Bernard Stevens (1916-1983)

Episodes

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01Early Success20160704

Donald Macleod discusses Stevens's Violin Concerto, commissioned by violinist Max Rostal.

Bernard Stevens receives a commission from celebrated violinist Max Rostal. Presented by Donald Macleod

Bernard Stevens shot to fame in 1946 when he entered a Daily Express competition to create a 'victory symphony' marking the end of the war. His winning work had been composed during the terror of the London Blitz. Stevens soon found himself in demand, and composed for films starring Dirk Bogarde and James Mason. Later he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music where he remained for over thirty years, composing symphonies, concertos, chamber and solo piano music, and also opera. His public success was short-lived, possibly due to his Communist ideals. After his death in 1983, his music was quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, some have rated Steven's as the equal of Benjamin Britten. Throughout this week of programmes, his daughter Catherine Stevens joins Donald Macleod as we re-rediscover this lost story in British music.

As a young boy Bernard Stevens suffered from asthma. He was frequently left alone at home by his busy parents, where he started to teach himself the piano. His many keyboard works including his 1962 piece Aria, recorded by his former composition student Michael Finnissy. Stevens went on to study Literature and Music at Cambridge, and then entered the Royal College of Music where he composed his Mass for Double Choir. Stevens later wrote a violin sonata, for him to perform alongside his future wife, Bertha, and when the celebrated violinist Max Rostal heard this work, he soon commissioned Stevens to compose a concerto for him

A Symphony of Liberation, Op 7 (2nd mvt)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Richard Hickox, conductor

Aria

Michael Finnissy, piano

Mass for Double Choir (1st and 2nd mvt)

The Finzi Singers

Paul Spicer, director

Violin Concerto, Op 4

Ernst Kovacic, violin

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Edward Downes, conductor

Producer Luke Whitlock.

02Working With James Mason20160705

Exploring Stevens's composing music for films starring James Mason and Dirk Bogarde.

Bernard Stevens composes music for films starring James Mason and Dirk Bogarde, presented by Donald Macleod

The music of Bernard Stevens has largely been forgotten today, and yet he was rated by some as equal to Benjamin Britten. Stevens shot to fame when he won the Daily Express competition for a victory symphony, a work he'd largely composed in his evenings during the Blitz. With this public acclaim he soon found himself writing for films starring Dirk Bogarde and James Mason, but gave up this career in the film industry later taking up the post of Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music where he remained for over thirty years. Public success was short-lived for Stevens partly due to his Communist ideals, and partly because he wasn't interested in self-promotion. He continued composing until his death in 1983 and left a substantial portfolio of works including symphonies, concertos, chamber and solo piano music, and also opera. Throughout the week his daughter Catherine Stevens joins Donald Macleod to lift the veil over her father's life and music.

During the war Bernard Stevens served in the Royal Army Pay Coprs. In his breaks between work and night-time fire watching duty, he'd compose music including his Piano Trio and also his Symphony of Liberation. This symphony won Stevens a competition launched by the Daily Express and he now found himself in the public eye. It was after the war that he started working in the film industry composing music for films starring James Mason and Dirk Bogarde, but he quickly decided this industry wasn't really for him. In 1948 Bernard Stevens and his wife Bertha purchased a new house in Belsize Park, London, previously owned by the violinist Maz Rostal. In that same year he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music, and within a few months completed his Theme and Variations for String Quartet.

Piano Trio, Op 3 (1st mvt)

Kenneth Sillito, violin

Stephen Orton, cello

Hamish Milne, piano

A Symphony of Liberation, Op 7

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Edward Downes, conductor

Bernard Stevens, arr. A. Williams

Mark of Cain

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Richard Hickox, conductor

Theme and Variations for String Quartet, Op 11

The Delmé String Quartet

Producer Luke Whitlock.

Exploring Stevens's composing music for films starring James Mason and Dirk Bogarde

Bernard Stevens composes music for films starring James Mason and Dirk Bogarde, presented by Donald Macleod

The music of Bernard Stevens has largely been forgotten today, and yet he was rated by some as equal to Benjamin Britten. Stevens shot to fame when he won the Daily Express competition for a victory symphony, a work he'd largely composed in his evenings during the Blitz. With this public acclaim he soon found himself writing for films starring Dirk Bogarde and James Mason, but gave up this career in the film industry later taking up the post of Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music where he remained for over thirty years. Public success was short-lived for Stevens partly due to his Communist ideals, and partly because he wasn't interested in self-promotion. He continued composing until his death in 1983 and left a substantial portfolio of works including symphonies, concertos, chamber and solo piano music, and also opera. Throughout the week his daughter Catherine Stevens joins Donald Macleod to lift the veil over her father's life and music.

During the war Bernard Stevens served in the Royal Army Pay Coprs. In his breaks between work and night-time fire watching duty, he'd compose music including his Piano Trio and also his Symphony of Liberation. This symphony won Stevens a competition launched by the Daily Express and he now found himself in the public eye. It was after the war that he started working in the film industry composing music for films starring James Mason and Dirk Bogarde, but he quickly decided this industry wasn't really for him. In 1948 Bernard Stevens and his wife Bertha purchased a new house in Belsize Park, London, previously owned by the violinist Maz Rostal. In that same year he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music, and within a few months completed his Theme and Variations for String Quartet.

Piano Trio, Op 3 (1st mvt)

Kenneth Sillito, violin

Stephen Orton, cello

Hamish Milne, piano

A Symphony of Liberation, Op 7

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Edward Downes, conductor

Bernard Stevens, arr. A. Williams

Mark of Cain

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Richard Hickox, conductor

Theme and Variations for String Quartet, Op 11

The Delmé String Quartet

Producer Luke Whitlock.

03Resignation From The Communist Party20160706

Due to the Russian suppression of the Hungarian uprising Bernard Stevens resigns from the Communist Party, presented by Donald Macleod

The music of Bernard Stevens has largely been forgotten today, and yet he was rated by some as equal to Benjamin Britten. Stevens shot to fame when he won the Daily Express competition for a victory symphony, a work he'd largely composed in his evenings during the Blitz. With this public acclaim he soon found himself writing for films starring Dirk Bogarde and James Mason, but gave up this career in the film industry later taking up the post of Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music where he remained for over thirty years. Public success was short-lived for Stevens partly due to his Communist ideals, and partly because he wasn't interested in self-promotion. He continued composing until his death in 1983 and left a substantial portfolio of works including symphonies, concertos, chamber and solo piano music, and also opera. Throughout the week his daughter Catherine Stevens joins Donald Macleod to lift the veil over her father's life and music.

The 1950s were a productive period for Bernard Stevens completing his passionate and warmly coloured Cello Concerto for William Pleeth. Storm clouds were however gathering for Stevens when he acted as a witness for a court case, but due to his communist sympathies was publicly discredited. Not long after he resigned from the Communist party due to the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising. By the 1960s we find Stevens exploring the world of 12 tone serialism with his second String Quartet.

Fantasia on The Irish Ho-Hoane, Op 13

Isabel Beyer, piano

Harvey Dagul, piano

Cello Concerto, Op 18

Alexander Baillie, cello

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Edward Downes, conductor

String Quartet No 2, Op 34 (1st mvt)

The Delmé String Quartet

Dance Suite, Op 28 (3rd and 4th mvt)

National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

Adrian Leaper, conductor

Producer Luke Whitlock.

Due to the Russian suppression of the Hungarian uprising Bernard Stevens resigns from the Communist Party, presented by Donald Macleod

The music of Bernard Stevens has largely been forgotten today, and yet he was rated by some as equal to Benjamin Britten. Stevens shot to fame when he won the Daily Express competition for a victory symphony, a work he'd largely composed in his evenings during the Blitz. With this public acclaim he soon found himself writing for films starring Dirk Bogarde and James Mason, but gave up this career in the film industry later taking up the post of Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music where he remained for over thirty years. Public success was short-lived for Stevens partly due to his Communist ideals, and partly because he wasn't interested in self-promotion. He continued composing until his death in 1983 and left a substantial portfolio of works including symphonies, concertos, chamber and solo piano music, and also opera. Throughout the week his daughter Catherine Stevens joins Donald Macleod to lift the veil over her father's life and music.

The 1950s were a productive period for Bernard Stevens completing his passionate and warmly coloured Cello Concerto for William Pleeth. Storm clouds were however gathering for Stevens when he acted as a witness for a court case, but due to his communist sympathies was publicly discredited. Not long after he resigned from the Communist party due to the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising. By the 1960s we find Stevens exploring the world of 12 tone serialism with his second String Quartet.

Fantasia on The Irish Ho-Hoane, Op 13

Isabel Beyer, piano

Harvey Dagul, piano

Cello Concerto, Op 18

Alexander Baillie, cello

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Edward Downes, conductor

String Quartet No 2, Op 34 (1st mvt)

The Delmé String Quartet

Dance Suite, Op 28 (3rd and 4th mvt)

National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

Adrian Leaper, conductor

Producer Luke Whitlock.

04Honoured By Royalty20160707

Donald Macleod focuses on Stevens's being made a fellow of the Royal College of Music.

Bernard Stevens in honoured by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, presented by Donald Macleod

The music of Bernard Stevens has largely been forgotten today, and yet he was rated by some as equal to Benjamin Britten. Stevens shot to fame when he won the Daily Express competition for a victory symphony, a work he'd largely composed in his evenings during the Blitz. With this public acclaim he soon found himself writing for films starring Dirk Bogarde and James Mason, but gave up this career in the film industry later taking up the post of Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music where he remained for over thirty years. Public success was short-lived for Stevens partly due to his Communist ideals, and partly because he wasn't interested in self-promotion. He continued composing until his death in 1983 and left a substantial portfolio of works including symphonies, concertos, chamber and solo piano music, and also opera. Throughout the week his daughter Catherine Stevens joins Donald Macleod to lift the veil over her father's life and music.

