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Stevens Bernard (1916-1983)

Biography of Stevens Bernard:

Bernard Stevens suffered more than Herbert Howells (whom he succeeded at the Royal College of Music) from the absence of commissions and performances from the leading professional musical institutions. He not only eschewed the post-Webern style but was also Marxist at a time when, although many leftish attitudes permeated the artistic world, Marxism itself was scorned. Stevens was a pupil at Southend High School for Boys, for part of his time there the music master was Arthur Hutchings, later to become the lively and idiosyncratic Professor of Music at Durham. He studied piano with Harold Samuel, from whom he acquired a deep and lasting devotion to the music of Bach. He read English Literature at Cambridge, took a Mus.B. (a pupil of Dent and Rootham) then continued at the Royal College of Music with R.O. Morris, Arthur Benjamin (the dedicatee of Howells Procession) and Constant Lambert. He composed whilst in the army for the Second World War, then (after a couple of years writing film music) joined the staff of the Royal College of Music, where he lectured until he resigned in 1981. He was already suffering from cancer, and felt he should devote the time left to him to composing. Although an Anglo-Catholic he, like many who studied in Cambridge in the 1930s, was drawn toward the Marxist philosophy, but did not join the Communist Party until 1943. In a chapter on The Soviet Union in Howard Hartog's European Music in the Twentieth Century (1957), he quoted a remark made by Stalin shortly before his death: 'the aim of socialism should be to reduce man's working day to the point where most of his time could be occupied in cultural activity'. Stevens resigned from the Communist Party in 1956, when information of Stalin's atrocities became known and when the Russians invaded Hungary. But the attraction for a composer of such a philosophy rather than the pervasive British one in which culture is just a minority interest is obvious. Stevens goes on to quote Engels, who 'Warned against the danger of identifying the known views of an artist with what he expresses in his art'. Those who expect to find that, because of his political stance, Stevens' music was demotic and populist will be disappointed by this recording. He would have had little sympathy with the left-wing philosophers and critics who now join with the forces of the media industry in denigrating the whole concept of a classical tradition and 'high-art' culture. Stevens' particular love among the Tudor and Jacobean English composers was Dowland. Dowland, however, wrote nothing for keyboard, so it was his contemporary Farnaby to whom Stevens turned for a theme for a set of variations for piano. As well as the Fantasias, Pavans and Galliards that were the usual forms for composers of the time. Farnaby wrote some short pieces with personal titles, including one headed in The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book as Giles Farnaby's Dreame. Sadly, the deserved recognition in Stevens' work has been a long time coming and the composer is no longer present to enjoy the revival of interest in his music.

CD's with Stevens Bernard
Piano Music by Herbert Howells & Bernard Stevens

ArtNr. GMCD 7119

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