Robert Still

Last updated

Robert Still (10 June 1910 – 13 January 1971) was a wide-ranging English composer of tonal music, who made strong use of dissonance. [1] As a songwriter he set words by Byron, Keats and Shelley.

Contents

Life

Still was born in London on 10 June 1910 into a family with a strong interest in music. He was educated at Eton College (1923–29) and Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated in history and French, and then in music. He had a younger brother who died aged 16 and a sister who emigrated to Australia.

At school and at university Still developed a lifelong interest in racquet sports, including real tennis, in which he won a university sporting blue. Both his father and grandfather were solicitors in a long-established London firm, and he had been intended for the law. He studied music at Oxford under Ernest Walker, Sir Hugh Allen and others (ancestor Peter Still had acted for George III), and then spent two years at the Royal College of Music under C. H. Kitson, Basil Alchin and Gordon Jacob. He also studied under Wilfred Dunwell at Trinity College of Music (modern harmony and counterpoint) and later in life under Hans Keller.

Still returned after Oxford to teach music at Eton, moving on in 1938 to become conductor and arranger of the Ballet Trois Arts, a travelling company. Having refused a commission, he spent the Second World War first manning a searchlight in the Cotswolds and then with the Royal Artillery travelling orchestra, which he conducted. He married in 1944 and had four daughters.

After the war, the couple moved to Ampfield, Hampshire and in 1949 to Bucklebury, Berkshire. He then devoted himself to composition, although he had considered becoming a Freudian lay psychoanalyst. This interest led him to form the London Imago Society in 1956, along with a friend, Adrian Stokes. An article by Still on the psychology of Gustav Mahler was published by The American Imago Society. [2] He also sat on a selection board for Berkshire Education Authority and advised prospective students over a period of 15 years.

Still died of a heart attack on 13 January 1971, having just been elected to the Executive Committee of the Composer's Guild. [1]

Work

Still had already written some songs and a since-lost light opera for the Windsor Operatic Society, for which he was the conductor while still teaching at Eton. His compositions came to include many other songs, four symphonies, a piano concerto, a violin concerto, instrumental and chamber works, orchestral works, motets and an opera (Oedipus, to a libretto by Adrian Stokes).

Still's Third Symphony was submitted to the University of Oxford in 1963, after being championed by Sir Eugene Goossens, the conductor. This earned him an Oxford doctorate in music. Some of his chamber works were recorded by Argo Records. An archive is held at the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts in Greenwich. [3] His work remained predominantly tonal, with strong use of dissonance. A number of earlier recordings from the 1960s and 1970s were revived for his centenary in 2010. The "fearsomely difficult" violin concerto was revived in 2013 in Ealing, London. [4] His work made its CD debut in 2010, with a selection of chamber pieces originally recorded in the 1950s. [5] His third and fourth symphonies have also been reissued in CD form. [1]

Much of his time in later life was spent giving free advice and lessons to students. His friends included Deryck Cooke, Anthony Scott, Adrian Stokes, the painter and critic, the harpsichordist Michael Thomas, Sir Eugene Goossens, [1] and Myer Fredman, the conductor. [lower-alpha 1] In an obituary, The Musical Times wrote of him as "a song writer of genuine lyrical impulse [who] set words by Byron, Keats and Shelley; he was also a symphonist, in a conservative vein." [6]

Notes

  1. Myer Fredman: Maestro: Conductor or Metro-Gnome. Reflections from the Rostrum (Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2006), p. 51. "A little-known composer, Robert Still, asked me to copy his music, which in due course led to recording a choral work of his for Decca and to conduct[ing] his Third Symphony at the Royal Festival Hall followed by a recording of the same work for the Lyrita Record Edition."

Related Research Articles

Charles Ives American composer

Charles Edward Ives was an American modernist composer, one of the first American composers of international renown. His music was largely ignored during his early life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. Later in life, the quality of his music was publicly recognized, and he came to be regarded as an "American original". He was also among the first composers to engage in a systematic program of experimental music, with musical techniques including polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, aleatory elements, and quarter tones. His experimentation foreshadowed many musical innovations that were later more widely adopted during the 20th century. Hence, he is often regarded as the leading American composer of art music of the 20th century.

Paul Hindemith German-born American composer, violist, violinist, teacher and conductor (1895-1963)

Paul Hindemith was a prolific German composer, violist, violinist, teacher and conductor. In the 1920s, he became a major advocate of the Neue Sachlichkeit style of music. Notable compositions include his song cycle Das Marienleben (1923), Der Schwanendreher for viola and orchestra (1935), and the opera Mathis der Maler (1938). Hindemith's most popular work, both on record and in the concert hall, is likely the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, written in 1943.

