Sir William Turner Walton O.M. (1902-1983)

English composer best known for his First Symphony (1935), the cantata Belshazzar's Feast (1931), the march Crown Imperial (1937), and a Coronation Te Deum.

Lancashire born, Walton studied at Oxford after having sung in the choir of Christ Church Cathedral. He left in 1920 without obtaining a degree. He came to live in Chelsea with the Sitwell family and became a sort of "adopted brother" to Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell. This was to prove an artistically nourishing environment for Walton.

His influences included Ravel, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, so his works are less typically "English" than those of Ralph Vaughan Williams. However, many considered him to be the natural successor to Elgar; this lead to his composition of Crown Imperial for the coronation of King George VI in 1937. He was by this stage being feted as the next big thing in British music- comparable in skill to Handel.

He wrote two operas, over 25 orchestral works, 4 choral/orchestral works, 7 choral/organ works, 7 unaccompanied choral pieces, six solo song cycles and several pieces of chamber music. The IMDB credits him with 20 scores for film and television, including "The Battle of Britain" in 1969, and Laurence Olivier's Henry V.

However, by the time Benjamin Britten came to prominence, Walton was considered a dull reactionary. (Though anyone who has heard Belshazzar's Feast would be hard-pressed to see why!) Only recently have recordings started to make his works popular again.

Walton was knighted in 1951 and in 1968 received the Order of Merit.

"I hear the sounds in my head, yes, and so far I haven't had any nasty shocks when I've heard them played. It's hard work, for me. Sometimes I get stuck over a couple of bars -- can't see what to do. Eventually, of course, one works it out and then it seems so simple. The trouble is I wasn't properly trained." -- A typically self critical Walton, who destroyed any of his compositions that didn't satisfy him.

Now, the William Walton Trust aims to open a study centre for gifted young musicians.

Info from http://www.gdcannon.org/walton/walton.htm, http://www.emory.edu/MUSIC/ARNOLD/walton_content.html and the 2002 Proms guide.

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