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Composer birthday: William Walton

Composer birthday: William Walton featured image

William Walton was a 20th century English composer who, it terms of importance as an English composer, took the reins from Edward Elgar, before passing them on to Benjamin Britten.

A significant work of Walton’s was his Viola Concerto, written in 1929. You rarely hear of concertos written for viola as the instrument suffers the “overlooked middle child syndrome”: it doesn’t project as brightly as the violin nor as deeply as the cello against an orchestra backdrop. Walton’s Concerto, however, drew attention in the British classical music world. Conductor Sir Thomas Beecham suggested it as a vehicle for viola virtuoso Lionel Tertis. Tertis turned the manuscript down at first sight. Paul Hindemith, famed violist and composer, stepped in for the world premiere and it was a hit. After critical and audience acclaim, Lionel Tertis had a change of heart and started performing the work.

Walton was a slow and steady worker, not turning out one work after another (the way Rossini did). However, his work was noticed by the higher-ups, and he received a knighthood. When Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne, he was commissioned to write a coronation march, entitled “Orb and Sceptre”, as well as a choral setting of a standard hymn, “Te Deum”, for the occasion. Walton never held teaching posts nor had students; he also didn’t write about his work or career. The Walton Trust was set up, inspired by his wife, Susana, to foster interest and education in British classical music, and held summer masterclasses in Ischia, Italy, where Walton lived the last thirty years of his life.

Roberto Diaz performs the Walton Viola Concerto with Artosphere Festival Orchestra.

Sir William Turner Walton was born March 29, 1902 in Lancashire, England, and died March 8, 1983 in Ischia, Italy.

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