Robert Still - C20th English Composer
last updated 28/09/2014




born London 10th June 1910
died Bucklebury, Berkshire
13th January 1971

uNION jACK

“- an extremely thoughtful, inventive, and (yes, one has to say it nowadays) musical composer, whose music ought to be far more widely known”
Hans Keller 17th March 1981


"Robert Still is one of our less well-known composers; I hope it does not sound too cynical to suggest that this may be because he writes good music."
Malcolm MacDonald, Gramophone October 1966 p50

Robert Still had reached maturity before he devoted the majority his time to composition. Many of his works, including four symphonies, were produced in the last two, fairly prolific, decades of his lifetime. His compositions were wide-ranging, including keyboard music, songs, chamber music, orchestral music and an opera. As in the history of many front line composers, he was overshadowed by more prominent contemporaries. He wrote mainly tonal music at a time when the major influences in the British music scene were declaring this out-of-fashion.

As well as having a good sense of humour and a sharp wit, he had a more serious side through his interest in psychoanalysis. His essay on Mahler, from a psychoanalytical standpoint, is still an important reference work. Other interests were racquet, squash, lawn tennis and real tennis, the latter at which he excelled and was an ‘Oxford Blue’.

If you can help with further information, please contact: Graham Musto by email

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Robert Still MA, DMus(Oxon) 1910-1971

Robert Still by Hans Carl Adam

©Katherine Hyde
Pencil drawing by Hans Karl Adam 1915 - 2000
(artist, hotelier, tv chef and writer on cookery)
Rothenburg 1964

signature

ROBERT STILL ON CD

 

LYRITA SRCD 285

CD CONTENTS

Robert Still Symphony No.3 - London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Eugene Goossens
Robert Still Symphony No.4 - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Myer Fredman
(Sinfonia) a symphony in one movement
Humphrey Searle Symphony No.2 - London Philharmonic Orchestra - Josef Krips


"......the Fourth Symphony (1964), whose genesis in a psychoanalytic case-study encouraged Still to construct a single movement in which the contrasting moods are endowed with inevitability giving the laconic coda unexpected yet undoubted pathos. What a pity that Still's untimely death (when only 61) meant he was unable to consolidate its achievement".
"It helps that Myer Fredman (insufficiently acknowledged as a champion of 'unfashionable' British music) so evidently has the measure of the piece, ..........."
Richard Whitehouse - International Record Review July/August 2009

"A very useful essay by Paul Conway accompanies this release, and the re-mastering by Simon Gibson is typically excellent. These Walthamstow Assembly Halls recordings still sound magnificent, the expert ear of engineer Kenneth Wilkinson very much evident. This is yet another very fine and recommendable release on the Lyrita label.". Peter Joelson... www.classicalsource.com
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lyrita cd

"The Still Third Symphony has never sounded better than this. The Symphony, for all of its mercurial mood and tempo changes, comes across as much more convincing than ever before".
Rob Barnett...MusicWeb-International.com

AMAZON REVIEWS MUSIC SAMPLE

WWW.LYRITA.CO.UK


NAXOS 8.571353

CD Contents:

STRING QUARTET No.1 in A minor -1/ Adagio/Allegretto seriouso 2/ Allegretto giocondo 3/ Tempo di marcia quasi passacaglia
STRING QUARTET No.2 in D major - 1/ Allegro risoluto 2/ Molto adagio /Molto legato 3/ Allegro vivo
STRING QUARTET No.3 without key - 1/ Allegro marcato 2/ Adagio sostenuto 3/ Allegro pressante 4/ Tempo di marcia
STRING QUARTET No.4 without key - 1/ Allegro agitato 2/ Poco lento 3/ Tempo di marcia 4/ Angoscioso

String Quartet No.1 was first performed in 1948. Numbering of 1 and 2 is by the composer. 3 and 4 were renumbered in editing

NAXOS DIRECT
REVIEW - DAYS LIKE GRASS REVIEW JOHN FRANCE MUSICWEB
VILLIERS QUARTET

 

Naxos

A BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY RECORDING

"...the Bartok-to-Seiber modernisation of the Third and Fourth reveals remarkable musical strength, Fine performances."(MH) **** BBC Music Christmas 2014

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ETON 5013

MUSICA ETONENSIS (2004) is a collection of choral pieces by Old Etonians and includes Robert Still's motet 'The Lord's Prayer'. Details can be viewed on. http://www.etoncollege.com/Recordings2.aspx


The recording can be ordered via:
Custodian,
Music Schools,
Eton College,
Windsor, SL4 6EW
Telephone: 01753671171 Fax: 671170
See the Eton website for the price and payee details

