Papers of Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971), composer

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 1179 AR
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      Approx. 100 items. Most items on paper, including photocopy and photographic papers. Some magnetic tape/vinyl, metal objects, and plaster of paris (death mask).

Scope and Content

MS works of Alan Rawsthorne including manuscripts of most of his published works. In addition there are manuscripts of many unpublished pieces, most from early in the composer's career. Rawsthorne composed symphonies, concerti, chamber music, film music, and music for solo instrument and voice.

There is a set of recordings on cassette of most of the composer's output, together with the composer's own collection of discs and tapes, many of which are private, historic performances of first performances.

Among other items are to be found correspondence chiefly with family members, writings by the composer including items of juvenilia, and press cuttings collected over the whole of his career. Medals and awards, transcripts and notes of broadcasts and lectures, some photographs, and programmes are also included.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alan Rawsthorne was born in 1905 in Haslingden, Lancashire. After initial studies in dentistry and architecture, he entered the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1925, where he was a pupil of the pianist Frank Merrick and the cellist Carl Fuchs. He left in 1929 with diplomas in performance and teaching (the latter with distinction). His piano studies were continued abroad, notably under Egon Petri. On his return to England in 1932 he taught at Dartington Hall School and also composed music for the associated School of Dance Mime. He married a fellow ex-RMCM student, the violinist Jessie Hinchcliffe, in 1934. Yet even though he moved to London in 1935 in order to devote himself primarily to composition, it was not until the 1938 ISCM Festival in London that he achieved wide recognition with the Theme and Variations for two violins. At the 1939 festival, in Warsaw, a far more ambitious score, the Symphonic Studies, demonstrated his mastery of orchestral resources, while in the same year the First Piano Concerto confirmed the achievement of 'a highly individual language and certain structural predilections'; both were to remain remarkably constant throughout the rest of his career.

Rawsthorne rescored the concerto in 1942, by which time he was doing military service in the Army first in the Royal Artillery and then in the Education Corps; despite this he was able to complete the two contrasted overtures of 1944 and 1945. With the end of the war, however, he was at last able to devote all his energies to composition, and to be confident of receiving performance: within some five years he had produced four concertos, a symphony, several chamber works and a body of film music, and was thus already among the more prolific instrumental composers of an English generation that included Walton and Tippett. He married the artist Isabel (ne Nicholas, 1912-1992) in 1951 after the death of her 3rd husband, his friend the composer Constant Lambert. Alan and Jessie Rawsthorne had divorced the previous year.

The chamber cantata A Canticle of Man (1952) was the first substantial evidence of an interest in setting words that was to culminate in the large-scale Carmen vitale of 1963. Two further symphonies (1959 and 1964) and four more concertos head an impressive list of orchestral scores produced in the last two decades of his life, most of them written to commission.

Beginning with the Concerto for ten instruments, written for Cheltenham in 1961, Rawsthorne showed a heightened interest in chamber orchestral writing and in pure chamber music, the predominant genre in his last years. In 1967 he produced his biggest piano work, the Ballade written for John Ogdon, and in the same year he also wrote two works for youth orchestra (Overture for Farnham and Theme, Variations and Finale). He was made a CBE in 1961, and was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of Liverpool, Essex and Belfast. He died in Cambridge in 1971.

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Isabel Rawsthorne.


Description by M Sarah Wickham; biographical history with reference to John McCabe Alan Rawsthorne Portrait of a Composer (OUP 1999), and Peter Evans: Rawsthorne, Alan The New Grove Dictionary of Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed Jun 18 2003),

Other Finding Aids

Partly catalogued on the RNCM Library catalogue, available at

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright The Rawsthorne Trust.

Custodial History

The papers were on permanent loan to the RNCM during the lifetime of Mrs Isabel Rawsthorne, and bequeathed to the College in perpetuity after her death in 1992.


None expected, though as the RNCM is the legal place of deposit for Rawsthorne's works it is possible that works currently thought to be missing may reappear and accrue to the papers.

Related Material

RMCM Archive.


J. McCabe Alan Rawsthorne: portrait of a composer (OUP 1999)