William Walton

Sir William Walton was born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1902, the son of a choirmaster and a singing-teacher. He became a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and then an undergraduate at the University. However, he had little formal compositional tuition at this or any other time, and though he later received advice from Ernest Ansermet and Eugene Goossens in conducting, he may be considered essentially self-taught.

His first composition to attract attention was a piano quartet written at the age of sixteen. Two early avant-garde pieces have recently been rehabilitated to great acclaim: the 1922 String Quartet and 1923 Toccata for Violin and Piano.

At Oxford he made the acquaintance of the Sitwells who gave him friendship, moral and financial support and in 1922 he collaborated with Edith in devising the entertainment Facade. Less than ten years later, Osbert prepared the text of another masterwork, Belshazzar's Feast.

From 1922 to 1927 Walton began to spend an increasing amount of time abroad, notably in Switzerland and Italy. These were the years of the Viola Concerto, Belshazzar's Feast, and the First Symphony.

In 1938 Jascha Heifetz asked him for a violin concerto and this was first performed by Heifetz in December 1939. In 1941 he wrote the overture Scapino for the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The war years were devoted mainly to writing film and ballet scores. Films included the memorable First of the Few from which Walton extracted the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue, and the ballets were The Wise Virgins (1940) and The Quest (1943), both for the Sadler's Wells Ballet. In 1944 came the music for the first of Laurence Olivierâ's major Shakespearean films, Henry V. Hamlet followed in 1948 and Richard III in 1955. These established Walton among the greatest composers for the screen.

Walton's main output had resumed in 1947 with the appearance of a fine String Quartet and he completed his trilogy of string concertos in 1956 with the masterly Cello Concerto which he wrote for Piatigorsky. 1960 heard the first performance of Symphony No.2 and 1969 saw The Bear, a one-act extravaganza to a Chekhov-based libretto by Paul Dehn, both of which continue to be performed throughout Europe.

In 1977 there appeared eight extensively re-worked and previously unpublished numbers of Facade under the title of Facade 2. Walton's last original work of note was the Prologo e Fantasia written for Rostropovich in 1981-2.

In 1978 he was elected an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He was knighted in 1951 and in 1968 received the Order of Merit. He died in Ischia in 1983 at the age of 80.

Oxford University Press is in the process of publishing a collected edition of Walton's works. The first volume of the William Walton Edition, presenting the definitive version of the Symphony No.1, was launched in 1998, and the sixth volume, Shorter Choral Works Without Orchestra, was launched at the 1999 Oldham Festival. Since then, volumes containing the complete music for Facade and Henry V have also appeared, as well as a new edition of the Viola Concerto.

Biography courtesy of Oxford University Press
Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1921-1922  Facade 4.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton - Facade Comments:
Hooray, this afternoon the postman delivered a surprise! After 26 years it is in the collection again. The absolutely fantastic performance by Cleo Laine and Annie Ross.
I can understand people have reservations on by Cleo Laine's mannerism, but here it works like hell. To describe this music is difficult. Against my principles I will reproduce a piece of the text here and a small mp3 fragment listen!

Tarantella

Where the satyrs are chattering,
"nymphs with their flattering
Glimpse of the forest enhance
All the beauty of marrow and
cucumber narrow
And Ceres will join in the dance.
Where the satyrs can flatter
the flat-leaved fruit
And the gherkin green
and the marrow,
Said Queen Venus,
"Silenus, we'll settle between us
The gourd and the cucumber narrow!"
See, like palaces hid in the lake,
they shake -
Those greenhouses shot
by her arrow narrow!
The gardener seizes the pieces, like
Croesus, for gilding the potting-shed barrow.
There the radish roots,
And the strawberry fruits
Feel the nymphs' high boots
in the glade.
Trampling and sampling mazurkas,
cachucas and turkas,
Cracoviaks hid in the shade.
Where, in the haycocks,
the Country nymphs' gay flocks
Wear gowns that are looped over
bright yellow petticoats,
Gaiters of leather and pheasants' tail feathers
In straw hats bewildering many
a leathern bat.
There they haymake,
Cowers and whines in showers
The dew in the dogskin bright flowers;
Pumpkin and marrow And cucumber narrow
Have grown through the spangled June hours.
Melons as dark as caves have
for their fountain waves
Thickest gold honey. And wrinkled as dark as Pan,
Or old Silenus, yet youthful as Venus
Are gourds and the wrinkled figs
Whence all the jewels ran.
Said QueenVenus, 'Silenus
We'll settle between us
The nymphs' disobedience, forestall
With my bow and my quiver
Each fresh evil liver:
For I don't understand it at all!'

Now this was composed in 1921-1922. Dada, you know.

1921-1922 Facade 4.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton - Facade etc (Edith Sitwell, Peter Pears) Comments:
This record is about the things Dutch people admire about the British. If Monty Python had been around in the 1920's they would have sounded like this.
Dame Edith Sitwell and Peter Pears entertain.