Lord's Prayer mp3 by kind permission of Eton College
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eton cd

CD JMSCD 8

CD CONTENTS:

Quintet for Three Flutes, Violin and 'Cello (from RG 74)
Gilbert,Solomon, Crozier(flt) Pougnet(vi) & Gabarro(vc)
Viola Sonata No.2 (from Argo RG 74 mono 1955)
Riddle (viola) & Harrison (pf)
Six Songs for Soprano (from Record Society RS 60 mono)
Heather Harper (soprano) and John Russell (pf)
Six Songs for Baritone (from Record Society RS 60 mono)
John Carol Case (baritone) and John Russell (pf)
sample track Beauty Bathing - click on Audio Sample
Two further songs are included from a 1959 Wigmore Hall concert
sung
by Jessica Cash & Gordon Clinton with John Russell (pf)

available from:

J. Martin Stafford (Ismeron)
298 Blossomfield Road, SOLIHULL, B91 1TH

Price £10 including postage ( US$15/€13)

ISMERON WEBSITE at WWW.ISMERON.CO.UK
Read the MUSICWEB review

 

Ismeron cd

"An enterprising tribute to an unjustly forgotten figure"- The Gramophone July 2006

"- for seekers after unjustly neglected English music this CD is a must." - International Record Review July/August 2006

"Lovers of British music will need this: -"
British Music Society News No.110 June 2006

A SHORT BIOGRAPHY

by Elizabeth Still (1922-2007)

Robert Still was born in London on 10th June 1910. An Elizabethan ancestor was John Still, Master of St. John’s and Trinity College, Cambridge, later Bishop of Bath and Wells. He was the author of the Elizabethan farce “Gammer Gurton’s Needle.” His full length effigy is in Wells Cathedral.

Robert Still was originally destined to become a solicitor in the long established family firm in Lincoln’s Inn, one of whom was solicitor to King George III. Robert was encouraged by his musical father to learn the piano, was sent to Eton and went on to Trinity College, Oxford, from 1928 to 1932, originally to read History and French with a view to becoming a lawyer. He added music to his studies at Oxford and also at the Royal College of Music in London under C.H. Kitson, Basil Allchin and Gordon Jacob, ending up with the degrees of M.A. and B.Mus.. He was also an excellent real (royal) tennis, lawn tennis and squash player, playing for Oxford University. These games remained a great leisure interest throughout his life: he played real tennis for the MCC and lawn tennis at home and or local clubs.

He returned to Eton to teach music for some years. He had already started composing and became conductor of the Windsor Operatic Society, writing a light opera for them, which is now lost. Leaving Eton in 1938, he became conductor of the Ballets Trois Arts, a travelling ballet company, but was conscripted into the Army in 1940.

Robert refused a commission, became a Gunner in the Royal Artillery and was stationed in the Cotswold on searchlights – apparently “very cold and very boring”. He then became conductor, arranger and pianist of the travelling classical orchestra of the Royal Artillery. This involved going in an Army lorry from battery to battery, performing to the troops with whatever professional musicians were available. At various times the group included Cecil Aaronowicz, Manoug Parikian, Wilfred Dunwell and others who became well known later. In 1944 he was seconded to the Army Educational Corps with rank of Sergeant to entertain the troops waiting for the invasion of France in the south of England. This involved going from battery to another with a portable gramophone and box of classical records strapped to the back of an army motorbike, and lecturing in many venues to enthusiastic members of the armed forces. While in Folkestone, Kent, he met his future wife Elizabeth, a WAAF sergeant in the “Y” Service (Intelligence), who shared his passionate interest in music. They were married three months later.

Robert was demobbed in 1946 and the couple moved first to Hampshire and then to the village of Bucklebury in Berkshire. A small studio was built in the garden of the house, Bucklebury Lodge, so that Robert could work in peace, away from their growing family: the Stills’ four daughters were born between 1945 and 1954, of whom only Katherine, known as Poppy, became a professional musician. Her father wrote a number of compositions for her, including a sonatina for oboe and piano (1964). “A Summer Night” (poem by Matthew Arnold) for baritone, chorus and small orchestra, later to be recorded under the title “Elegie”, was written for the Newbury Choral Society.

Robert had originally seriously contemplated becoming a Freudian lay psychoanalyst, but decided that music was his overriding interest. Early in the 1950s he and his friend Adrian Stokes, the writer and painter, founded the Imago Society whose members included many well known psychoanalysts. The Society’s aim was to investigate the relevance of psychoanalytical theory to the fields of education, philosophy, politics, music, painting, literature etc. Several of the papers given at the regular meetings of the Society at the house of the widow of Ernest Jones, Freud’s friend and biographer, were published in various journals. Robert’s paper, “Gustav Mahler and Psychoanalysis” (1959) was published in the American Imago Society’s journal in 1960 as well as being broadcast by Radio 3.