Havergal Brian British composer

Havergal Brian was a British classical composer.

John Barbirolli British conductor and cellist

Sir John Barbirolli, CH, Giovanni Battista Barbirolli, was a British conductor and cellist. He is remembered above all as conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life. Earlier in his career he was Arturo Toscanini's successor as music director of the New York Philharmonic, serving from 1936 to 1943. He was also chief conductor of the Houston Symphony from 1961 to 1967, and was a guest conductor of many other orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic, with all of which he made recordings.

Otto Klemperer German conductor and composer

Otto Nossan Klemperer was a German-born conductor and composer, described as "the last of the few really great conductors of his generation."

Malcolm Sargent English conductor, organist and composer

Sir Harold Malcolm Watts Sargent was an English conductor, organist and composer widely regarded as Britain's leading conductor of choral works. The musical ensembles with which he was associated included the Ballets Russes, the Huddersfield Choral Society, the Royal Choral Society, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and the London Philharmonic, Hallé, Liverpool Philharmonic, BBC Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras. Sargent was held in high esteem by choirs and instrumental soloists, but because of his high standards and a statement that he made in a 1936 interview disputing musicians' rights to tenure, his relationship with orchestral players was often uneasy. Despite this, he was co-founder of the London Philharmonic, was the first conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic as a full-time ensemble, and played an important part in saving the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from disbandment in the 1960s.

Dimitri Mitropoulos Greek conductor, pianist, and composer

Dimitri Mitropoulos was a Greek conductor, pianist, and composer. He received international fame both as a major conductor and composer of the 20th century.

Adrian Brown is a British conductor. He is a proponent of contemporary music and has several first performances to his credit.

Joseph Clyde Schwantner is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer, educator and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 2002. He was awarded the 1970 Charles Ives Prize.

Sir Eugene Aynsley Goossens was an English conductor and composer.

Volkmar Andreae Swiss composer and conductor

Volkmar Andreae was a Swiss conductor and composer.

Oboe Concerto (Strauss) oboe concerto by Richard Strauss

The Concerto in D major for Oboe and Small Orchestra, AV 144, TrV 292, was written by Richard Strauss in 1945. It was one of the last works he composed near the end of his life, during what is often described by biographers, journalists and music critics as his "Indian summer."

Gustavo Dudamel Venezuelan conductor and violinist

Gustavo Adolfo Dudamel Ramírez is a Venezuelan conductor and violinist. He is the music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Kenneth Woods is an American-born, UK-resident conductor, composer and cellist. He is known for his interpretations of the works of Mahler, Haydn, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Bruckner and Hans Gál. He has conducted orchestras including the English Chamber Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Royal Northern Sinfonia and National Symphony Orchestra.

Thomas Sleeper American composer

Thomas M. Sleeper is a modern American composer and conductor. His music has been described as 'hauntingly mysterious' and 'richly lyrical'. He was the Director of Orchestral Activities and Conductor of the University of Miami Frost Symphony Orchestra until his retirement in 2018. He was also the director of the Florida Youth Orchestra from 1993 to 2020.

Myer Fredman was a British-Australian conductor.

Harold Byrns was a German-American conductor and orchestrator.

Anthony Bernard was an English conductor, organist, pianist and composer.

Rudolf Barshai Russian conductor

Rudolf Borisovich Barshai was a Soviet and Russian conductor and violist.

Robert Hart Baker is a symphonic and operatic conductor and music director based in York, Pennsylvania, United States. He has toured extensively in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Among the many concerts he has led have been the full works of the Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky symphonies and the Strauss tone poems, in addition to most of the orchestral works of Mahler, Dvorak, Schubert, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, and Ernest Bloch.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 "Robert Still – C20th English Composer". Home.btconnect.com. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  2. Robert Still, "Gustav Mahler and Psychoanalysis," American Imago , XVII/'3 (Fall, 1960).
  3. The contents of a folder of British Music Society records of Still: British Music Society Records: Section V, Robert Still Archive Vol. 2 (1948-95)
  4. "Wayback Machine" (PDF). Web.archive.org. 23 September 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  5. "R STILL Chamber Music Ismeron JMSCD8 [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- April 2006 MusicWeb-International". Musicweb-international.com. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  6. The Musical Times, Vol. 112, Issues 1535–1546, p. 272.