Alan Rawsthorne was born in Lancashire in the north of England. At first he was aiming to be a dentist, but found that he disliked the profession. He decided to try for entry into the Royal Manchester School of Music, not Europe's most fashionable conservatory at that time. He wanted to study piano or cello, but managed to pass neither examination. Just how he managed entry and continued study there is something of a mystery. At the age of 25 he went to study with the great pianist, Egon Petri, and obviously became a reasonable keyboard player. When he returned to England he obtained a teaching post in one of England's specialist music schools at Dartington Hall. His development as a composer was protracted, his first work to gain any significant recognition, the 'Theme and Variations for two violins', did not appear until he was 33. The following year he had a most successful first performance of his Symphonic Studies at the International Society of Contemporary Music held in Warsaw. It was immediately apparent that he was not following in the footsteps of the famous English composers at the beginning of the century. Though a very individual voice, he was looking more towards Scandinavia for his musical 'parentage'.
The war intervened, and in an air-raid on London in 1940 he lost several major manuscripts, including the first draft of his Violin Concerto. He volunteered for the army, and managed to continue writing, and in 1942 his First Piano Concerto was performed at a Promenade Concert in London's Royal Albert Hall. Two years later there was to follow the work that cemented popular acclaim, the 'Street Corner' Overture, with its affectionate view of London. Yet it was war that was to make him famous, when he was enlisted to write background music for films, many with a message of hope. There was to follow 26 film scores which provided him with a firm financial background.
He was only to live to the age of 66, and his output was modest, but it included symphonies, a number of concertos for a wide range of instruments, chamber and choral works. His film music brought recognition, but he remained a very personal composer, and was never a popular figure within the British music 'establishment'.