Robert Still’s 3rd Symphony was submitted as a doctoral work to Oxford University in 1963 and as a result he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Music (D.Mus.) in that year.

Although he used dissonance to great effect in much of his music, it had remained predominantly tonal. His studies with Hans Keller at the Royal College of Music had not persuaded him to change direction towards the then fashionable and highly influential atonal type of compositional style, made almost mandatory by William Glock and Hans Keller at the BBC.

Many musicians, including composers, critics, conductors and performers, were friends and welcome visitors at Bucklebury Lodge. Among these were Sir Eugene Goossens, Edmund Rubbra, Deryck Cooke, Heather Harper and Myer Fredman. Local musician friends included John Russell (conductor of the Newbury Choral Society and Professor at RCM), Anthony Scott (composer) and Michael Thomas (an authority on old keyboard instruments and well-known harpsichordist).

Robert Still died suddenly of a heart attack on 13th January 1971. He was well liked by all his friends and his students, was rather self-effacing and sensitive, and supported equality of access in musical education by speaking out against elitist attitudes. He was very pleased to have been appointed a member of the Executive Committee of the Composers’ Guild shortly before his death. His professional friends believed that his modesty hindered his musical career and prevented wider acclaim.

 

Comments about Robert Still

 

“ I certainly owe a great deal to his encouragement and help as a young conductor and will always be grateful for this.”
Myer Fredman 7th January 1981

“ I found him a very congenial, approachable person, and not given to ‘blowing his own trumpet.’”
Edmund Rubbra 28th January 1981

“ Robert Still was a gifted composer and a very considerable musician. His Third Symphony is an expertly written piece.”
Penguin Book of Records

“ Of contemporary English composers it is those who are now in their fifties and sixties who have been most neglected by the gramophone companies, and indeed by the concert promoters. And so one should be particularly grateful for an attractive new record which brings together in excellent performances by the Ambrosian Singers and the Jacques Orchestra conducted by Myer Fredman, two works by Robert Still, ...... and the recent choral suite ‘Inscape’ by Edmund Rubbra.”
BBC Record Review 11th March 1967

“ I wouldn’t say that I ‘taught’ him - although he, modest as he was, may have said so. No, for that he was too mature - but I do hope that I was able to advise him. At the same time, I don’t think I can tell you anything about his compositions which they can’t tell you themselves - and that’s a compliment to him.

As a person’ I only knew him strictly within the the musical context - where, again, he showed, conceptually, great maturity and, as far as other people’s work was concerned, warm detachment.”
Hans Keller 17th March 1981

“ I enjoyed playing his music enormously, especially the songs, & I was fascinated by the Jekyll -&- Hyde aspect of his musical mind.- of for instance ‘When I am dead’.. and the ‘execution’ one, & then the wholly successful madrigal pastiche in ‘Beauty bathing’.”
John Russell 6th January 1981



Comments by Robert Still



To the Editor of The Times - “ Sir, - Your Music Critic, in his article ‘Getting the right conductor’ on January 25, seems to hold the view that our younger conductors lag behind in technique, and that is why we have to draw on oversea talent. Furthermore, you infer that Mr John Russell’s point, in his letter on January 19, about lack of rehearsal is invalid in this connexion. I should have thought that a shortage of rehearsal time would lead to shortage of practical experience, and thus to lack of technique.

One cannot learn to ride a bicycle, Sir, without riding one, however good one’s theory may be.

I am, Sir, yours & c.” Robert Still , Bucklebury, Berkshire

To the Editor of The Times - “Sir, - If education really did what it set out to do, and developed every individual to his maximum potential, there would be less of a problem as between those who ‘have’ brains and those who ‘have not’
The envy of the ‘have nots’, and the guilt of the ‘haves’, at the core of all passion for equality, are themselves the result of ingrained emotional bias, and will colour any social problem of a ‘have’ or ‘have not’ classification. More attention to a satisfactory E.Q., as distinct from an I.Q., in all stratas of our society would do much to dispel the present anxiety, in that it would aim to underwrite individual potential and maturity whatever the intelligence.

Yours faithfully”, Robert Still 9th October 1963

Copyright

© Compositions other than those published, being the property of Universal Music Publishing Classical, are owned by Katherine Hyde. Unauthorised performance, copying and recording without prior permission is strictly prohibited. Motet 'The Lord's Prayer' © Eton College