John Blackwood McEwen

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For other people of the same name, see John McEwen (disambiguation).

Sir John Blackwood McEwen (13 April 1868[1] – 14 June 1948[1]) was a Scottish classical composer and educator.

Biography[edit]

John Blackwood McEwen was born in Hawick in 1868. After initial training in Glasgow, he studied with Ebenezer Prout, Corder and Tobias Matthay at the Royal Academy of Music in London.[1] After returning to Scotland, where he was a choirmaster and teacher at Greenock and Glasgow, he was invited to become Professor of Harmony and Composition at the RAM, from 1898 until 1924, and was Principal between 1924 and 1936.

With Frederick Corder and Tobias Matthay, McEwen co-founded the Society of British Composers in 1905,[1] and also served as president of Incorporated Society of Musicians.

He was knighted in 1931[2] and died in 1948 in London, aged 80.

He was married at the time of his death to Catharine, and survived by children John (composer) and Annabel, grandchildren John (author), Jacques Hetu (composer), Sofia Ruiz (violin), Joseph (composer) and Alastair McEwen. Great grandchildren of some notoriety include Stephane Tetrault of Montreal (cello) and Emju McEwen of London (violin).[3]

The National Probate Calendar has John married to Hedwig Ethel née Cole.

Music[edit]

He is best known for orchestral works on his native Galloway, such as A Solway Symphony (1909), Hills o' Heather and Where the Wild Thyme Blows (1918). His Three Border Ballads include "Grey Galloway" (1908), "The Demon Lover" (1906–1907) and "Coronach" (1906). Other works include Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, a setting of The Hymn from Milton's Ode of the same title. He wrote a Viola Concerto in 1901 at the request of Lionel Tertis, and nineteen string quartets (only seventeen are numbered), written over a fifty-year period (1893–1947).

He invented the term "inflected speech" and introduced it in his 14 Poems for inflected voice and piano after Margaret Forbes in 1943. This is equivalent to the sprechgesang of Arnold Schoenberg.[1]

His main influences appear to be Scottish folk music, Jean Sibelius and Richard Wagner, for example, in the third movement of A Solway Symphony which shows a very strong influence from Siegfried's Rhine Journey. Most of his music is not so derivative. He seems to have been a sort of predecessor of the Scottish Renaissance in trying to use Scottish folk culture, but in a non-sentimental manner.

However, he wrote many pieces of music that were left unplayed and neglected and to this day lie in archives. Grove's Dictionary (1954) referred to him as "perhaps the most grievously neglected British composer of his generation". But he contributed to this state of affairs because he was never particularly concerned about bringing his work to the attention of the public.[1]

Thanks to a couple of recordings of his works in the early 1990s, often performed by Moray Welsh, he has become known to a new generation of listeners. More recently, the Chilingirian Quartet has recorded ten of the string quartets. Also in the 1990s helping popularize his works were his grandson Joseph (a composer and pianist) and his young great-granddaughter (a prodigy on violin) Emju, playing many of his less-known pieces as part of their orchestral and quartet tours throughout Europe and North America. Several late string trios remain unrecorded.

String Quartet No. 2/Symphony in A minor[edit]

His Symphony in A minor (1892–1898) was rejected by publishers in its original form, and he was told it may receive better press as a string quartet. He did what was suggested, revised the work, and the String Quartet No. 2 in A minor became quite well known.

Until recently it was always played in this form, never in its original conception as a symphony. However, Dr Alasdair Mitchell, conductor and cellist, recently revived the piece in its symphonic form. Over a residential course he prepared it with the Edinburgh Secondary Schools' Orchestra and it premiered on 16 August 2008 at the Edinburgh Central Halls and will be performed for the first time in England on the 4 December 2010 by Durham University Symphony Orchestra.

His "Threnody" quartet was arranged in 2007 for string orchestra, by the Glasgow based musician Gordon Rigby, and has been performed twice by the Scottish Philharmonic Orchestra. Score and parts are available from the Scottish Music Centre.

