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Sir John Blackwood McEwen (13 April 1868 – 14 June 1948) was a Scottishmarker classical composer and educator.


John Blackwood McEwen was born in Hawickmarker in 1868. After initial training in Glasgowmarker, he studied with Ebenezer Prout, Corder and Tobias Matthay at the Royal Academy of Musicmarker in Londonmarker. After returning to Scotland, where he was a choirmaster and teacher at Greenockmarker and Glasgow, he was invited to become Professor of Harmony and Composition at the RAM, from 1898 until 1924, and was Principal between 1924 and 1936.

McEwen co-founded the Society of British Composers in 1905.

He was knighted in 1931 and died in 1948 in Londonmarker, aged 70.


He is best known for orchestral works on his native Galloway, such as A Solway Symphony (1909), Hills o'Heather and Where the Wild Thyme Blows (1918). His Three Border Ballads include "Grey Galloway" (1908), "The Demon Lover" (1906/7) and "Coronach" (1906). Other works include Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, a setting of The Hymn from Milton's Ode of the same title. He wrote a Viola Concerto in 1901 at the request of Lionel Tertis, and seventeen string quartets, written over a fifty-year period (1893-1947).

He invented the term "inflected speech" and introduced it in his 14 Poems for inflected voice and piano after Margaret Forbes in 1943. This is equivalent to the sprechgesang of Arnold Schoenberg.

His main influences appear to be Scottish folk music, Jean Sibelius and Richard Wagner, for example, in the third movement of A Solway Symphony which shows a very strong influence from Siegfried's Rhine Journey. Most of his music is not so derivative. He seems to have been a sort of predecessor of the Scottish Renaissance in trying to use Scottish folk culture, but in a non-sentimental manner.

However, he wrote many pieces of music that were left unplayed and neglected and to this day lie in archives. Grove's Dictionary (1954) referred to him as "perhaps the most grievously neglected British composer of his generation". But he contributed to this state of affairs because he was never particularly concerned about bringing his work to the attention of the public.

Thanks to a couple of recordings of his works in the early 1990s, often performed by Moray Welsh, he has become known to a new generation of listeners. More recently, the Chilingirian Quartet has recorded ten of the string quartets. Several late string trios remain unrecorded.

String Quartet No. 2/Symphony in A minor

His Symphony in A minor (1892-98) was rejected by publishers in its original form, and he was told it may receive better press as a string quartet. He did what was suggested, revised the work, and the String Quartet No. 2 in A minor became quite well known.

Until recently it was always played in this form, never in its original conception as a symphony. However, Dr Alasdair Mitchell, conductor and cellist, recently revived the piece in its symphonic form. Over a residential course he prepared it with the Edinburgh Secondary Schools' Orchestra and it premiered on 16 August 2008 at the Edinburgh Central Halls.His 'Threnody' quartet was arranged in 2007 for string orchestra, by the Glasgow based musician Gordon Rigby, and has been performed twice by the Scottish Philharmonic Orchestra.Score and parts are available from the Scottish Music Centre.

External links


  1. McEwen, (Sir) John (Blackwood), Entry in "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music", 4th edn., Kennedy (ed.), OUP.
  2. Eric Blom, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed. 1954

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