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Alan RAWSTHORNE - A Bio-Bibliography

By John C. Dressler

Music Bio-Bibliographies No. 97 (ISSN: 0742-6968)

Praeger Publishers. Westport, Conn. 2004. 382 pages

LC 2004053431. ISBN 0-313-30589-7



John Dressler has just the sort of rigorous methodical technique that suits the cataloguing nature of the Greenwood series. He has already written the Finzi volume in the Green Bio-Bibliography series and here is the Rawsthorne. He is already deep at work on the William Alwyn volume.

Dressler joined the Murray State University music faculty in 1989. There he is a professor of French horn and teaches music history courses and a section of world civilization. He is principal horn of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra in Jackson, Tennessee. Murray State University clearly encourages a cultured and comprehensive approach to music and its study - well leave aside the blunder in their Roundabout Murray e-zine that claims Finzi as ‘primarily a church music composer’!

Having finished his Finzi project - although such work is never really finished - Dressler turns to Alan Rawsthorne. As the Finzi book complements the Banfield biography so this one reads harmoniously with John McCabe’s OUP Rawsthorne biography.

The book is essentially a sequence of lists. And what is listed?

In these pages you will find:-

    • A list of all known works both complete and incomplete. This includes details of premieres and other selected performances (venues, dates and performers' names)
    • A discography - commercial and archival
    • 1500 citations of reviews, sections of books and articles - usually with a significant quote from each
    • Alphabetical and chronological works list
    • Manchester manuscript collection details
    • Song Cycle and Multi-Section Works Components
    • Works dedicated to Rawsthorne by other composers
    • 25-page index

The list of works is further subdivided into: Stage works, chamber music, film music, works for orchestra or brass band, songs, choral, concertante works, solo voice and instruments, solo piano or piano duet, arrangements.

To add juice and narrative substance to the enterprise there are three biographical essays forming a triptychal overture to a flood of minutiae. These are at the start and span 13 of the 363 pages. That dynamo of the Rawsthorne renaissance and leading light of the Rawsthorne Friends, John Belcher provides a Rawsthorne primer. The composer Gerard Schurmann gives a lively account of his friendship with Rawsthorne. John Dressler provides three pages to give additional scene setting.

The bio-bibliography is an unforgiving medium when it comes to typos. There are so many proper names. In fact the typos in this book are very few. There are a few in the discography. John Clegg’s CD of Rawsthorne piano music in on the Paradisum label not Paradisum. And while Tamara Anna Cislowska may have given up using the Polish ł in her surname name I suspect she would be slightly disconcerted to find out that they she had been called Cislowski (the male form of her surname) rather than Cislowska; the correct form which she uses on her various recordings for the splendid Australian ArtWorks label. Also her first names are for some reason hyphenated in the Greenwood entry. The orchestra on the Naxos piano concertos disc is Takuo Yuasa not Takuo Yuase. I was unable to find any others.

The only other criticism is more a matter of the Greenwood series ‘template’ rather than anything else. If you are looking for citations of programme notes you will look in vain unless they were written by Rawsthorne. Perhaps the difficulty is that they are, in many cases, anonymous or maybe the issue is availability in this most ephemeral of areas. Still, the programme note for the concert premiere could have been a valuable reference. Secondly, the sometimes very substantial liner notes of CDs and LPs are not listed. The recording will be listed but not who wrote the liner note. No doubt bibliographers are holding conferences about this sort of thing but the fact remains that a significant segment of literature is left out of the reckoning in all the Greenwood series. The growing original literature of recording liner notes should not be neglected.

I was about to pounce on the apparently ‘extraordinary’ inclusion of the film score for The Overlanders. After all this was written by John Ireland, wasn’t it? I then went to entry W175 where Mr Dressler promptly put me right. In fact Rawsthorne orchestrated two sections of Ireland ‘s score: Catching the Brumbies and Breaking the Brumbies - hence the other Overlander entries.

The index is invaluable. Not only can you find all the entries for every work with great ease you can also find any writing about Rawsthorne by any author identified by Mr Dressler. Alternatively if you want to find out about the critical reception for Rawsthorne’s Farnham Overture you can find these (as well as entries for each of his other works) all grouped together in the bibliography. And remember that this is not just a citation - you also get, for each of the 1500 entries, a brief quotation which may tell you all you want to know anyway. Suppose you dimly recall once reading a piece about Rawsthorne by Gillian Widdicombe or Jack Westrup. You can find the citation for each of their Rawsthorne writings with minimum fuss and waste of time. The files at OUP, BBC Data Centre, Kew Gardens and Dartington are also listed in separate sections.

Alan Poulton’s three volume work dealing with Rawsthorne and many other British composers active in the period 1940-1970 is good (not that it includes details of recordings and its bibliographical content is outline). It does covers a very wide span. However for Rawsthorne students and fanatics this book is utterly indispensable. John Dressler’s book opens new perspectives and reveals many fresh avenues of enquiry as well as answering those nagging questions and providing you with new questions when you have run out of the ones you set out with. If your specialist subject is Alan Rawsthorne, his life, times and music you now have an essential part of your life’s mission ready to buy. Over to you.

An outstanding bibliographical book.

Rob Barnett


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