Walton, Sir William (Turner)

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Walton, Sir William (Turner)

Walton, Sir William (Turner), eminent English composer; b. Oldham, Lancashire, March 29, 1902; d. Ischia, Italy, March 8, 1983. Both his parents were professional singers, and Walton himself had a fine singing voice as a youth; he entered the Cathedral Choir School at Christ Church, Oxford, and began to compose choral pieces for performance. Sir Hugh Allen, organist of New Coll., advised him to develop his interest in composition, and sponsored his admission to Christ Church at an early age; however, he never graduated, and instead began to write unconventional music in the manner that was fashionable in the 1920s. His talent manifested itself in a string quartet he wrote at the age of 17, which was accepted for performance for the first festival of the ISCM in 1923. In London he formed a congenial association with the Sitwell family of quintessential cognoscenti and literati, who combined a patrician sense of artistic superiority with a benign attitude toward the social plebs; they also provided Walton with residence at their manor in Chelsea, where he lived off and on for some 15 years. Fascinated by Edith Sitweir’s oxymoronic verse, Walton set it to music bristling with novel jazzy effects in brisk, irregular rhythms and modern harmonies; Walton was only 19 when he wrote it. Under the title Facade, it was first performed in London in 1923, with Edith Sitwell herself delivering her doggerel with a megaphone; as expected, the show provoked an outburst of feigned indignation in the press and undisguised delight among the young in spirit. However, Walton did not pursue the path of facile hedonism so fashionable at the time; he soon demonstrated his ability to write music in a Classical manner in his fetching concert overture Portsmouth Point, first performed in Zürich in 1926, and later in the comedy- overture Scapino. His biblical oratorio Belshaz-zar’s Feast, written in 1931, reveals a deep emotional stream and nobility of design that places Walton directly in line among English masters from Handel and Elgar. His symphonic works show him as an inheritor of the grand Romantic tradition; his concertos for violin, for viola, and for cello demonstrate an adroitness in effective instrumental writing. Walton was a modernist in his acceptance of the new musical resources, but he never deviated from fundamental tonality and formal clarity of design. Above all, his music was profoundly national, unmistakably British in its inspiration and content. Quite appropriately, he was asked to contribute to two royal occasions: he wrote Crown Imperial March for the coronation of King George VI in 1937 and Orb and Sceptre for that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. He received an honorary doctorate from the Univ. of Oxford in 1942. King George VI knighted him in 1951. He spent the last years of his life on the island of Ischia off Naples with his Argentine-born wife, Susana Gil Passo. In 1984 the William Walton Trust was formed, with its offices in Stratford-upon-Avon, as was the Italian Fondazione William Walton, situated in Ischia, where the house and gardens of Walton’s estate are maintained for public viewing and where master classes for young musicians are conducted. D. Lloyd-Jones served as general ed. of the William Walton Edition of his complete works (23 vols., Oxford, 1999 et seq.).


