William Walton

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William Turner Walton (later Sir) (1902-1983) was an English composer. As a young man he was taken under the wing of the Sitwell family, supremely influential in the “artistic community at that time. He made his name with “Façade”, a sharp, witty and jazzy musical parody to nonsense verses by Edith Sitwell taking off the café and salon “scenes” of the 1920s. It is still performed/recorded in either complete or as a suite today.

The Viola Concerto, first performed in 1929 and considered by many as the most important concerto for that instrument in the 20th century, established Walton as a serious composer. The lyricism in that work continued through his life although there is often a sharpness of wit and a naked energy in his writing that excite audiences.

He wrote two more concertos, for violin and cello, and two symphonies - the first is considered one of the great symphonies of the century - and the oft-performed oratorio, “Belshazzar’s Feast ” with its energetic rawness and dramatic thrust is now a mainstay of the English choral tradition.

His occasional music is popular – he wrote two pieces for coronations in 1937 and 1953 and “patriotic music” such as the "Spitfire Prelude and Fugue" - and some of his film scores, especially to the 1944 Lawrence Olivier acted, produced and directed “Henry V", are frequently heard as concert suites. He wrote music for the church, some chamber music,, a violin sonata and a sonata for strings, various commissioned overtures and other works including 5 delightful bagatelles for guitar that have become a popular part of the classical guitar repertory and have even turned into concertante pieces.

He wrote two operas, each of its own sort and different in all ways to the other. ”Troilus and Cressida” (1954) a full-blown “romantic” tragedy based on the Chaucer poem set in ancient Troy with all the full dramatic forces on show ; and ”The Bear”, (1958) a chamber piece for three soloists and chamber orchestra from the Chekhov play.

In much of his music, notwithstanding its occasional savagery, there is a lyricism that, although making it part of the European romantic tradition, is firmly and obviously part of the 20th century and distinctively his own. He lived a long life, and, although spending his later years on the island of Ischia, Italy, he became the grand old man of English music. In his obituary in the Musical Times, Christopher Palmer wrote that “one of the longest and most glorious epochs in English music has come to an end.”