Frank Stiles - Blog

Frank Stiles - FRANK STILES: 90th Birthday Celebration!

Frank Stiles - FRANK STILES: 90th Birthday Celebration!

FRANK STILES: 90th Birthday Celebration!



For August, the format of this feature is slightly different as the doyen of our composers, Frank Stiles, does not have direct access to the Internet so I went Lincolnshire to interview him in order to complete this month’s feature and I took the opportunity to collect some of his scores and recordings. This meant I have been able to add extracts from Frank’s recordings and scores to his CCA pages which reflect, more accurately, the eminent position he holds in British music not just as a composer but as a major advocate of British Music.

The feature which follows is, therefore, written in the third person and contains editorial comments not usually present in this feature! Frank becomes a nonagenarian on April 2nd 2014 and it is to be hoped that this work on the Composer of the Month feature and the newly edited pages of recordings and scores will highlight even more the work of this remarkable musician.

David Fisher


The photographs from top to bottom are:


Frank Stiles in July 2013

Frank Stiles and David Fisher [CCA Chairman & Website Editor]

Winifred Copperwheat & Frank Stiles in 1962

Henry Myerscough [violist on the recording]

Adrian Leaper [conductor on the recording]



Your featured Composition(s) of the Month:



Instrumental and/or vocal resources used:

Viola solo, Symphony Orchestra


First performance details – if relevant:

Winifred Copperwheat [viola] with the orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult in 1962.


Performers on your recording – if relevant:

Henry Myerscough [viola]; Priory Concertante of London conducted by Adrian Leaper.


Of the work(s) you have selected for the Composer of the Month feature, what was the source/inspiration/commission which set this piece or these pieces in motion?

Being taught by one of the nation’s pre-eminent viola players, Winifred Copperwheat [Frank had lessons with her from the late 1950s and continued to visit her right until she died] proved the main inspiration. Lionel Tertis always spoke well of ‘Winnie’ whilst lauding her work in promoting the viola in her playing and teaching as well as her superb musicianship. After one of her recitals, Tertis remarked that “She played like an angel”. It was no wonder that Frank decided to dedicate his major work for viola to her for her ‘brilliant’ playing and her incredible influence on him as a viola player and musician.

What would be a good programme note for this work (or these works) which explains the structure, use of melody and harmony and any technical points related to the performers?

This concerto was written in 1955 for Winifred Copperwheat and was tailor-made to suit her brilliant and romantic style and to exploit the range of the viola. The work is in three movements; the first, Rhapsody, is in sonata form with an accompanied cadenza. It is followed by a brilliant Scherzo with a contrasting trio. The final Passacaglia is a set of continuous variations which bring back and develop material from the previous movements.



When did you first start composing and what was your first piece?

Frank started composing when he was about seven or eight years old. When he was about ten, his father took him to France [he was really keen on amateur radio as well as being a very talented musician] and, by a circuitous route, met Ravel. In the course of the conversation, Ravel asked him if he’d written anything. He played a minuet he’d written. Ravel patted him on the head and encouraged him to carry on composing “If you can stand criticism and if you have skin like a rhinoceros”.

Who was it that first encouraged you to develop your interest in composing and how did they help?

His father, who played classical guitar, violin and piano & and his mother, who played the piano and sang, were very good amateur musicians and his brother played a noisy brass instrument so there was always music in the house. Although he had several teachers at Ealing Grammar School, they all added to his knowledge but it was having a private teacher, Miss Barnard, who kept his harmony and composition exercises going whilst serving in the Fleet Air Arm in the war.

Who do you consider your greatest inspirations in terms of the major composers and which of their works has influenced you the most and why?

Beethoven: Late String Quartets; Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante; Haydn: String Quartets; Bach – all his work although he doesn’t like authentic performances at all.

How would you describe your style to someone who has never heard your music before?

In David C F Wright’s biography, Frank’s style is referred to: “Frank´s music may have initially been a mixture of Bartok, Hindemith and Tippett with touches of Vaughan Williams but he has developed his own style…There is no doubt that his writing for string instruments is exemplary and the other great attribute is that it is not music in the stuffy English or Edwardian tradition.” Frank feels that his music has changed over the years and whilst much of his music is tonal it is written by instinct. He does not now use key signatures which makes the music more free tonally. His music has been described as substantial, free from gimmicry so fashionable in the late C20th, not remaining conventially ´traditional´ but having his own very distinctive style. His works have been performed and broadcast world-wide and he has been the recipient of many awards and accolades both here and abroad.

What do you feel is original in your music?

Frank’s string writing is idiomatic as it is written from within in terms of technical assurance and performing experience in that Frank has written for, played and conducted his viola works. This gave him a practical knowledge of string technique and orchestration which has proved invaluable. In Dr David Wright’s biography he writes: “His first works were conventional and tonal but…perhaps tonal music has been exhausted and it may be impossible today to write an obvious original tonal piece.” Whilst his huge output covers many genres [see the complete list on his biography page] it is his formidable knowledge and experience which singles him out as one of the greatest composers for strings of his generation.

How do you work? What methods of creativity and work ethic do you have? Do you solely use musical technology or do paper and pencil still form a part of your process?

Usually starts with paper – trying out ideas on the piano if not sure. Used a computer to notate works later on. Tries to keep to a regular schedule for discipline in composing. A Radio 3 announcer noted that his String Quartet 1 “like other works by the composer, is dominated by a motto theme”

What projects are you currently working on?

Revising some works at the moment.


To finish, who or what is your favourite:



String Quartet


Violists: Lionel Tertis [the greatest];

William Primrose [who took over from Tertis – although Frank considered him a better reader of a score than Tertis];

Winifred Copperwheat & Harry Danks:

[both of whom were taught by Tertis]


Maria Callas – Frank accompanied her in the Covent Garden Orchestra notably with Renata Tebaldi in Norma - although the example below is from Verdi´s Il Trovatore.


Sir Adrian Boult – a real gentleman & a splendid conductor; Sir Thomas Beecham


Zorian String Quartet; Fidelio String Quartet


Several – too many to mention especially as he has played in many orchestras including the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, LSO, LPO, CGO, Philharmonia and orchestras in Philadelphia PA and Boston MA.


Festival Hall; Queen Elizabeth Hall; Wigmore Hall; St John’s Smith Square


Beethoven’s Opus 130 String Quartet in B flat major [1825]