dramatic: Opera: Troilus and Cressida, after Chaucer (1947-54; London, Dec. 3, 1954; rev. 1963 and 1972-76; London, Nov. 12, 1976); The Bear, after Chekhov (1965-67; Aldeburgh, June 3, 1967). B a 1 1 e t : The First Shoot (1935); The Wise Virgins, after J.S. Bach (1939-40; London, April 24, 1940); The Quest (1943). Entertainment: Façade for Reciter and Instrumental Ensemble, after Edith Sitwell (1921; 1stperf. privately at the Sitwell home in London, Jan. 24, 1922; 1stpublic perf., London, June 12, 1923; rev. 1926, 1928, 1942, and 1951; rev. as Façade 2, 1978; arranged as a ballet, 1929, with subsequent changes). Incidental Music For the Theater and R a d i o : A Son of Heaven (1924-25); The Boy David (1935); Macbeth (1941-2); Christopher Columbus (1942). F i 1 m : Escape Me Never (1934); As You Like It (1936); Dreaming Lips (1937); Stolen Life (1938); Major Barbara (1940); Next of Kin (1941); The Foreman Went to France (1941-2); The First of the Few (1942); Went the Day Well? (1942); Henry V (1943-44); Hamlet (1947); Richard III (1955); The Battle of Britain (1969); Three Sisters (1969). ORCH.: Portsmouth Point, overture (1924-25; Zürich, June 22, 1926); Siesta (1926); Façade, 2 suites after the entertainment: No. 1 (1926; Siena, Sept. 14, 1928) and No. 2 (N.Y., March 30, 1938); Sinfonia concertante for Piano and Orch. (1926-27; London, Jan. 5,1928; rev. 1943); Viola Concerto (1928-29; London, Oct. 3, 1929, Paul Hindemith soloist; rev. 1936 and 1961; London, Jan. 18, 1962); 2 syms.: No. 1 (1931-35; London, Nov. 6, 1935) and No. 2 (1957-60; Edinburgh, Sept. 2, 1960); Crown Imperial, coronation march for King George VI (Westminster Abbey, London, May 12, 1937; rev. 1963); Violin Concerto (1938-39; Cleveland, Dec. 7, 1939, Jascha Heifetz soloist; rev. 1943); The Wise Virgins, suite from the ballet (1940); Music for Children (1940; orchestrtion of Duets for Children for Piano); Scapino, comedy overture (1940; Chicago, April 3, 1941; rev. 1950); Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (1942); 2 Pieces for Strings from the film score to Henry V (1943-44); Orb and Sceptre, coronation march for Queen Elizabeth II (1952-53; Westminster Abbey, London, June 2, 1953); Finale for Sellinger’s Round, Variations on an Elizabethan Theme for Strings (1953; in collaboration with others); Cello Concerto (1955-56; Boston, Jan. 25, 1957, Piatigorsky soloist); Johannesburg Festival Overture (Johannesburg, Sept. 25,1956); Partita (1957; Cleveland, Jan. 30,1958); Variations on a Theme by Hindemith (1962-63; London, March 8, 1963); Capriccio Burlesco (N.Y., Dec. 7,1968); Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten (1968-69; San Francisco, Jan. 14, 1970); Sonata for Strings (1971; orchestration of the String Quartet, 1945-47); Varii Capricci (1975-76; London, May 4,1976; orchestration of the 5 Bagatelles for Guitar); Prologo e Fantasia (1981-82; London, Feb. 20, 1982). CHAMBER: Piano Quartet (1918-21; rev. 1974-75); 2 string quartets (1919, rev. 1921-22; London, July 5, 1923; 1945-47; orchestrated as Sonata for Strings, 1971); Toccata for Violin and Piano (1922-23); Violin Sonata (1947-48; rev. 1949-50); 2 Pieces for Violin and Piano (1948-50); 5 Bagatelles for Guitar (1970-71; orchestrated as Varii Capricci, 1975-76); Passacaglia for Cello (1979-80); Duettino for Oboe and Violin (1982). KEYBOARD: Piano: Duets for Children (1940; orchestrated as Music for Children). O r g a n : 3 Pieces from the film score to Richard III (1955). VOCAL: Belshazzar’s Feast, oratorio for Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1930-31; Leeds, Oct. 8, 1931; rev. 1948 and 1957); In Honour of the City of London for Chorus and Orch. (1937); Coronation Te Deum for 2 Choruses, 2 Semi Choruses, Boy’s Chorus, Organ, Orch., and Military Brass, for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1952-53; London, June 2, 1953); Anon in Love, 6 songs for Tenor and Guitar (1959; also for Tenor and Small Orch., 1971); Gloria for Contralto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, and Orch. (1960; Liverpool, Nov. 24, 1961); A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table, 6 songs for Soprano and Piano (London, July 18, 1962; also for Soprano and Orch., 1970); The Twelve for Chorus and Organ (1964-65; Oxford, May 16, 1965); Missa Brevis for Double Chorus and Organ (1965-66; Coventry, April 10, 1966); Jubilate Deo for Chorus and Organ (1972); Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for Chorus and Organ (1974; rev. 1975); Antiphon for Chorus and Organ (1977); other vocal pieces, including choruses and songs.


E Howes, The Music of W. W.(2 vols.; London, 1942 and 1943; new amplified ed., 1965); S. Craggs, W. W.: A Thematic Catalogue of His Musical Works (London, 1977; rev. ed., 1990); A. Poulton, Sir W. W.: A Discography (London, 1980); N. Tierney, W. W.: His Life and Music (London, 1984); S. Walton, W. W.: Behind the Facade (Oxford, 1988); M. Kennedy, Portrait of W.(Oxford, 1989); S. Craggs, W. W.; A Source Book (Aldershot, 1993); idem, ed., W. W.: Music and Literature (Aldershot, 1999).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire