Sir William Turner Walton

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Walton, (Sir) William (Turner) (b Oldham, 1902; d Forio d'Ischia, 1983). Eng. composer. Son of choirmaster and singing-teacher. Chorister at Christ Church Cath. Sch., Oxford, 1912–18, during which time wrote anthems and songs. Wrote pf. qt. 1918–21. ‘Adopted’ as a brother by Osbert, Sacheverell, and Edith Sitwell, 1919, living with them in London and It. Comp. first version of Façade, instr. accs. to recited poems by Edith Sit-well, in 1921, f.p. London (privately) 1922. Str. qt. played at Salzburg 1923. Made jazz arrs. for Savoy Orpheans, 1923. Public perf. of Façade 1923 caused furore. Ov. Portsmouth Point perf. at Zurich 1926. Came into wider prominence in 1929 with va. conc., f.p. at Promenade concert with Hindemith as soloist. This was followed at 1931 Leeds Fest. by dramatic cantata Belshazzar's Feast. In 1934 1st Sym. was perf. without finale, which was added 1935. Next large-scale work was vn. conc. commissioned by Heifetz, 1939. Wrote mus. for film of Shaw's Major Barbara, 1940, followed by several other wartime film scores, best-known being that for The First of the Few (1942), story of building of Spitfire fighter aircraft, and Olivier's Henry V (1944). Next major work was str. qt., 1947. From 1948 to 1954 was engaged on large-scale opera, Troilus and Cressida, prod. CG 1954. Followed by vc. conc. for Piatigorsky, 2nd Sym., Variations on a Theme of Hindemith, a 1-act ‘extravaganza’ The Bear, based on Chekhov, and shorter works. From 1948 lived in Ischia, Bay of Naples. Knighted 1951. OM 1967.

Walton's mus., although it was at first regarded in Eng. as that of an enfant terrible because of Façade and the ‘jazz-age’ influence on his early works, remained remarkably consistent. It is fundamentally lyrical and romantic, with two basic ingredients: a pungent, spiky rhythmic impetus, with wide intervals and tangy harmonies, and a brooding melancholy. It is as if two influences were perpetually at war in his nature: the 20th-cent. Stravinsky-Prokofiev strain and the 19th-cent. Elgar. His true qualities can be discerned in Façade, a masterpiece which never ‘dates’, because it is musically so good and true. Almost alone among later Eng. composers, he successfully wore the Elgarian pomp-and-circumstance mantle, as in his two Coronation Marches, much of the film mus., and parts of Belshazzar's Feast, but the finest of his works—the 3 concs., the 1st Sym., the Hindemith Variations, Belshazzar, The Bear, and parts of Troilus and Cressida—have a powerful individuality in which the opposing strains are successfully reconciled. All his mus. is fastidiously fashioned and it has a Mediterranean luxuriousness which is reconciled to the robust qualities of a composer whose place in the history of 20th-cent. Eng. mus. is high and important. Prin. works:OPERAS: Troilus and Cressida (1947–54, rev. 1963, 1972–6); The Bear (1965–7).BALLETS: The First Shoot (1935); The Wise Virgins (transcr. of J. S. Bach) (1939–40); The Quest (1943); Façade (1929, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1972).ENTERTAINMENT: Façade, reciter and instr. ens. (1921, rev. 1926, 1928, 1942, 1951, 1978); Façade 2 (1979, after rev.).ORCH.: syms.: No.1 in B♭ minor (1931–5), No.2 (1957–60); concs.: va. in A minor (1928–9, rev. 1936, 1961), vn. in B minor (1938–9, rev. 1943), vc. (1955–6), Sinfonia Concertante for orch. with pf. (1926–7, rev. 1943); Portsmouth Point (1924–5); Siesta (1926); Façade, Suite No.1 (1926), No.2 (1938); Coronation March, Crown Imperial (1937, rev. 1963); Suite, The Wise Virgins (1940); Music for Children (1940, orch. of Duets for Children); Comedy Ov., Scapino (1940, rev. 1950); Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (1942); 2 Pieces for Strings from Henry V (1943–4); Coronation March, Orb and Sceptre (1952–3); Finale, presto giocoso, of Variations on an Elizabethan Theme (Sellinger's Round) (1953); Johannesburg Festival Overture (1956); Partita (1957); Variations on a Theme of Hindemith (1962–3); Capriccio Burlesco (1968); Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten (1968–9); Sonata for Strings (1971, transcr. of str. qt. 1945–7); Varii Capricci (1975–6, orch. of 5 Bagatelles for guitar); Prologo e Fantasia (1981–2).CHORUS & ORCH.: Belshazzar's Feast, bar., ch., orch. (1930–1, rev. 1931, 1948, 1957); In Honour of the City of London, ch., orch (1937); Coronation Te Deum, 2 ch., 2 semi ch., boys' ch., org., orch., military brass (1952–3); Gloria, cont., ten., bass, ch., orch. (1960).SONG-CYCLES: Anon in Love, 6 songs, ten., gui. (1959; ten., small orch. 1971); A Song for the Lord Mayor's Table, 6 songs, sop., pf. (1962; sop., orch. 1970).VOCAL (unacc. except where stated): A Litany (Drop, drop, slow tears) (1916, rev. 1930); Make we Joy now in this Fest (1931); Set me as a Seal upon thine Heart (1938); Where does the Uttered Music Go? (1946); What Cheer? (1960); The Twelve, with org. (1964–5); Missa brevis, double ch., org. (in Gloria only) (1965–6); All This time (1970); Jubilate Deo, with org. (1972); Cantico del Sole (Song of the Sun) (1973–4); Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, with org. (1974, rev. 1975); Antiphon, ch., org. (1977).CHAMBER MUSIC: pf. qt. (1918–21, rev. 1974–5); str. qt. (2 movts. 1919, rev. and central scherzo added 1921–2); Toccata in A minor, vn., pf. (1922–3); str. qt. (1945–7; version for str. orch. entitled Sonata 1971); vn. sonata (1947–8, rev. 1949–50); 2 Pieces, vn., pf. (1948, 1950); 5 Bagatelles, gui. (1970–1; transcr. for orch. as Varii Capricci 1975–6); Passacaglia, vc. (1979–80); Duettino, ob., vn. (1982).SONGS: The Winds (1918); Tritons (1920); 3 Songs by E. Sitwell (1931–2, rev. of songs written in 1923).PIANO: Duets for Children (duet 1940; orch. as Music for Children).ORGAN: 3 Pieces from Richard III (1955).BRASS BAND: The First Shoot (1979–80, re-scoring of ballet written for revue, 1935).FILMS: 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 (1943–4), Hamlet (1947), Richard III (1955), The Battle of Britain (1969), Three Sisters (1969).THEATRE & RADIO INCID. MUS.: A Son of Heaven ( L. Strachey) (1924–5), The Boy David ( Barrie) (1935), Macbeth (1941–2), Christopher Columbus (1942).

views updated

Sir William Turner Walton

Sir William Turner Walton (1902-1983) was one of the principal composers among the enlightened conservatives of 20th-century England.

William Walton received his first music lessons from his father, who was a singing teacher. At the age of 10 William was enrolled in the Cathedral Choir School at Oxford; at 16 he entered the university, where it appears that he received little systematic training in music. From an early age, however, he was composing, and this self-tutelage must have been effective, for at 20 he wrote a String Quartet that was accepted for performance at a Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music. In the same year (1922) he collaborated rated with the poet Edith Sitwell on Facade, a clever "entertainment" for speaking voice and six instrumental players, which epitomizes certain aspects of the smart set in the era after World War I.

During the next decade Walton's reputation was solidly established with a lively overture about ships and sailors entitled Portsmouth Point (1925); a Sinfonia concertante for orchestra and piano (1927); a Concerto for viola (1929), which is one of the few important solo works for that instrument; and Belshazzar's Feast (1931), a vivid and very popular addition to the long line of English oratorios. From then on he continued to compose steadily in an unhurried fashion and usually on commission or with distinguished sponsorship which ensured performance. Although his catalog after Belshazzar was not long, the items are substantial. In addition to a few songs, marches and incidental and film music, there are the large works, including two Symphonies (1935, 1960), a Concerto for violin (1939), a ballet entitled The Quest (1943), a second String Quartet (1947), a Sonata for violin and piano (1949), the opera Troilus and Cressida (1954), a Concerto for cello (1956), a Partita for orchestra (1958), the orchestral Variations on a Theme by Hindemith (1963), a Missa brevis (1966), the one-act extravaganza The Bear (1967) and Capriccio burlesco for orchestra (1969).

Walton composed slowly and meticulously. Paul Hindemith complimented him on the "honest solidity of workmanship" in his scores; yet they do not give a labored effect, for a rhythmic vigor permeates everything Walton wrote. His style is also marked by a harmonic idiom that is tonal though modernized and a preference for melodic lines of considerable amplitude as against the highly condensed mode of the post-Anton Webern school. In Troilus, for example, Walton said that he wanted to write a bel canto, or "singing" opera, which in his case is more a statement of artistic independence than merely a look backward.

Walton's music shows that he knew what other composers were doing in the 20th century and profited from observation of such diverse men as Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, and Jean Sibelius. Nevertheless, Walton did not subscribe to any cult or try to be especially English in his work.

Knighted in 1951, he died March 8, 1983, at his home on Ischia, an island off the coast of Italy.

Further Reading

Walton's general position in the modern music world is sketched in Joseph Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961), and his place among English composers is described in Frank Howes, The English Musical Renaissance (1966). For a detailed analysis of his music see Frank Howes, The Music of William Walton (1965). □

views updated

Walton, Sir William Turner (1902–83) English composer. His best-known works, all of which are characterized by colourful harmony and orchestration, include the jazz-oriented Façade (1923), the oratorio Belshazzar's Feast (1931), and the viola concerto (1929). He composed the opera Troilus and Cressida (1954), and the coronation marches for George VI and Elizabeth II – Crown Imperial (1937) and Orb and Sceptre (1953).