Music mourns a Great Scot

Music mourns a Great Scot


norman lebrecht

March 28, 2015

We are saddened to report the death, this morning at his home in West Linton, near Edinburgh, of the composer and pianist Ronald Stevenson. He was 87 and had been in poor health in recent weeks.



He is probably best known for his 80-minute Passacaglia on DSCH for solo piano, written between 1960 and 1962 on a theme derived from the initials of Dmitri Shostakovitch, to whom he dedicated the work, one of the longest ever written for solo piano.


stevenson with dsch

He also wrote two piano concertos, a violin concerto for Yehudi Menuhin and a cello concerto in memory of Jacqueline du Pré.

A man of great modesty and no appetite for limelight, he was a source of inspirations for hundreds of young musicians in Scotland – and beyond. He gave seminars at Juilliard and taught at Capetown and York.

A Toccata birthday tribute earlier this month gives a sense of his unique qualities. UPDATE: A friend remembers him here.

Born in Blackburn, Lancashire, and schooled at what was then the Manchester College of Music (now RNCM), he identified with his father’s lineage and moved to Scotland from his mid-20s.


  • Will says:

    Ronald Stevenson was definitely NOT Scottish ( although he lived in Scotland for many years)… he was LANCASTRIAN, having been born in Blackburn.

  • Svend Brown says:

    Of a Scots father and Welsh mother…

  • Derek Watson says:

    Home is where the heart lies and for RS it was in Scotland. But more importantly he was a citizen of the world, and in cultural achievement, along with his friend Yehudi Menuhin, a champion of world music and peace.

  • Glenn Hardy says:

    Thanks for this posting. I’m happy to have discovered him, even though it was through this notice of his passing. A person of substance.

  • Alistair Hibberd says:

    I recall being taught music by Ronald at Broughton High School in 1957/8. His nickname was Wild Bill Hickock because of his goatee beard. I note with interest the comments about him being a Pacifist as I also recall he was quite prolific with the strap/belt. Maybe corporal punishment was ok in those days.

  • Mike Martin says:

    I was also lucky enough to be taught music by Stevenson at Broughton State Pen from 1958 to 1961, and I have absolutely no recollection of him using the belt. Corporal punishment was “OK” then and many teachers relished its use; Stevenson wasn’t one of them. The great thing about ‘Stevie’ (his other nickname) was that he didn’t just talk about music, but about other things a well placing music in context. From these I and colleagues gained the distinct impression he was a Scottish Nationalist, which was very unfashionable at the time.
    My most vivid memory I have of him is his arriving late for a 1st period class in a state of great excitement, and taking of his hat and coat and opening his brief case (out which fell a less than full 1/2 bottle of ‘Queen Anne’ whisky) and proceeded to place music manuscript on the piano. He then started to speak and although I can’t remember the words exactly it was to the effect that he’d just finished something important he’d been working on for along time, and explained something of it’s genesis. He then played the class excerpts from it. I later discovered that the piece was the Passacaglia on DSCH.