Smith was born in London. He entered the Royal Academy of Music at the age of 16 with the Sir Michael Costa Scholarship for composition. After leaving the academy he studied privately in Paris with Marguerite Long, while also taking an external BMus degree from Durham University.
He was influenced by the pianist Edwin Fischer, whom he impressed as a contestant in the 1949 Geneva international piano competition. When Fischer visited London he selected Smith and Denis Matthews to play the second and third piano parts in his recording of Bach's triple keyboard concerto. Smith said he learnt more in four days working with Fischer than he had in his years of previous study.
As a performer, he championed piano works from the romantic period. In the 1940s he was first asked to record music by the then neglected Charles-Valentin Alkan, his Concerto for Solo Piano. He was sent the score by Humphrey Searle: when he first saw it he thought it "seemed unplayable". He later recorded many of Alkan's works, and also wrote a biography. His efforts played a major role in rekindling interest in Alkan, including remaining president of the Alkan Society from 1977 when it was formed until his death. HIs book Alkan: The Man/The Music (originally published in two volumes Alkan: The Enigma and Alkan: The Music) is one of the few detailed studies available.
His recorded legacy encompasses pioneering performances of Alkan, including the complete studies in all the minor keys Op. 39, as well as music by Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Balakirev and Liszt.
He taught the piano for many years, first at Harrow from 1943, then at The King's School, Canterbury from the 1950s to 1990. He then took auditions at the Kent school of music (Canterbury) to choose private students to donate his spare time to. He died in Hythe, Kent, aged 82.
- Links to obituaries in UK newspapers
- Obituary printed in The Independent
- WNCN-FM interview, David Dubal & Ronald Smith, 26-Feb-1982 on YouTube
- WNCN-FM interview, David Dubal & Ronald Smith, 5-Mar-1982 on YouTube
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