Alan Rawsthorne

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Alan Rawsthorne
Born(1905-05-02)2 May 1905
Died24 July 1971(1971-07-24) (aged 66)
Spouse(s)Jessie Hinchcliffe (1934–1954)
Isabel Nicholas (1955-1971) (his death)

Alan Rawsthorne (2 May 1905 – 24 July 1971) was a British composer. He was born in Haslingden, Lancashire, and is buried in Thaxted churchyard in Essex.

Early years[edit]

Alan Rawsthorne was born in Deardengate House, Haslingden, Lancashire, [1] to Hubert Rawsthorne (1868–1943), a well-off medical doctor, and his wife, Janet Bridge (1877/8–1927).[2] Despite what appears to have been a happy and affectionate family life with his parents and elder sister, Barbara (the only sibling), in beautiful Lancashire countryside, as a boy Rawsthorne suffered from fragile health.[2][3] Although he did at various times attend schools in Southport, much of Rawsthorne's early education came through private tutoring at home.[2] Despite his childhood aptitude for music and literature, Rawsthorne's parents tried to steer him away from his dreams of becoming a professional musician. As a result, he unsuccessfully tried to take on degree courses at Liverpool University, first in dentistry and then architecture. Concerning dentistry, Rawsthorne is on record as having said "I gave that up, thank God, before getting near anyone's mouth", while his friend Constant Lambert quipped "Mr Rawsthorne assures me that he has given up the practice of dentistry, even as a hobby."[4]


In 1925, Rawsthorne was finally able to enrol at the Royal Manchester College of Music,[5] where his teachers included Frank Merrick for the piano and Carl Fuchs for the cello. In 1927, Rawsthorne's mother died aged just forty-nine. After graduating from the Royal Manchester College of Music around 1930, Rawsthorne spent the next couple of years pursuing his piano training with Egon Petri at Zakopane in Poland, and then briefly also in Berlin.[2]

On his return to England in 1932, Rawsthorne took up a post as pianist and teacher at Dartington Hall in Devon, where he became composer-in-residence for the School of Dance and Mime.[6] In 1934, Rawsthorne left for London to try his fortune as a freelance composer. His first real public success arrived four years later with a performance of his Theme and Variations for Two Violins at the 1938 International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) Festival in London. The next year, his large-scale Symphonic Studies for orchestra was performed in Warsaw, again at the ISCM Festival. The first in a line of completely assured orchestral scores, the Symphonic Studies, which can be heard as a concerto for orchestra in all but name, rapidly helped Rawsthorne establish himself as a composer possessing a highly distinctive musical voice.([7][8])

Other acclaimed works by Rawsthorne include a viola sonata (1937), two piano concertos (1939, 1951), an oboe concerto (1947), two violin concertos (1948, 1956), a concerto for string orchestra (1949), and the Elegy for guitar (1971), a piece written for and completed by Julian Bream after the composer's death. Other works include a cello concerto, three acknowledged string quartets among other chamber works, and three symphonies.

Rawsthorne wrote a number of film scores. His best–known work in this field was the music for the 1953 British war film The Cruel Sea, [9] and his other scores included many popular British films, such as The Captive Heart (1946), School for Secrets (1946), Uncle Silas (1947), Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), Where No Vultures Fly (1951), West of Zanzibar (1954), The Man Who Never Was (1956) and Floods of Fear (1958).


In 1934 Rawsthorne married his first wife Jessie Hinchcliffe, a violinist in the Philharmonia Orchestra. They separated in 1947 and divorced in 1954. The following year he married Isabel Rawsthorne (née Isabel Nicholas), an artist and model well known in the Paris and Soho art scenes.[10] Her contemporaries included André Derain, Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon. Isabel Rawsthorne was the widow of composer Constant Lambert and stepmother to Kit Lambert, manager of the rock group the Who, who died in 1981.[11] Alan Rawsthorne was her third husband; Sefton Delmer (the journalist and member of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War) was her first husband.[10] Isabel died in 1992.



