- North Country
2021 12' Composers Edition
III With abandon
I composed North Country in January 2021, in response to a commission from Paul Bryant, a retired orthopaedic surgeon who has made a number of stringed instruments – including a string quartet – in recent years. This commission came about through a mutual friend, Helen Dodd, who suggested that he should have a new piece of music to celebrate the completion of his quartet of instruments.
Helen put us in touch, and we agreed on a plan: a new piece of about 12 minutes duration in three movements, interwoven throughout with references to the northern English folk tune ‘The Oak and the Ash’. This tune is a great favourite of mine – I love its sudden changes of character – and it proved fertile inspiration for the three movements.
Here is the text of its first verse:
A North Country maid up to London had strayed,
Although with her nature it did not agree.
She wept and she sighed, and so bitterly she cried,
“How I wish once again in the North I could be!
Oh the oak and the ash, and the bonny ivy tree,
They flourish at home in my own country.”
The first movement, marked Lilting, has something of the character of a Scots slow air. It’s built around the melody of ‘The Oak and the Ash’, but transposed to a pentatonic scale, which gives it an open-air, folk-like quality.
The second movement, marked Heartfelt, grows from a rich reharmonisation of an 8-note segment of ‘The Oak and the Ash’. At the centre of the movement is a jaunty and irregular dance-like episode, this time based on an inverted version of the full tune. The movement closes with a return to an extended and more passionate version of its opening material.
The third movement, marked With abandon, draws on Latin-American rhythms, and is structured like a canon, with successive entries of the same material. After entries from first violin, second violin and viola, the full tune of ‘The Oak and the Ash’ appears in recognisable form. The tune gradually recedes, and though the movement appears to be fading into the distance, beware of a little sting in the tail.
Paul dedicates North Country to his wife Vicky.Publisher details & further information
- Pinocchio (quartet version)
clarinet/alto sax, viola, cello, piano
2020 35' contact composer
Choreographed and directed by Gavin McCaig, the children’s ballet Pinocchio was commissioned by Northern Ballet. Initially intended to premiere in 2020, it was postponed due to the pandemic. The premiere is on 26 October 2021 at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds, with performances until 30 October, followed by a further run of performances at the same venue from 7 to 11 December 2021. The ballet then tours the UK in spring 2022.
In this original retelling of the Italian story by Carlo Collodi, a lonely carpenter wishes for his puppet Pinocchio to come to life. After his dream comes true by the magic of a wishing well, Pinocchio sets out to prove himself worthy of becoming a real boy.
In addition to this quartet version, a chamber orchestra version was produced in summer 2021 in preparation for its recording by Northern Ballet Sinfonia in November 2021.Publisher details & further information
- Springhead Echoes
2017 16' Composers Edition
Springhead Echoes was commissioned in memory of Rosalind Richards née Gardiner (1938-2016) by her daughters. My connection with her is through Pigotts Music Camp, an inspirational place in the Chiltern Hills. I was among a group of musicians who in 1999 were invited to join her at her home in Springhead, Fontmell Magna, Dorset for chamber music. We played Schubert’s Octet, with Rosalind leading – she was a keen and able violinist – and me playing double bass. The wonderfully situated Springhead was the house in which she was born and with which she was linked for her entire life.
I had asked her daughters if there were any particular favourite pieces of Rosalind’s to which I could allude, and they came back with a substantial list, from which I chose one particular piece: Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.1 in G major, Opus 78. Each movement of the quartet incorporates an idea derived – by a variety of means – from the Brahms Sonata.
I wrote Springhead Echoesin 2017. In three contrasting movements, it lasts about 16 minutes.
Premiered by the Fitzwilliam Quartet, 24 November 2018, All Hallows Church, Savernake Road, Hampstead, Londonpreview score
It was clear that the Fitzwilliam String Quartet loved performing Springhead Echoes – a mature and demanding chamber work, which seemed colourfully evocative of both the countryside in which Rosalind made much of her chamber music playing as a violinist, and the inherited tradition of string quartet writing. Ian has a fluency in his writing that integrates inspiration from the classical quartet tradition, folk modes and idiomsIan Noonan , Clarinet and Saxophone
- Clarinet Quintet
clarinet and string quartet
2017 15' Composers Edition
The Clarinet Quintet was commissioned in memory of Brian Richards (1934-2003) by his daughters. My connection with him is through Pigotts Music Camp, an inspirational place in the Chiltern Hills. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting him, I have made music with many members of his family over the years; indeed my daughters and his granddaughter have often sung together. A Consultant Urologist, internationally recognised for research into bladder cancer, he was also a formidable clarinettist and an enthusiast for all forms of family and social music making.