A short fragment from a BBC interview with Dame Edith Sitwell.

It is very wrong of Decca to omit the players' names so here they are gleaned from my old LXT sleeve: John Francis (flute and piccolo), Stephen Waters (clarinet), Temple Savage (bass clarinet), Michael Krein (alto saxophone), David Mason (trumpet), James Blades (percussion), Anthony Pini and Terence Weil (cellos)—a pretty distinguished group of musicians. (Quoted from The Gramophone)

Still my favorite recording is with Cleo Laine and Annie Ross.

1921-1922 Facade 4.50 out of 5 stars CD
Comments:
Jeremy Irons
Peggy Ashcroft
London Chamber Ensemble cond. Riccardo Chailly
1925 Portsmouth Point (Ouverture) 3.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton Comments:
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Adrian Boult
1926 Facade (Suite for small Orchestra) 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
Constant Lambert Comments:
The English Northern Philharmonia cond. David Lloyd-Jones.

1926 Siesta 3.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton Comments:
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Adrian Boult
1930-1931 Belshazzar's Feast 3.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton Comments:
An Oratorium on biblical texts

Donald Bell - Baritone
Philharmonia Choir and Orchestra cond. William Walton

1930-1931 Belshazzar's Feast 3.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton Comments:
An Oratorium on biblical texts

Robert Peterson - Baritone
Utah Choir and Symphony Orchestra cond. Maurice Abravanel

1932-1935 Symphony No 1 4.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton - Symphony No. 1 / Andre Previn - LSO Comments:
This recording of the first symphony is still considered the finest recording available. It made Previn one of the great Walton specialists.
My wish: Could Simon Rattle also record this work? He might make it sound quit different!
William Walton - Symphony No. 1 / Andre Previn - LSO Comments:
This recording of the first symphony is still considered the finest recording available. It made Previn one of the great Walton specialists.
The same recording on CD
1932-1935 Symphony No 2 3.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton - Symphony No. 2 Comments:
These are very good performances by:

The Cleveland Orchestra cond. George Szell

1937 Crown Imperial, Coronation March 3.50 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:

Noel Rawsthorne - Organ
Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

1938-1939 Violin Concerto 4.00 out of 5 stars 2 CD
William Walton - Violin Concerto Comments:
Jascha Heifetz - Violin

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. William Walton

1940 Ouverture Scapino 3.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton Comments:
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Adrian Boult
1940 Duets for Children 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
Piano Duo Comments:
11 parts:

The Music Lesson
The Three-Legged Race
The Silent Lake
Pony Trap
Chosts
Hop-Scotch
Swing-Boats
Song at Dusk
Puppet's Dance
Trumpet Tune
Galop (Arr. Philip Lane)

Peter Lawson and Alan MacLean - Piano

1942 Prelude and Fugue: The Spitfire 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:
From the soundtrack of The First of the Few

Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

1925-1927 - 1943 rev. Sinfonia Concertante 4.00 out of 5 stars
William Walton - Symphony No. 1 / Andre Previn - LSO Comments:
Kathryn Stott - Piano

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Vernon Handley

1944 Henry V 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:
Christopher Plummer - Speaker

Academy of St-Martins-in-the-Fields cond. Neville Marriner

1940-1949 Scapino: A Comedy Ouverture 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:

Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

1952-1953 Orb and Sceptre Coronation March 3.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton Comments:
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Adrian Boult
William Walton Comments:

Noel Rawsthorne - Organ
Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

On CD

1955-1956 Concerto for Violincello and Orchestra 4.00 out of 5 stars 2 CD
William Walton - Symphony No. 1 / Andre Previn - LSO Comments:
Gregor Piatigorsky - Cello

Boston Symphony Orchestra cond. Charles Munch

1956 Johannesburg Festival Overture 3.50 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:

Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

1957 Partita for Orchestra 3.50 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton - Symphony No. 1 / Andre Previn - LSO Comments:
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. William Walton
1928-29 - 1961 rev. Viola Concerto 4.00 out of 5 stars 2 CD
William Walton - Symphony No. 1 / Andre Previn - LSO Comments:
Yuri Bashmet - Viola
London Symphony Orchestra cond. Andre Previn
1962-1963 Variations on a thema by Hindemith 4.00 out of 5 stars Vinyl
William Walton - Variations Comments:
These are very good performances by:

The Cleveland Orchestra cond. George Szell

1963 Funeral March from Hamlet 3.50 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:

Arr. Muir Mathieson

Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

1963 Prelude: Richard III 3.50 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:

Arr. Muir Mathieson

Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

1963 Richard III: A Shakespeare Suite 3.50 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:

Arr. Muir Mathieson

Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

1968 Capriccio burlesco 3.50 out of 5 stars CD
William Walton Comments:

Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Groves