WALTON: Anon in Love / Facade Settings / A Song for the Lord (Craig Ogden/ Felicity Lott/ Graham Johnson/ Martyn Hill) (Naxos: 8.557112)
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William Walton (1902-1983)
Anon in Love Façade Settings A Song for the Lord Mayors Table
William Walton occupies his own position in English music of the twentieth century, chronologically between the generation of Gustav Holst and Vaughan Williams and that of Benjamin Britten. Born in Oldham in 1902, the son of a local singing teacher and choirmaster, he became a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford, and followed this with admission to the university at the early age of sixteen, with support from the college. His Oxford career brought success in music but failure in the necessary academic tests to allow him a degree. At the same time his friendship with Sacheverell Sitwell led to his adoption by the three Sitwell children, Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell, as an honorary brother. The practical help of the Sitwells and the musical and cultural influences of their circle allowed him to devote his attention to composition in the years after he left Oxford, followed by increasing independence, as he won a wider reputation for himself and a satisfactory income from music for the cinema and from a generous bequest by Mrs Samuel Courtauld. In the years after 1945 he was to some extent eclipsed by Britten, whose facility he lacked and whose contemporary achievement now seemed to go beyond Waltons successes of the 1930s. His marriage in 1948 to Susana Gil Passo, whom he had met in Buenos Aires at a conference of the Performing Rights Society, was followed by a move to the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, continuing an association with Italy that had started in the early days of his friendship with the Sitwells and had continued in subsequent years. He died there in March 1983.
In the years between the wars Walton won a succès de scandale with Façade, a collaboration with Edith Sitwell that amused the cognoscenti and shocked wider audiences, before winning an assured if minor position in twentieth century repertoire in its final form, whether as a ballet or in the concert-hall. His dramatic oratorio Belshazzars Feast, with a text derived by Osbert Sitwell from the Bible, first performed at the Leeds Festival in 1931, was a significant addition to choral repertoire, while the Viola Concerto of 1929 marks a height of lyrical achievement and holds a central place in the viola concerto repertoire. The first of his two symphonies was eventually completed in 1935 and his Violin Concerto four years later. The popular film music of the war years was followed after the war by the operas Troilus and Cressida and the one-act Chekhov extravaganza, The Bear, as well as the Hindemith Variations, Improvisations on an Impromptu by Benjamin Britten and the Cello Concerto and Second Symphony.
It was largely in the later years of his career that Walton began to show some interest in song composition. From the period before the war there is relatively little. His setting of Swinburnes poem The Winds, however, with its continuing stormy accompaniment, was written in 1918, when he was sixteen, and was published in 1921. In a letter to his mother dated 1st June 1919 he mentions a planned concert, at which new songs by Delius and himself were to be sung. On 29th June, in another letter home, he reports that the concert was cancelled, because of the illness of the singer, Helen Rootham, Edith Sitwells talented governess, but adds his hopes that his songs will be sung at a private concert at Lady Glenconners. In a further letter the following year he mentions a performance that has taken place. The same letter refers to a recent performance of a second song, Tritons, a setting of a poem by the Scottish poet William Drummond of Hawthornden, marked by a strikingly angular motif. Both songs belong to Waltons time at Oxford, as he struggled unsuccessfully with the academic requirements of Responsions, and were published by Curwen in 1921.
Beatrizs Song was written in 1942 as part of the incidental music for Louis MacNeices radio play Christopher Columbus, scored for voice and strings, the accompaniment later arranged for piano by Christopher Palmer. The song has a particular charm, so that it is difficult to understand the composers reluctance to have it published, as it eventually was in 1974. His opposition to the publication of the radio score lay, presumably, in his view that incidental music, whether for films or plays, had its proper place in its original context.
Waltons setting of Under the Greenwood tree was intended for the 1936 film of As You Like It directed by Paul Czinner, with the actress Elisabeth Bergner. In the event the song was not used, but was also arranged for unaccompanied voices and published, after some pressure from Oxford University Press, in 1937. Simple in its textures, the song reflects the period of the play and the Elizabethan lute-song.
Three songs were drawn in 1932 from a 1923 group of five settings of poems by Edith Sitwell from Façade, under the projected title Bucolic Comedies, Edith Sitwells title for a set of poems. The three songs are dedicated to Waltons publisher, Hubert Foss, and to the latters wife Dora, who gave the first performance. Daphne and Through gilded trellises lack that wilder element of fantasy that marks the poems eventually included in Façade itself. The first of the set, Daphne is a lyrical reflection on the myth of Daphne, and her metamorphosis into a laurel. Through gilded trellises has the necessary Spanish flavour, skilfully handled, and Old Sir Faulk, which finally retained a place in Façade in spoken form, is a true Foxtrot.
The six settings of poems from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for tenor and guitar, Anon in Love, were commissioned by Peter Pears and Julian Bream and first performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1960. Walton later arranged them for tenor and small orchestra. The poems, chosen for the composer by Christopher Hassall, are set in a style well suited to Pears and echo in some ways the writing of Britten, a reflection of Waltons underlying respect for the achievement of his younger contemporary. The cycle starts with Fain would I change that note, marked Lento amabile and offering a characteristic melodic line, exploiting the instrumental quality of Pearss voice and technique. O stay, sweet love, marked Allegretto, offers a lively contrast of mood, followed by the beauty of Lady, when I behold the roses, marked Lento sostenuto, with its subtle cross-rhythms. The Allegro leggiero fourth song, My love in her attire, is light-hearted in text and mood, matched with the more robust I gave her cakes and I gave her ale, an Andantino. The group ends with the insistent jocular Allegro giocoso of To couple is custom.
Christopher Hassall chose the six poems used in A Song for the Lord Mayors Table, commissioned for the 1962 City of London Music Festival. Waltons song cycle was given its first performance by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Gerald Moore in July and the songs, like Anon in Love, were later orchestrated. The cycle starts with the celebratory The Lord Mayors Table, a setting of a poem by Thomas Jordan. Wordsworths Glide gently flows deep, a tranquil and serene interval, followed by the anonymous protestation of faithfulness in spite of everything in the lilting Wapping Old Stairs. Holy Thursday captures the mood and implicit warning of Blakes poem, the solemn mood dispelled by the playful setting of The Contrast, with its musical reflection of the excitement of town life and the boredom of the country. The bells of London resound in the final anonymous Gay go up and gay go down.
Façade, poems by Edith Sitwe