the RNCM from 1949-52. He pursued a career of teaching in many schools and colleges throughout England and Wales from 1952-92. He won the Barlowe Cup at the Chester Musical Festival several times and is currently published by Gwyn and Curiad of North Wales. His work has generated an individual expression through the past 20 years, particularly in the genre of the song and piano-based chamber music, expressed in a personal style employing palindromic techniques.
David Golightly (See also David's other compositions and recordings on this site)
Photo: David Golightly
David Golightly studied composition with Richard Steinitz at Huddersfield University. Born in Co Durham and now based in Cheshire, a number of his compositions have been commissioned by eminent performers, including Moods for Roger Heaton, Rites of Passage and The St Petersburg Mass for the Roussland Soglasie Male Voice Choir of St Petersburg. In addition David has composed prolifically for the theatre and film documentaries. David has had performances of his music as far afield as America, Germany, Poland and Russia. He now combines a hectic freelance career working as a commercial orchestrator for the Robert Light Agency with that of a classical composer and conductor. David is chairman of The North-West Composers Association and has recently been appointed chairman elect for the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain.


Supported by The Rawsthorne Trust and North West Composers' Association

Recorded at ASC Recording, Macclesfield, Cheshire, January 1998
Engineered by Stephen Plews
Post-production by Richard Scott
Produced by Stephen Plews
Design by Tim Walton and Stephen Plews

This page was last updated on 6 July, 2005