  • Madame Chrysanthème (1955)


  • Light Music for Strings (1938)
  • Symphonic Studies (1938)
  • Cortèges, Fantasy Overture (1945)
  • Concerto for String Orchestra (1949)
  • Symphonies
    • Symphony No. 1 (1950)
    • Symphony No. 2 A Pastoral Symphony (1959)
    • Symphony No. 3 (1964)
  • Improvisations on a Theme by Constant Lambert (1960)
  • Music from film The Cruel Sea
  • Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra (1962)
  • Elegiac Rhapsody for Strings (1963)
  • Hallé Overture
  • Suite from Madame Chrysanthème
  • Overture for Farnham
  • Prisoners' March – from film The Captive Heart
  • Street Corner Overture
  • Theme, Variations and Finale
  • Triptych for orchestra
  • 'Suite for Brass Band' (1964)


  • Clarinet Concerto (1936–37)
  • Oboe Concerto (1947)
  • Concertante Pastorale for flute, horn and orchestra (1951)
  • Cello Concerto (1966)
  • Violin
    • Violin Concerto No. 1 (1948)
    • Violin Concerto No. 2 (1956)
  • Piano
    • Piano Concerto No. 1 (1939, revised 1942)
    • Piano Concerto No. 2 (1951)
    • Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1968)


  • Sonatina for Flute, Oboe and Piano (1936)
  • Concertante for Piano and Violin (1937)
  • Theme and Variations for Two Violins (1937)
  • Clarinet Quartet (1948)
  • Concerto for Ten Instruments (1961)
  • Piano Trio (1962)
  • Quintet for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn & Bassoon (1963)
  • String Quartets
    • String Quartet No. 1 (1939)
    • String Quartet No. 2 (1954)
    • String Quartet No. 3 (1965)
  • Piano Quintet (1968)
  • Suite for Flute, Viola and Harp (1968)


  • Viola Sonata (1937, revised 1953)
  • Cello Sonata (1949)
  • Violin Sonata (1960)
  • Elegy for Guitar (1971)
  • Suite for Treble Recorder & Piano


  • Ballade in G sharp minor (Dated Christmas 1929)
  • Bagatelles (1938)
  • Piano Sonatina (1949)
  • Four Romantic Pieces (1953)
  • Ballade (1967)
  • The Creel: suite for piano duet

Vocal orchestral[edit]

  • Carmen Vitale: choral suite
  • A Canticle of Man: chamber cantata
  • The God in a Cave: cantata
  • Medieval Diptych 962
  • Practical Cats for speaker and orchestra
  • Tankas of the Four Seasons


  • Canzonet from A Garland for the Queen (France 2011)
  • Four Seasonal Songs
  • Lament for a Sparrow
  • The Oxen
  • A Rose for Lidice


  • Three French Nursery Songs
  • We Three Merry Maids
  • Two Songs to Words by John Fletcher
  • Carol
  • Saraband (with Ernest Irving)
  • Scena Rustica for soprano and harp
  • Two Fish



  • "THE FRIENDS OF ALAN RAWSTHORNE". THE FRIENDS OF ALAN RAWSTHORNE. February 2019. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  • "Alan Rawsthorne". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  • "ALAN RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)". NAXOS Records. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  • "Alan Rawsthorne". British Music Collection. 28 January 2019. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  • Belcher, John (1999). Rawsthorne: Cello Concerto, Symphonic Studies, Oboe Concerto (Liner notes). Naxos Records. 8.554763.
  • Evans, Peter (2001). "Rawsthorne, Alan". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). Macmillan Publishers.[page needed]
  • France, John (April 2011). "Review: English Choral Music - A Garland for the Queen (1953)". MusicWeb International. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  • Green, Gordon (1992). "THE PRE-WAR YEARS". The Creel (Mailing list). Journal of the Friends of Alan Rawsthorne and the Rawsthorne Trust. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  • Jacobi, Carol (2021). Out of the Cage: The Art of Isabel Rawsthorne. The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing. ISBN 978-0500971055.[page needed]
  • Lloyd, Stephen (2014). Constant Lambert : beyond the Rio Grande. Boydell Press. p. 416. ISBN 9781843838982. OCLC 855582154.
  • McCabe, John (1999). Alan Rawsthorne: Portrait of a Composer. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816693-1.
  • McCabe, John (2011) [2004]. "Rawsthorne, Alan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31588. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. Retrieved 31 August 2022. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Swynnoe, Jan G. (2002). The Best Years of British Film Music, 1936-1958. Boydell Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-85115-862-4.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]