Obituary: Stephen Dodgson, composer
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Stephen Dodgson, son of a noted Symbolist painter and a distant cousin of Lewis Carroll, was a prolific composer of music in a variety of forms, from chamber opera to songs and instrumental solos, often written for specific performers who championed his music – many of them household names, such as Evelyn Barbirolli, Carl Dolmetsch, John Turner, John Williams, Bernard Roberts, Rafael Puyana (who died just five weeks before Dodgson, in March), Maria Korchinska, Sir Neville Marriner (as a violinist), the Tippett String Quartet, Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and many others. His success as a composer was founded on solid study, with the likes of Bernard Stevens (privately), RO Morris and Antony Hopkins at the Royal College of Music (after military service in the Second World War), where he later taught from 1956-82. He won the Cobbett Prize in 1948 and later the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize in 1949 for his Orchestral Variations and in 1953 for the Symphony in E flat.
Dodgson became associated with music for the guitar in the 1950s, having been asked to write some folk-song settings, and learned the instrument as he wrote for it, leading eventually to two concertos, two duo concertos (one with violin), various chamber pieces including several duos and a Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet, which the Tippett Quartet recorded as part of their complete survey of his nine quartets, plus a variety of works ranging from solo Partitas (four in all) and the Fantasy Divisions to others for massed guitar orchestras and all dispositions in between. His interest in the harpsichord (his wife Jane was a fine performer as well as being an authority on François Couperin) produced five sets of Inventions (1955-93) the fine Duo Concertante with guitar (1968), memorably recorded by Williams and Puyana, and Capriccio Concertante No 2, for recorder, harpsichord and string orchestra (2005). The recorder, indeed, featured prominently in his output of the last 16 years, although he had written for it as early as 1970 for a BBC radio production. Other works include a concerto for viola da gamba, a song for voice and baryton, and a duet for two lutes as well as nine Essays for Orchestra (six of which appeared on disc at various times, most recently No 7 in 2010) and seven piano sonatas.
Dodgson’s music is written mostly in an agreeable if occasionally challenging modern tonal idiom, cosmopolitan rather than overtly British in style, influenced by early and Baroque music and Janáček as much as English pastoralism (as absorbed from another teacher, Patrick Hadley). His often angular melodies have a knack of registering in the memory and are beautifully laid out for the instruments. He had a more romantic side, with lilting themes as evidenced in miniatures such as Echoes of Autumn for violin and guitar or the Intermezzo for four guitars. His mature style was one of refinement, sitting somewhere between post-Romanticism and Neoclassicism but individual works often varied this blueprint, having quirky, even spectral sides to them.
String Quartets Vol 3: Nos 2, 8-9, etc. Tippett Qt (9/11) Dutton CDLX 7265
‘High Barbaree’. Various (8/04) Campion CAMEO2032
Flute Concerto, ‘Last of the Leaves’, Duo Concerto. Northern Sinfonia/Zollman (7/94) Biddulph LAW013