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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Stephen Dodgson 1924 - 2013: A Personal Recollection

Stephen Dodgson 1924-2013

I am very saddened to learn of the death of Stephen Dodgson, He was a wonderful composer who wrote a great amount of music for guitar which include solo works, chamber music, and two concertos – all this without playing the instrument himself.

Encouraged by both his friends Julian Bream and John Williams he became quite expert in his understanding of the guitar. He composed for it from his earliest association with Julian Bream in the 1950’s and for the next fifty years. Listen to the development of his style starting from the energy and wiry rhythms of the Partita No. 1 (1963) in a landmark recording by John Williams to the mellow lyricism and dreamy nature in this sound sample of Partita No. 4 composed more than 25 years later and recorded here by the brilliant Jonathan Leathwood.

His ear for the sonorities of the guitar was very fine. Maybe no composer has shown such sensitivity to the harmonic nuances of chordal voicing on the instrument, taking Villa-Lobos’ idea of open strings against stopped notes in the higher positions to a whole new level. His command of bigger structures was equally impressive. Listen to the way he creates monumental sounds (like a Henry Moore sculpture in music) in these sound samples in such works as the Duo Concertante for guitar and harpsichord (1968), and
Personent Hodie - Fantasy on an Ancient Carol for Massed Guitars (1980), Watersmeet for solo guitar and guitar ensemble and in his two concertos for guitar and orchestra.

His list of works for guitar in chamber music provides enough music to fill many programmes, and satisfies the most unusual requirements of instrumental combinations too. Check out these two lists: one in Wikipedia and another one here.

On a personal note, Stephen Dodgson was my composition teacher when I became a student at the Royal College of Music. He was charming, kind and invariably in a good mood, even when I turned up with a poor musical scribble in response to his homework demands that week. He showed me the beauties of Medieval and Renaissance music and encouraged me to follow the learning processes of that time (first species, second species, etc), thus instilling me a life-long love of ancient music. His knowledge of music was huge, and his sharp observations priceless. He loved to point out the absurdities and contradictions in people’s behaviour, all in the most good-humoured and kind-hearted manner, talking and gesticulating while all the time laughing and chuckling in his characteristic manner. In those moments I always recalled his family antecedent Charles Lutwidge Dodgson better known as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland.

His tolerance of my student ways knew no limits: I would enter his teaching room puffing away at a cigarette, commandeer the dustbin, and use it as an ash tray for the rest of the lesson. At the time he would tease me and mimic my actions delightfully to others, and this from a non-smoker who years later told me he hated the smell! He was extremely supportive of my first important London concert in 1971 when I played his Duo Concertante with Tom Gilhooley.

Stephen Dodgson has left a treasure of music to the guitar, and personally he will be missed hugely by all who knew him.

14th April 2013, London

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