Reinstating Rawsthorne: a short account of the Alan Rawsthorne Society and the Rawsthorne Trust 1985-1998

John Belcher


In the third volume of his symposium on Rawsthorne,1 Alan Poulton gives 1985 as the date of the first stirrings of an idea for an Alan Rawsthorne Society, and records that the father of that idea was Anthony Hodges. The founding meeting took place in 1986, at which plans for a Rawsthorne Archive at the Royal Northern College of Music were put forward and tentative proposals for recordings considered. An inaugural concert at Thaxted followed a year later, with another public concert in Manchester in the same year. The Society then seemed to lose some impetus, maybe because promoting public concerts, and accruing financial losses thereby, at so early in its life had proved too ambitious. Thanks are due to Anthony Hodges for taking steps in 1988 to resuscitate his brainchild. A new committee was constituted, setting comparatively modest objectives, and the incentive of reduced subscription rates.


Since the membership was small - at this time around 20 and thinly dispersed throughout the country - it was thought imperative to have a means of keeping it informed. So, then, the first major decision was to publish a regular journal, The Creel, to appear twice each year. Initially this was a kitchen table-top publication - not even aspiring to be a desk-top product - and ran to eight editions. Though humble in form this in no manner detracted from the quality of the content, which has remained of a high standard from inception.

In 1994, Mike Smith, a professional book designer and committee member, revamped the design and made himself responsible for the journal's future production. Since then the work of the contributors has made an annual appearance between his attractive and eye-catching covers. Since the period between each issue doubled, The Creel was supplemented by a periodic newsletter, The Sprat, a mere tiddler compared with the other basket of big fish. The Creel is a major vehicle for promoting Rawsthorne and has received commendations from a number of distinguished professional musicians.



With a modest contribution from Societies funds, some private financial inpnt and the goodwill of the musicians and recording company, we were able to set up recording sessions in January 1990, at which the best of the songs, all the solo violin and piano music and the whole piano music were recorded. This included no less than nine first recordings, some of archival material. The finished product appeared on two cassettes, which, happily, were released on the day that Barbara Rawsthorne unveiled a blue plaque at Sykeside House, where she and the composer lived from 1908 - 1913. The reissue of these pieces on CD2 has reminded us of the dedicated performances and the important breakthrough this venture represented at a time when the composer had but two works in the commercial catalogue.

In 1992 both Rawsthorne's sister, Barbara, and his second wife, Isabel, died. Each made a bequest to the Society. Isabel Rawsthorne bequeathed the performance and other royalties, together with the copyrights of unpublished works. Upon legal advice it was agreed that the bequest would be most efficiently administered by a charitable educational trust; this was formed in the same year. The new-found income provided greatly enhanced potential for promoting the composer and his music. So it was that the Trust was able to make an initial and substantial contribution towards a first recording of the Second Symphony, issued by Lyrita,3 together with earlier recordings of the other two symphonies, a landmark event.

The Trustees made it their policy to sponsor and support recordings of as many works as possible, this being held to he the most potent means of re-establishing the composer by making his work available. This policy has met with marked success. The whole of the chamber music will become available in 1999, only one major symphonic work and two of the nine concertos await recordings and the whole piano music has received a second recording. It has been encouraging to have so much of this music recorded by a younger generation of performers and to find them responding positively to the qualities of the music. Notable in this category have been the violinists Rebecca Hirsch (the concertos), Suzanne Stanzeleit (sonata), Martin Outram (Viola Sonata), Nadia Myerscough (Concertante for Violin and Piano), Peter Adams (Cello Sonata), the Rogeri Trio and the Fibonacci Sequence.

That so much has been achieved is due in part to good working relationships with many of the independent record companies, who have needed little persuasion to take up what must be the commercial challenge of recording Rawsthorne. Among their number are Naxos, Lyrita, Redeliffe, ASV, Paradisum and Cala. In many instances it is they who have approached the Trust, seeking to fill gaps in the recorded repertoire. From the two works available at the inception of the Society; the catdogue will shortly record fifty nine individual works, some duplicated and thus represented by seventy two separate performances. A further CD, entirely devoted to film scores is scheduled for recording in 1999. The sum of £40,000 (41% of all grants made to date), has been contributed to recordings.


Since the foundation of the Trust, grants have been made regularly to assist live performances, in the main of chamber and the smaller recital pieces. Finance in this sector of support has been thinly spread, reflecting the high costs of concert promotion, especially of an ensemble of any size. The Trust did enter into concert promotion with a recital at the Wigmore Hall. Whilst providing a platform for Rawsthorne in London, the substantial loss incurred in this venture convinced the Trust that concert promotion was not an efficient way of applying funds, reinforcing the message of the earlier venture by the embryo Society. It has, then, become policy to contribute to events promoted by other bodies.