Selected works[edit]

Stage
  • The Royal Rebel, Comic Opera in 3 acts (1909)
Orchestral
  • Comala, Symphonic Poem (1889)
  • Lanark, Overture (1890)
  • Suite in E major (1893)
  • Suite in F (1893)
  • Overture to a Comedy (1895)
  • Symphony in A minor (1892–1898)
  • Three Border Ballads (1906–1908)
  1. Coronach (1906)
  2. The Demon Lover (1906–1907)
  3. Grey Galloway (1908)
  • Solway, Symphony No. 5 in C minor (1911)
  • The Jocund Dance, Dance Tunes for string orchestra (1920, orchestrated 1927); original for string quartet
  • Suite of Old National Dances for string orchestra (1924); also for string quartet
  • Prelude (1925)
  • Where the Wild Thyme Blows, Prelude (1936)
  • Overture di ballo for chamber orchestra (1936)
  • Suite for string orchestra (1936)
  1. Prelude
  2. What the Cello Said
  3. Der kleine Meister (The Little Masters)
  4. Orientale
  5. Scherzo
  • Suite in C major for string orchestra (1941)
  • Suite in D major for string orchestra (1941)
  • Suite "Ballet de Lilliput" for string orchestra and harp
Concertante
  • Concerto for viola and orchestra (1901)
  • Hills o' Heather, A Retrospect for cello and orchestra (1918)
  • Prince Charlie, A Scottish Rhapsody for violin and orchestra (1924, orchestrated 1941); original for violin and piano
Chamber music
  • String Quartet in F major (1893)
  • String Quartet in F minor (1893)
  • String Quartet No. 1 in F (1893)
  • String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (1898); published in 1903
  • Graih My Chree, Recitation Music for 2 violins, viola, cello, piano and percussion (1900)
  • String Quartet No. 3 in E minor (1901)
  • 6 Highlands Dances for violin and piano (1902)
  • String Quartet No. 4 in C minor (1905)
  • String Quintet "Phantasy-Quintet" in E minor (1911)
  • "Nugae", 7 Bagatelles (String Quartet No. 5) for 2 violins, viola and cello (1912)
  1. Lament in G minor
  2. March of the Little Folk in E major
  3. Peat Reek in G minor
  4. Scherzino in G minor
  5. Humoresque in A
  6. The Dhu Loch in D
  7. Red Murdoch in G minor
  • String Quartet No. 6 "Biscay" in A major (1913); published as No. 8
  1. Le phare (The Lighthouse)
  2. Les dunes (The Dunes)
  3. La racleuse (The Oyster-Raker)
  • Sonata No. 1 in E major for violin and piano (1913)
  • Sonata No. 2 in F minor for violin and piano (1913–1914)
  • 2 Poems for violin and piano (1913)
  1. Breath o' June; also for viola and piano
  2. The Lone Shore
  • Sonata No. 3 in G for violin and piano (1913)
  • String Quartet No. 7 "Threnody" (1916); published as No. 9
  • "A Little Sonata" (Sonata No. 4) in A major for violin and piano (1917)
  • String Quartet No. 8 in E major (1918)
  • String Quartet No. 9 in B minor (1920)
  • The Jocund Dance, Dance Tunes (String Quartet No. 10) for 2 violins, viola and cello (1920); also for string orchestra
  • Martinmas Tide in G minor for violin and piano (1921)
  • Sonata No. 5 "Sonata-Fantasia" for violin and piano (1921)
  • String Quartet No. 11 in E minor (1921)
  • Prince Charlie, A Scottish Rhapsody for violin and piano (1924); also for violin and orchestra
  • Suite of Old National Dances, String Quartet No. 12 (1924); original version for string orchestra
  • String Quartet No. 13 in C minor (1928)
  • Sonata No. 6 for violin and piano (1929)
  • String Quartet No. 14 in D minor (1936)
  • A Little Quartet "In modo Scotico", String Quartet No. 15 (1936)
  • String Quartet No. 16 "Quartette provençale" (1936)
  • Piano Trio No. 2 in A minor (1937); after the 1936 Prelude Where the Wild Thyme Blows for orchestra
  • Improvisations provençales for violin and piano (1937)
  • 5 Preludes and a Fugue for 2 violins (1939); version for violin and viola (1942)
  • Under Northern Skies for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon (1939)
  • Sonata No. 7 in A minor for violin or viola and piano (1941)
  • Pericula, 6 trios avec piano (1943)
  • Piano Trio No. 3 "Rococo" (1943)
  • Piano Trio No. 4 "Fantasy" (1943)
  • Pericula (Experiments), 6 String Trios for violin, viola and cello (1943)
  • Pibroch for 2 violins, viola and cello (1943); arrangement of movement III of String Trio No. 2
  • String Quartet No. 17 "Fantasia" in E major (1947)
  • 2 Duos for oboe and piano
  • Romance for Violin
  • 5 Scottish Dances for violin and piano
Organ
  • Festive March
  • March
Piano
  • Sonata in E minor (1903)
  • 4 Sketches (1909)
  1. Prelude
  2. Quasi minuetto
  3. Elegy
  4. Humoreske
  • Suite de ballet for piano 4-hands (1912)
  • Vignettes from La Côte d'Argent (1918)
