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by David Wright
Robert Crawford was born near Edinburgh in 1925 and was given violin
lessons from the age of five. He started composing while still at
school aged about fifteen. He then studied privately with Hans Gál
before going to London in 1945. where he studied Composition with Benjamin
Frankel, taking the viola as his second study at the Guildhall School
of Music. There he was awarded the Wainwright Memorial Scholarship and
won the Prize of the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
Returning to Edinburgh in 1949 he wrote the String
Quartet No. 1 which was performed at the 1951 ISCM Festival at Frankfurt-am-Main
as well as winning the prize offered by the Scottish Arts Council for
a chamber work during the Festival of Britain. This work is still in
the repertoire of the Edinburgh Quartet along with the String Quartet
No 2 which was the McEwen commission from Glasgow University in 1956.
Referring to the Quartet No. 1 when it was first published
by Augener, Ivor Keys wrote in Music & Letters. October 1954:
"Robert Crawford's quartet is a work of remarkable
technique both in its construction and in its writing for the instruments.
where the composer leaves us in no doubt that he knows his business..."
Conrad Wilson, referring to the same work in the Scotsman
of 16-11-88 wrote: "Most of Scotland's leading composers have produced
at least one string quartet. and the Edinburgh Quartet is presenting
a selection of these works; some of them new to the modern Scottish
repertoire but one of them yesterday's, arguably its fountainhead. This
was Robert Crawford's Quartet Op. 4, the first of his two works in the
form written in 1951. Nearly 40 years later, its four taut inter-linked
movements, filled with anxious Nordic undercurrents, still grip the
attention in a performance alert to their harmonic tensions and ambiguities.
In 1956 he wrote his String Quartet No. 2 when commissioned
by Glasgow University under the terms of the McEwen Bequest. After the
first two performances at the McEwen concert in May 1957, Christopher
Grier wrote in the Scotsman of 9-5-57: "The passing discordancy, very
often deriving from a highly disciplined linear texture rather than
from chordal frontal assaults, is handled with such elegance and even
wit that its wounding sting is drawn; it is very subtly done. The overall
impression is of an attractive astringency, and sometimes of real beauty."
Reviewing the same work at a more recent performance,
David Johnson wrote in the Glasgow Herald in 1983: "Crawford's piece
is one of the finest quartets of the second half of the twentieth century,
and I don't mean merely among those composed in Scotland. Its intellectual
intensity is personal to Crawford. Not a note is out of place; it is
high time Crawford gave us a few more masterpieces. They are a rare
Crawford was a Music Producer with the BBC in Glasgow
from 1970- 1985, producing a wide range of programmes from chamber music
for Radio Three, to Brass Bands and Piping programmes on Radio Scotland.
This did not allow him any time for composition but was valuable experience
in widening his musical horizons. After he retired from the BBC in 1985
he was given his second McEwen commission by Glasgow University in 1986
and he wrote the Octet "Ricercare" for the same group of instruments
as Schubert's Octet. It was given its first performance at the McEwen
concert in May 1987 along with a performance of the Schubert by the
Ian Robertson wrote in the Times Educational Supplement
on 22-5-87: "To give up composition entirely is far easier than to return
to it after such a long interval. Mr Crawford' s former
virtue of high craft and musical integrity are thoroughly
intact on the evidence of this concise but substantial new work. All
in all, a courageous return and a worthy achievement made this unusual
premiere especially significant.
In 1991 two commissions came his way, both for solo
piano. He had already started work on a Viola Concerto, and had not
intended to write any piano music at that time, but he could hardly
turn them down. Peter Seivewright commissioned "A Saltire Sonata", a
work which had been in the composer's mind for nearly thirty years.
No more than the opening bars had actually been written down at that
time, in response to a suggestion from Isobel Dunlop to write a piece
for her Saltire Society concerts. The premiere was given in Glasgow
on 3rd March 1992.
The Sonata Breve was commissioned by the Scottish International
Piano Competition, likewise with subsidy from the Scottish Arts Council,
for use as a set piece during the Competition in September 1992 when
it was played by eleven semi-finalists. It was also performed elsewhere
by several of the competitors. As a result of the reception given to
this work further commissions were forthcoming.
The Clarinet Quintet which was commissioned by the
Edinburgh Quartet was completed in early December 1992, and given its
first performance on 23rd March 1993 at Hutcheson's Hall, Glasgow, by
the Edinburgh Quartet with Douglas Mitchell. The very short "Sketch
for a Ground" which was written for a broadcast tribute to Hans Gál
was extended as originally planned, and performed by John Turner and
Peter Lawson at the Cheltenham International Festival of Music in July
1993, as Variations on a Ground for Treble Recorder and Piano.
The Variations on an Original Theme for Two Pianos
was commissioned by Jean and Jack Keaney and given its first performance
by them in April 1994 in the Stevenson Hall at the RSAMD in Glasgow.
The Second String Quartet, his most frequently played work, was played
at the Edinburgh International Festival in August 1995 at a BBC Invitation
Concert, one of three concerts entitled "Scottish Premieres" each of
which included the first performance of a work commissioned by the BBC
from' a 'young Scottish composer’, along with other pieces by established
Scottish composers. It was played again by the splendid Yggdrasil Quartet
of Aberdeen who had given a performance in Aberdeen in January.