I had asked his daughters if there were any particular favourite pieces to which I could allude, and from the various choices, I decided on the Prisoners’ Chorus, ‘O welche Lust’, from Beethoven’s Fidelio. The words are telling:
Oh what joy, in the open air
Freely to breathe again!
Up here alone is life!
The dungeon is a grave.
There is a poignancy to the last line quoted here, reflecting his later struggle with Parkinson’s and how it constrained his ability to express his personality – his energy, sense of fun and love of wordplay – and his participation in chamber music.
Elements from ‘O welche Lust’ find their way into each movement, but particularly the central episode of the second movement.
This piece is a companion piece to Springhead Echoes, a string quartet commissioned by his daughters in memory of their mother Rosalind, and which was written earlier in 2017. The ‘shadow’ piece behind Springhead Echoes is Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.1 in G major; twice in the Clarinet Quintet one of the key motifs from the Brahms sonata is quietly intoned, thus drawing together the two pieces.
The writing is gloriously idiomatic for the clarinet and exploits the different voices of the instrumentIan Noonan , Clarinet and Saxophone
- Oboe Quintet
oboe and string quartet
2014 20' Composers Edition
I wrote the Oboe Quintet in 2014, though its gestation has been much longer than this. The idea came from the committee of the Rodewald Concert Society in 2012, and was prompted by the deaths of two former committee members, David Dutch and Monica Nurnberg. Both were oboists, and both were important figures in Liverpool’s amateur music scene.
It’s in three movements. One theme, a melody which grows from a falling minor third, heard at the very opening on the oboe, is central to the two outer movements. I contacted the families of both dedicatees and asked them to let me know some of the dedicatees’ favourite bits of oboe music, with a view to integrating some elements into the composition. I settled on Ich habe genug (I have enough), a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach with a beautiful and prominent oboe part. The chords which underpin the first section of Ich habe genug form the framework of the Passacaglia second movement.
The Oboe Quintet was first performed by Jonathan Small and the Brodsky Quartet at St George’s Hall Concert Room, Liverpool, on Sunday 12 October 2014.preview score
Ian Stephens has made a tender addition to the corpus of works for oboe and string quartet which should appeal to advanced players.Helen Thomas , Double Reed News
- A Wailing on the Wind
string quartet and storyteller
2013 35' Composers Edition
‘The wailing wind brings stories long whispered, but seldom heard. The banshee’s cry, a lost love, a tale to chill the blood. A teenage boy learns family secrets that forge links between the past and present.’
In A Wailing on the Wind, Liz Weir’s words are intertwined with my music. The Mavron Quartet, who commissioned the piece, first came together with Liz and I in July 2012, spending a fascinating day being terrified out of our wits by Liz’s excellently creepy ghost stories. Liz and I met again in January 2013 for a session in which she polished the script, and I worked out exactly how many seconds of music was needed for each section, what character it should have, whether it should be foreground or background, and so on. I wrote the bulk of the piece in February 2013.
The music itself works somewhat on a leitmotif basis – the technique developed in 19th-century opera where a particular musical theme relates to a particular character. Central to the whole piece is a three-note rising pattern which is first heard in the instrumental introduction, which in musical terms is B-C-G. The only direct quotation in the piece is a few notes from the ‘Dies Irae’ (Day of Wrath) plainchant from the Requiem Mass, which I couldn’t resist incorporating at a moment of particularly ghoulish terror. The other tunes – whether it’s what seems to be an Irish ballad or reel, or an American 1940s Big Band number – are my own work, though they draw unashamedly on the musical language of the times and places they are designed to evoke.
The first performance was on 23 April 2013 at St David’s Hall in Cardiff.preview score
In Ian Stephens’s A Wailing on the Wind … the result was nevertheless most engrossing. The story by Liz Weir involves the gentle interrogation of an old Irishwoman by her grandson, and develops into a touching story of a wartime romance between the grandmother and an American serviceman, with the banshee announcing the death of the latter. … The performance soon settled into a thrillingly unified experience. The expressive score by Ian Stephens mirrored the narrative expertly, with references to Irish dancing and American swing bands.Paul Corfield Godfrey , Seen And Heard International
- Heart Variations
2013 35' Composers Edition
Heart Variations was commissioned by Egle Mei, with support from Arts Council England, Liverpool City Council, Dawsons, Oxford University Press and Brain Machine. The music takes as its point of inspiration a series of electrocardiograph readings, and a scenario of five life stages devised by Egle Mei. It was first performed by the Liverpool String Quartet at St George’s Hall Concert Room, Liverpool, on 11 April 2014.preview score Publisher details & further information
- Rondo for Three
violin, classical guitar, marimba
2012 7' available from composer
As much as I enjoy writing music for conventional ensembles – string quartet, brass quintet and the like – there’s something special about writing for an unusual group. Perhaps it’s the possibility of creating a musical texture that has never been heard before, perhaps it’s the extra imagination needed to imagine how it will sound. So when Ann Lawes asked if I’d be interested in writing a work for the Acordia Ensemble, I jumped at the chance. The Ensemble is a one-of-a-kind trio, with Ann on violin, Alejandro del Valle on classical guitar and Andrew Whettam on marimba. They make a wonderful sound together.
