York Bowen has been described as ‘The English Rachmaninoff’. As a young composer he was highly regarded by the most admired performers of the day, including Hans Richter, Fritz Kreisler, and Lionel Tertis. Bowen composed more than 160 works, which show a blend of romanticism and strong individuality. This collection ranges widely over his output for solo piano, from relatively large-scale structures to quite short, almost miniature, pieces.
Evident in these works is Bowen’s responsiveness to two very different national schools: the Russian, with its often epic character, its pianistic virtuosity, strong rhythmical impact, and darkly atmospheric, melancholic harmonies and melodies, and the French, generally distinguished by its lightness, its playfully decorated melodies, and tender harmonies. Among the composers whose piano music left a mark on Bowen’s own works for the instrument are Rachmaninoff, Balakirev, Medtner, Scriabin, Debussy, and even sometimes Ravel. Echoes of the music of Ireland, Delius, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams may, however, also be heard in Bowen’s work. It is this fusion of different styles which makes Bowen’s own very individual sound world so remarkable.
The Dutch pianist Joop Celis has given lecture recitals on the piano works of York Bowen for the Dutch and Belgian branches of the European Piano Teachers Association (EPTA), and in 2005 he gave master-classes, lectures, and recitals both in South Korea and China, performing piano works by Bowen.