William Walton

British composer (1902, Oldham -1983, Ischia)

British composer called the “enfant terrible of the English music”, William Walton is mainly known for his orchestral pieces. He was part of the first generation of British composers of the 20th century that made a difference, alongside Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten.

Walton’s parents were both musicians and as a child, he studied the violin and the piano before becoming an autodidact composer thanks to the support and advice he got from Ernest Ansermet, Ferruccio Busoni and Edward Joseph Dent. He was sixteen when he was admitted in Oxford University but failed at getting his diploma. While he was a student there, he met the brothers Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell. They would live together in London for almost ten years. During those London years, Walton met many composers and musicians, including Stravinsky and Gershwin. He also composed his Piano Quartet in 1921, which is influenced by the Second Viennese School. Because of that piece, he got the chance to meet the founder of that movement: Arnold Schoenberg.

Influenced by Elgar, Stravinsky and Hindemith, Walton established himself as a great composer for orchestras with pieces like Façade in 1923, Portsmouth Point in 1926 and Sinfonia Concertante in 1928. 

For the crowning of king Georges VI, he composed the Crown Imperial March. After that, Walton would be considered as the royal official composer. He also was appointed official composer for the crowing of Elisabeth II in 1953 for which he wrote Orb and Sceptre. In 1939, Jascha Heifetz ordered him his Violin Concerto. After that he got another order from the Chicago Orchestra in 1940 to celebrate its 50th birthday and wrote Scapino. Despite the success of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, William Walton was soon surrounded by a new generation of composers after the war that favoured the musical avant-garde. He also composed music soundtracks, including Major Barbara (1941), Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1947), and Richard III (1954).

Six landmark dates in the life of William Walton

1921: Composed the Piano Quartet which brings him recognition from Berg and Schoenberg
1929: Composed his Viola Concerto, created by Hindemith
1945: Composed Peter Grimes
1951: Appointed as a Knight for his music work
1954: Put the final touches to his second opera Troilus and Cressida
1967: Received the Order of Merit 

Six pieces by William Walton
1921: Piano Quartet
1928: Viola Concerto
1934: Symphony n°1
1940: Scapino
1948: Hamlet of Laurence Olivier (soundtrack)
1954: Troilus and Cressida (opera)

Radio France Music Documentation biography (May 2014)