  1. Petite Chérie (Little Darling)
  2. Les Hirondelles (The Swallows)
  3. Pantalon rouge (Red Trousers)
  4. Crépuscule du soir mystique (Mystical Twilight)
  5. La Rosière (The Motorboat)
  • Sonatina in G minor (1918)
  • 3 Preludes (1920)
  1. A White Naiad in a Rippling Stream
  2. A Rapt Seraph in a Moonlight Beam
  3. The Dew by Fairy Feet Swept from the Green
  • On Southern Hills, 3 Sketches from Provençe (1938)
  1. White Oxen
  2. Drifting Clouds
  3. L'improvisadou (The Improvisatore)
  • Ballet Suite (1938)
  1. La Senorita
  2. Intermezzo
  3. Valsette
  4. Alla Marcia
  • Allemande
  • Phyllis Hallain's Book
  • Sonatina in C
  • A Winter Poem
Vocal
  • The River for voice and piano (1899); words by Moore Park
  • The Vale of Glenariff for voice and piano (1899); words by Thomas McEwen
  • Brevity for voice and piano (1905); words by Constance Travers
  • Here's a Flower for Your Grave for voice and piano (1905); words by Justin Huntly McCarthy
  • Love's But a Dance for voice and piano (1905); words by Henry Austin Dobson
  • A Roundel of Rest for voice and piano (1905); words by Arthur Symons
  • 3 Songs for voice and piano (1906); words by Paul Verlaine in translation by A. Wingate
  1. Song of Autumn
  2. The Wood's Aglow
  3. Soleils couchants
  • Sleep, Little Blossom for voice and piano (1909); words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • The Gauger for voice and piano (1911); words by J. Meade Falkner
  • 14 Poems for inflected voice and piano (1943); words by Margaret Forbes
  • Day by Day for voice and piano
  • England, My England for voice and orchestra; words by William Ernest Henley
  • Love's Remembrance for voice and piano
  • The Birds Lullaby for voice and piano; words by Pauline Johnson
Choral
  • The Vision of Jacob, Sacred Cantata for tenor, mixed chorus and orchestra (1892); words by Thomas McEwen
  • A Scene from Hellas for female chorus and orchestra (1895, revised 1947); words by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • A Day in Spring, Cantata for female chorus and piano (1898); words by Thomas McEwen
  • Evening, Two-Part Song for female chorus and piano (1898)
  • The Last Chantey for chorus and orchestra (1898); words by Rudyard Kipling
  • Morning Greeting, Two-Part Song for female voices (1898)
  • Slumber Song, Two-Part Song for female chorus and piano (1898)
  • Weep No More, Four-Part Song for mixed chorus and piano (1902); words by John Fletcher
  • Charm Me Asleep, Four-Part Song (1903); words by Robert Herrick
  • Let Me the Canakin Clink, Four-Part Song (1903); words from Othello by William Shakespeare
  • O That Men Would Praise the Lord, Anthem for Harvest (1903)
  • Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, Ode for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1905); words from On the Morning of Christ's Nativity by John Milton
  • Troll the Bowl, Four-Part Song for mixed chorus and piano (1905); words by Thomas Dekker
  • Allen-a-Dale, Four-Part Song for mixed chorus and piano (1907); words by Sir Walter Scott
  • The Links o' Love, Part-Song for mixed chorus and piano (1909); words by Andrew Wanless
  • Three Scenes from the Empire Pageant at the Cristal Palace, 1910 for chorus and wind orchestra (1909)
  • The Wind in the Chimney, Part Song (1911); words by Bret Harte
  • Autumn Song, Two-Part Song for female chorus and piano (1912)
  • The Garland for mixed chorus and piano
  • Psalm 24: Chorus and "Lift Up Your Hearts" for mixed chorus a cappella
  • 6 Two-Part Songs for female voices and piano
  • When through the Piazzetta for mixed chorus a cappella
Literary
  • Exercises on Phrasing in Pianoforte Playing (1908)
  • A Text-Book of Harmony and Counterpoint (1908)
  • A Primer of Harmony for Use in Schools (1911)
  • The Thought in Music: An Enquiry into the Principles of Musical Rhythm, Phrasing and Expression (1912)
  • The Principles of Phrasing and Articulation in Music (1916)
  • The Foundations of Musical Aesthetics, or the Elements of Music (1917)
  • First Steps in Musical Composition (1922)
  • Tempo Rubato, or Time-Variation in Musical Performance (1928)
  • An Introduction to an Unpublished Edition of the Pianoforte Sonatas of Beethoven (1932)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Eric Blom, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed. 1954
  2. ^ McEwen, (Sir) John (Blackwood), Entry in "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music", 4th edn., Kennedy (ed.), OUP.
  3. ^ University of Glasgow Press 1991.

External links[edit]