Michael Tumelty wrote in the Herald of 28-8-1995 ‘…
and Robert Crawford’s second quartet, a masterly work of serene austerity
and terse wit.’ In the Scotsman of the same day Mary Miller wrote, "Crawford's
Second Quartet, from 1956, is a superbly shapely work, … strong, aching
melodic exchanges, just the stuff for the Yggdrasil Quartet."
Crawford completed the commission from ECAT (Edinburgh
Contemporary Trust) for a piece for Brass Quintet and Percussion in
early August 1995. "Hammered Brass" was given its premiere by the Wallace
Collection on the 9th of November 1995 and it was reviewed by Conrad
Wilson for the Herald on 11-11-95 (1), and for the Scotsman 3-11-95
by George Wilson (2) (No relation).
(1)"This fastidious Scottish composer's latest piece,
indeed, was a work of great subtlety, scrupulously weighted in tone
and texture in which every note mattered."
(2) "The thrill of the evening was, however, the premiere
of Robert Crawford's "Hammered Brass". Percussion and brass instruments
and intermingled seamlessly. Crawford's foot-sure sense of possibilities
never seemed to restrain his imagination and we were eager for more."
Early in 1997 Crawford accepted a commission from Radio
Three for a short orchestral work for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
The Symphonic Study "Lunula" was completed in September of that year
and given its first performance by the BBC Scottish SO conducted by
Thierry Fischer at Ayr Town Hall on the 26th of March 1998, when it
was recorded for future transmission on BBC Radio Three.
Michael Tumelty writing for the Herald "of Robert Crawford's
Symphonic Study "Lunula" the BBC should commission something else orchestral
from the immensely talented septuagenarian before he gets any older.
… with its purposeful tread, purity of texture and myriad delights of
detail this first performance conducted by Thierry Fischer must not
be allowed to be the last."
In the Scotsman Kenneth Walton wrote - "there
is an element of classicism in Crawford’s intelligently crafted ‘Lunula’
which delights in controlled understatement … it is the artful work
of a quiet man."
Work has again been resumed on the Viola Concerto,
which was started in 1991 but repeatedly put aside as a series of commissions,
seven in all, interrupted progress. It had been restarted as each commission
was completed, and some details were modified each time, though the
basic structure has remained same. It had been the composer's intention
to complete the Concerto before the end of the century if no other commissions
The following artists have given performances of some of Crawford's
Ilona Kabos, Ronald Stevenson, Alexander Kelly, Bernard Sumner and
Sonata No. 2
Joyce Riddell, Ilona Kabos, Alexander Kelly, Mary Firth, Wight Henderson,
String Quartet No. 1
Berlin String Quartet (ISCM Festival 1951), The New Edinburgh String
Quartet, The Aeolian String Quartet, The Martin String Quartet, Edinburgh
String Quartet No 2
Lyra Quartet, The New Edinburgh String Quartet, The Edinburgh Quartet,
The Romanian Quartet, The Yggdrasil Quartet of Aberdeen.
Allander Ensemble, The Hebrides Ensemble.
LIST OF WORKS
Six Bagatelles for piano (1947) 12’
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1950) 20’
String Quartet No. 2 (1957} 18’
Octet, "Ricercare", cl. hrn, Bsn, str. 4tet Bass. (1987) 14’
'A Saltire Sonata" for piano (1991) 15'
Sonata Breve, for piano (1991) 5'
Clarinet Quintet (1992) 20'
Variations on a Ground, for treble recorder and piano (1993) 5'
Variations on an original theme, for two pianos (1993) 18'
"Hammered Brass" for Brass Quintet and Percussion (1995) 17'
Symphonic Study "Lunula" for orchestra, 22224231 Timp 2 perc Strings
For further information contact:
1, Bowmont Gardens,
Glasgow, G12 3LR
0131 556 3600
Scottish Music Information Centre
12, Inverleith Terrace,
Edinburgh, EH3 5NS .
OLYMPIA OCD 714 Aspects of Nature
LINN RECORDS CKD 162 Wallace Collection
PERFORMANCES DURING SEVENTIETH ANNIVERSARY YEAR: 1995
29 January Studio one Broadcasting House Edinburgh. Jean Hutchison
and Jack Keaney played the Variations on an Original Theme for two pianos
at a BBC Invitation Concert which was transmitted live on Radio Scotland.
12 and 14 February Stevenson Hall Glasgow Octet "Ricercare".
Hebrides Ensemble. Recorded by the BBC and broadcast on Radio Three
on 18 July 1995
23 February 1995 Cowdray Hall, Aberdeen; Queen’s Hall Edinburgh
String Quartet No 2 Yggdrasil Quartet of Aberdeen (Quartet in Residence
for three years) Recorded by the BBC and broadcast on Radio Three on
11 July 1995
27 August 1995 Edinburgh International Festival String Quartet
No. 2. Yggdrasil Quartet of Aberdeen at a BBC Invitation Concert which
is transmitted live on Radio Scotland.
9 November 1995 Queen's Hall, Edinburgh "Hammered Brass"
for Brass Quintet and Percussion was given its first performance at
an ECAT concert by the Wallace Collection