During the 1960s Bernard Stevens was very active as Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music. One of his students at this time was a young Michael Finnissy. Stevens was also very busy as an examiner which took him abroad to South Africa and the Far East. In recognition of his services to music he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. During this same period he was still composing prolifically, including his Second Symphony, and also his Trio for horn, violin and piano.

Mass for Double Choir (5th mvt)

The Finzi Singers

Paul Spicer, director

Symphony No 2, Op 35

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Edward Downes, conductor

Trio for horn, violin and piano, Op 38 (3rd mvt)

Kenneth Sillito, violin

Timothy Brown, horn

Hamish Milne, piano

Ballad No 2, Op 42

Florian Uhlig, piano

Producer Luke Whitlock.

Donald Macleod focuses on Stevens's being made a fellow of the Royal College of Music.

Bernard Stevens in honoured by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, presented by Donald Macleod

The music of Bernard Stevens has largely been forgotten today, and yet he was rated by some as equal to Benjamin Britten. Stevens shot to fame when he won the Daily Express competition for a victory symphony, a work he'd largely composed in his evenings during the Blitz. With this public acclaim he soon found himself writing for films starring Dirk Bogarde and James Mason, but gave up this career in the film industry later taking up the post of Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music where he remained for over thirty years. Public success was short-lived for Stevens partly due to his Communist ideals, and partly because he wasn't interested in self-promotion. He continued composing until his death in 1983 and left a substantial portfolio of works including symphonies, concertos, chamber and solo piano music, and also opera. Throughout the week his daughter Catherine Stevens joins Donald Macleod to lift the veil over her father's life and music.

During the 1960s Bernard Stevens was very active as Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music. One of his students at this time was a young Michael Finnissy. Stevens was also very busy as an examiner which took him abroad to South Africa and the Far East. In recognition of his services to music he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. During this same period he was still composing prolifically, including his Second Symphony, and also his Trio for horn, violin and piano.

Mass for Double Choir (5th mvt)

The Finzi Singers

Paul Spicer, director

Symphony No 2, Op 35

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Edward Downes, conductor

Trio for horn, violin and piano, Op 38 (3rd mvt)

Kenneth Sillito, violin

Timothy Brown, horn

Hamish Milne, piano

Ballad No 2, Op 42

Florian Uhlig, piano

Producer Luke Whitlock.

Donald Macleod focuses on Stevens's being made a fellow of the Royal College of Music.

05Under A Shadow20160708

Bernard Stevens under the shadow of cancer completes his opera The Shadow of the Glen, presented by Donald Macleod

The music of Bernard Stevens has largely been forgotten today, and yet he was rated by some as equal to Benjamin Britten. Stevens shot to fame when he won the Daily Express competition for a victory symphony, a work he'd largely composed in his evenings during the Blitz. With this public acclaim he soon found himself writing for films starring Dirk Bogarde and James Mason, but gave up this career in the film industry later taking up the post of Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music where he remained for over thirty years. Public success was short-lived for Stevens partly due to his Communist ideals, and partly because he wasn't interested in self-promotion. He continued composing until his death in 1983 and left a substantial portfolio of works including symphonies, concertos, chamber and solo piano music, and also opera. Throughout the week his daughter Catherine Stevens joins Donald Macleod to lift the veil over her father's life and music.

In the last decade of his life Bernard Stevens was diagnosed with cancer. He largely kept his illness private from his students and colleagues at the Royal College of Music, and kept on teaching and also composing music. With an Arts Council Grant Stevens was able to take time away from teaching in order to complete his opera The Shadow of the Glen, which was recorded in the year before his death. The last work he completed was his Concertante for Two Pianos. Two pianists also visited Stevens to perform for him his Piano Concerto originally composed in 1955, but later revised. Stevens was thoroughly delighted with the work, but the very next day he went into care and never returned home again.

The Birds Know This (from The True Dark, Op 49)

Richard Jackson, baritone

Igor Kennaway, piano

The Shadow of the Glen, Op 50 (Beginning)

Della Jones, mezzo-soprano (Nora)

Paul Hudson, bass (The Tramp)

Divertimenti Orchestra

Howard Williams, conductor

Nocturne on a Note-row by Ronald Stevenson, Op 51

Michael Finnissy, piano

Concertante for Two Pianos Op 55 (3rd mvt)

Isabel Beyer, piano

Harvey Dagul, piano

Piano Concerto, Op 26

Martin Roscoe, piano

National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

Adrian Leaper, conductor

Producer Luke Whitlock.