The Trust is aware of the absence of Rawsthorne's orchestral music from the programmes of the established orchestras - the most achieved in this area has been the occasional performance of Street Corner, requiring only a modest amount of aid from the Trust. Persuasion of other than a financial kind may be needed to secure, for instance, a first London performance of the Third Symphony. The sum granted in the period for performances amounts to nearly £29,000 (29% of total grants made).

The Rawsthorne Archive

The creation of a Rawsthorne Archive was an item on the agenda of the inaugural meeting of the initial Society. This was quickly achieved with the assistance of Rawsthorne's publisher, the Oxford University Press, who handed over the manuscripts in their archive of published works. These form the kernel of the collection housed at the Royal Northern College of Music. This is complemented by a number of unpublished manuscripts, the composer's collection of recordings and a few artefacts. In 1998 the collection was rehoused in the new library at the RNCM and the contents recorded on a computer database.

There must always be a principled diffidence about bringing to the light of day pieces which a composer has chosen not to publish in his or her lifetime. The few unpublished pieces which have been extracted and performed have qualities which suggest that Rawsthorne was being over-fastidious in withholding or not returning to them. Alan Cuckstone unearthed three songs and an early violin piece which he included in the Swinsty recordings. The Flesch Quartet included the unpublished 1935 String Quartet (slightly edited) in their compilation disc4 and the early Quartet for Oboe and Strings has also been performed. Though the earliest pieces are not characteristic of what was to follow, the aforementioned quartets provide valuable windows into the development of an original voice and technique. The archive is an invaluable source for research by students and for those preparing performances was the case when preparations were being made for the recording of the Trio for Piano and Strings by the Rogeri Trio.5

The Book

The absence of a definitive book on Rawsthorne's life and works was something in urgent need of remedy. Rawsthorne's contemporary acquaintances, with their personal recollections and materials, were few and likely to become fewer. The scarcity of good sources of biographical material was a problem, yet one which was not to detract significantly from the outcome, once the form of the book had been settled.

With the encouragement of, and a publishing contract from the Oxford University Press, and a commissioning fee from the Trust, we were extremely fortunate in securing the services of John McCabe. His profound knowledge of the music, balanced judgements and enthusiasm, are all to be found within the pages of Alan Rawsthorne: Portrait of a Composer. The choice of author was all the more apt since, following the death of Isabel Rawsthorne, John McCabe was pleased to take over her role as President of the Society, which he has done with active and unstinting support. Drawing again on the relationship with record companies the Trust was able to produce the CD of musical examples which accompanies the book

Dissemination of Information

The establishment of the Society provided a focal point for anybody sharing an interest in or inquisitive about Rawsthorne. Since setting up a page on the internet, the number of enquiries has increased very substantially and now represents the major showcase for Rawsthorne. The comprehensive contents on the internet page do, of course, inhibit membership of the Society itself, however that is a small price to pay for the ready availability and accessibility of information about the composer, which can but enhance his promotion.


Apart from the installation of a blue plaque at Sykeside House, Haslingden, marking the childhood home of Rawsthorne, the Trust secured the erection of a further memorial plaque at Sudbury Cottage, Little Sampford, in conjunction with Essex County Council . This was where, from 1953, the composer completed many of his major compositions and those of his maturity. Of his move to Little Sampford he said "I moved to Essex, not as an escape from the city, nor as a romantic search for roots but to provide an environment for more sustained creative writing than I had hitherto found in London apartments." These public icons complement the other living memorials recorded here in the comprehensive undertaking of keeping Rawsthorne alive.

In February 1996 the BBC Music Magazine carried a rather disparaging articleuabout societies in general, entitled, 'Society for the prevention of neglected composers'. This characterised societies as abstruse and eccentric. My reply to this was not published, there being little editorial kudos, I suppose, in spoiling a good story.  The gist of the reply was that between them the Society and Trust had invested, at that stage, £50,000, in live performances and recordings, much of which had gone to support young and emerging artists. Were that reply being written today the sum cited would be close to £100,000. It can be no bad thing at a tinie when the arts are starved of support, to be making even a modest injection of resources. Alternatively we could be seen as a process of aiding the dead to support the living. The reinvestment of the composer's posthumous royalty income to promote his work is a legitimate and productive objective needing no justification.

However ambitious the initial plans were for the Society, I think that this short review of the first phase of the joint life of Society and Trust does reveal an accumulation of achievements which must exceed by far initial expectations. This has been made possible by the vision. application and commitment of a few, and by the continuous support of a loyal membership.

© John Belcher, 1999

JOHN BELCHER is Chairman of the Rawsthorne Trust aud Secretary of the Alan Rawsthorne Society.


I Alan Poulton Ed. Alan Rawsthorne, 3 Volumes, Bravura Publications I 984 ISBN 906959 03 9

2 Swinsty FEW 120/121 cd-available from the Alan Rawsthorne Societv

3 Lyrita SRCD291 1995

4 ASV CD DCA 983,1997

5 Due for release on Naxos in 1999

6 Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0 19 816693 1

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