He was a pupil of Harold Dawber at the Royal Manchester College of Music, and in 1958, the Liverpool Bluecoat Society of Arts gave him an award provided by the Gulbenkian Foundation which enabled him to continue his studies, first in Italy with Fernando Germani and then in Paris with Marcel Dupré. He became Organist of Liverpool Cathedral from 1955 to 1980. While there, he composed many original choral works, such as the Festive Eucharist (1978) which is still sung regularly by churches across the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool. Until 1993, Rawsthorne was Senior Lecturer in Music at St Katharine's College, Liverpool (now Liverpool Hope University).
He received an honorary doctorate in music from the University of Liverpool and his work with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra included supervision of the refurbishment of the Rushworth and Dreaper organ in the Philharmonic Hall and he sustained substantial friendships, personal and professional, with successive Maestros of the Philharmonic. He mentored Professor Ian Tracey, who succeeded him as Organist of Liverpool Cathedral in 1980.
Rawsthorne's compositions and arrangements are found in many contemporary collections of organ music. His Hornpipe Humoresque is an amusing set of variations on the familiar Sailor's Hornpipe, in the styles of (and with apologies to) Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, 1st movement), Vivaldi ("Spring," 1st movement, from The Four Seasons), Arne (Rule Britannia) and Widor ("Toccata" from Symphony for Organ No. 5). Perhaps his most often played organ music is his 'Aria' in F. Dr Gordon Stewart recorded a CD in 2012 of 21 pieces of Rawsthorne's Organ Music to mark the composer's 83rd birthday, including many pieces never previously recorded.
- DEATH OF A GREAT BRITISH ORGANIST, 89
- by 29 March 2019 (2019-03-29). "Obituary: Noel Rawsthorne". Churchtimes.co.uk. Retrieved 2020-04-21. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Thomas, Revd Dr Martin (2015-06-28). English Cathedral Music and Liturgy in the Twentieth Century. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 209–. ISBN 9781472426307. Retrieved 8 March 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)