I’ve lived with my family in West Kirby on the Wirral since 2004, and feel very much that it’s my home – though at heart I will always be a Devon boy! The Wirral is also home to the International Guitar Festival of Great Britain, and the Festival has been very supportive of this project, making the premiere of the new piece a centrepiece of their 2012 programme.
After a period of preparation and mulling over, I wrote Rondo for Three in April 2012. The spark for the piece was the realisation that the forenames of the members of the Ensemble had some interesting properties – they all begin with A, and they each have a number of letters (three, six and nine) that is divisible by three. A rondo is a piece in which one passage of music – the rondo theme – alternates with episodes of different music; these name-derived properties are key to the rondo theme. For the episodes in between the rondo theme I have written sections derived in a variety of ways from the theme itself, often making use of its opening three-note phrase, A-C#-D.
The piece opens with a vigorous statement of the rondo theme, culminating on widely-spaced dissonant chords for all three instruments. Then after a linking passage, the violin begins a spacious melody, underpinned by a delicate guitar accompaniment. With the addition of the marimba, this builds to an expressive climax; the music then subsides, loses intensity, then launches into a shortened restatement of the rondo theme.
In the next episode the marimba takes the leading role, creating a varied, shimmering soundworld, coloured at times by repeated patterns on the violin and guitar. From this emerges a short dramatic duet for violin and guitar, which, after a pause, leads into an passage building up to the next restatement – this time extended – of the rondo theme.
The guitar is prominent in the next episode, playing an elaborated version of the spacious violin melody heard in the first episode. This again builds to a climax – now with the violin taking the melodic lead – then gradually subsides. Following this is a tender solo passage for the guitar, using harmonics to create a gentle, bell-like backdrop to the melody. Finally, after an increasingly dissonant build-up, the rondo theme returns, and the piece ends with vigorous energy.
Rondo for Three was commissioned by the Acordia Ensemble, and was given its premiere as part of the International Guitar Festival of Great Britain at the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead, on 17 November 2012. I would like to thank the Acordia Ensemble, the Guitar Festival, my aunt for lending me her cottage in Ashby-de-la-Zouch for an intensive week of work on the piece, and, most of all, the anonymous donor who very kindly made the commission possible.
Premiered by the Acordia Ensemble at the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead, on 17 November 2012.preview score Publisher details & further information
- Break of Day
voice, flute and piano
2012 4' Composers Edition
I wrote this as a Christmas present for my parents. My Mum had played the flute when I was growing up, and has recently and enthusiastically taken it up again. My Dad has rediscovered his singing voice in the past few years, and has joined many choirs around where they live in Cornwall. This piece, setting a bucolic poem by John Clare, is a celebration of their rediscovery of their musical selves. The vocal part covers a range of a 9th, from C up to D.preview score Publisher details & further information
2012 11' Composers Edition
Ultramarine is a rich shade of dark blue that was highly valued in the early Renaissance. From the Latin ultramarinus, its name means ‘beyond the sea’ for a very literal reason: it was imported into Europe by sea from Asia. The source of ultramarine is the mineral lapis lazuli, mined from a single source in what is now the north-east of Afghanistan, and more expensive than gold. From the 12th century, the robes of the Virgin Mary were often painted with ultramarine.
In Ultramarine I explore the journey of this blue from its source to its final use. At the heart of the piece is a series of widely-spaced four-part chords, each of which contains an element of symmetry. To my mind these chords represent the colour blue, trapped deep in rock. The two ensuing melodies – based on an ancient Afghan tune and a Persian dance tune – signify the journey to the west. A rhapsodic section, with the music moving from a single line to a richly textured activity and back again, signifies the transformation from rock to pigment. The ‘Maria’ music, first heard on the horn, is a collection of four settings of the word ‘Maria’ from Gregorian chant. The four ‘Maria’ melodies intertwine, and blend with the blue chords and the Afghan tune.Publisher details & further information