This is a fascinating work monumental in design and content, within the Mahlerian universe of storming the heavens,where music should represent the complexity of the world, and one way of proceeding is a work exclaiming itself in sheer durational length.Mahler of course was speaking of the Symphonie, and duration was a problematic for the late Romantic aesthetic,but here Stevenson makes the creative situation forever more complex by summoning the services of the piano. The piano by comparison has not the timbral dimension nor colour of the orchestra. Ronald Stevenson was born in Blackburn,Lancanshire in 1928, England of Scottish and Welsh descent. And his music reflects a lifelong affinity for the tradition of folk or a melos that remains close to the voice,close to the basic elements of culture.He was somewhat Left leaning with a streak of Scottish nationalism in his blood. However in no way is that a facile perspective,in fact it is a creative situation frought with a new set of problematics. England recall was somewhat insolated from the twin revolutionary musics on the continent, the glorious ballet scores of Stravinsky and the dodecaphonic innovations of Schoenberg. Stevenson music's never involved itself with this language, however he was involved with the set of problematics of composition, was the first to instigate for instance, interest in the music of Ferruccio Busoni, an innovator in his own right. Stevenson was himself, as Busoni, a marvelous pianist. He had always complained of the "product-line" pianism that was an integral part of the concert world, the builiding of repertoire for the moment,rather than a life's devotion toward a particular creative agenda. The Passacaglia is a time attenuated and honed genre, in which the creator either triumphs or are left in diminution of what was.There are precedents here, I recall Stephan Wolpe's piano Passacaglia comes to mine as a profound work,but no where near as long as the Stevenson.By comparison Stevenson sets an oratorio-like gesture for the piano,whereas Wolpe was a mere intervallic display,as fascinating as that is. The DSCH motive is a dedication to Dmitri Shostakovich and the derivation of the tones comes from the German spelling S is E-flat, H is B-natural, B refers to B-flat, it is a motive that appears frequently in the music of Shostakovich, the Eighth String Quartet for instance. Stevenson at 32 years of age, began work in West Linton, the village south of Edinburgh in December,1960 and was completed in May,1962.A bound copy was presented to Shostakovich during the Edinburgh Festival. The work progresses sometimes,mysteriously sometimes arduously,lumbered,brooding, you feel the rhythmic weight of this motive many times. But then there are variations which reach for the heavens, with mists of scales and arpeggios, ascending, or other comments as afterbeats, after the primary motive. The work is tonal based yet extended wherever possible it seems as means of contextual escape.Stevenson finds his voice within toanlity in this work as no other. The piece's content is that it progresses over an agenda of continuous development, this long a structural concern of this century. Recall,that developmental variations was like the end point of structure, the late and post-romantics engaged in, in particular the music of Johannes Brahms proceeding up to Schoenberg reaching culmination with the diamond-cut private gestures of Anton Webern,his Variations for Piano, is seemingly the endpoint of this tradition. Stevenson brings an encyclopedic-like compendium of musical forms,an affinity for traditional form here dividing the work into Episodes, each episode progressing quite differently with its own array of these forms.The First functions much like a Sonata Allegro. We also have prelude,sarabande,polonaise,gavotte,and the strum of the inside piano strings is an arresting gesture here,given Stevenson's relative conservative musical language. The Second Episode for instance engages in "arabesque variations" dispensing with the Baroque procedures,then a "drumming" section framed in an Etude-like form which identifies the center of the work.There is then a "Dies irae and is marked "in memoriam the six million" Toward the final pages Stevenson reamrkable how he can restrain himself for the ending pages, where Variations on the Russian "Peace,Bread and The Land"occurs which is an ostinato rhythm implied by the Russian slogan of 1917 Mir Khleb i Zemlya. This implies a point of reconstruction and renewal.So points of lament and points of hope and triumph compliment each other profoundly. Stevenson (dissimilar to many Western scholars), shares the view that Shostakovich believed in the socialist system. He may have not honored its opportunist leaders,yet he harbored this belief all his life,the belief in freedom from exploitation. There are other rich contextual associations here as well, the song "To Emergent Africa" included in the final pages here,this a controversial passage indeed when performed by Stevenson himself at the premiere in 1963 in Cape Town South Africa. Raymond Clarke the remarkable pianist here, Herculean actually in his efforts also provides his own comprehensive jacket notes.I found his playing reserved and less than impassioned at times,claiming the works control and clarity prior to passionate display. There is only one reference to Stevenson's Scottish ancestry here it was actually written last in 1963 a seventeenth century lament "Cumha na Cloinne (Lament of the Children). This is the fifth of the 17 sections.