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Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003)


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Author Topic: Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003)  (Read 1236 times)
Albion
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« on: March 14, 2014, 12:19:53 pm »

Having just started reading the excellent 2007 biography Malcolm Williamson: a Mischievous Muse by Anthony Meredith and Paul Harris, I thought that it might be timely to give this grossly neglected composer his own thread. In many ways his self-destructive streak mirrored that of Malcolm Arnold.

We now have a considerable number of his works in our Archive, one of my favourites being the tremendous 1966 cantata for female voices The Brilliant and the Dark, using a text by Ursula Vaughan Williams.

A serious omission from our archive is the large-scale Mass of Christ the King, which Williamson infamously failed to complete in time for the 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations. There were two broadcasts - I wonder if any member has either or both:

the incomplete version, broadcast from the 1977 Gloucester Three Choirs Festival, conducted by John Sanders (25/8/1977);

the completed version, conducted by Charles Groves (broadcast 3/11/1978)

 Huh
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christopher
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« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2014, 01:01:01 pm »

I have put in the Downloads section (under British AND Australian music, to keep the peace...!) his Cassation for Audience and Orchestra "The Stone Wall", a recording from the Proms in 1971 (its premiere).  It is such an enjoyable piece, and so I would be really interested to know if his other Cassations have ever been recorded.  They are as follows (information from Wikipedia):

A "cassation" is a miniature opera including audience participation. Williamson wrote ten cassations, of varying complexity and duration. His primary intention was to teach children the mechanics of putting on an opera, and the idea for the pieces first came to Williamson while teaching his own children about music. Williamson had a great deal of success with these cassations, which have had performances in Britain, Australia, France, the USA, and in hospitals in Tanzania and Zambia.

    - The Moonrakers (1967), premiered at the Trinity College of Music, London.
    - Knights in Shining Armour (1968), for Peirs Russell-Cobb
    - The Snow Wolf (1968)
    - Genesis (1971), premiŤred by the Children's Choir Camp in the Diocese of Western North Carolina
    - The Stone Wall (1971), commissioned by the BBC Proms. Premiered at the Last Night of the Proms on 18 September 1971 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis, in the Royal Albert Hall, London
    - The Winter Star (1973), commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain. Premiered on 19 June 1973 at the Holm Cultram Festival, directed by Andrew Seivewright
     - The Glitter Gang (1974), commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Premiered at Sydney Town Hall on 23 February 1974 by children's choirs and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Hopkins.
     - The Terrain of Kings (1974), commissioned by, and dedicated to, Jeunesses Musicales. Premiered in spring, 1975 in France.
     - The Valley and the Hill (1977), commissioned by the Liverpool Education Authority. Premiered in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Hope Street Cathedral on 21 June 1977, by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and a cast of 18,000 children.
     - The Devil's Bridge (1982), premiered in AngoulÍme, France.


With regard to other Williamson works - there's a CD called "Colours" in which a number of composers were asked to write a piece after their favourite colour. Williamson wrote "Azure" and it's a great piece, I highly recommend it. Very serene.  I can't post it up here as it's commercially available.  Vic Lewis conducts The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
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« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2014, 01:09:39 pm »

I completely agree with you, John Smiley

Williamson was a strange choice for Master of the Queen's Music when Arthur Bliss died in 1975. We know the famous comment by William Walton: "They picked the wrong Malcolm!!" As you say however, both Malcolms had a tragic self-destructive streak and Malcolm Arnold would have been a more obvious but, probably, less appropriate choice-given his decline in the 1980s.

It is sad that so many of Malcolm Williamson's music is still unavailable (or, indeed, unheard); I am not aware that the Symphony No.4 "Jubilee"-another Royal commission has ever been played Roll Eyes The rapid termination of the "Malcolm Williamson Series" by Chandos (as so too the abortion of their Richard Rodney Bennett Series), after only 2 cd releases does that company no favours Sad

Williamson's music is uneven. He was not immune to being influenced by some rather offbeat notions in the 70s and 80s. We are fortunate to have quite a few compositions available in our Archive and I was rather impressed by the recent addition (via You Tube) of the Josip Broz Tito Tribute. I suppose also that Williamson is one of these composers who falls between two national stools: is he a British composer because he was domiiciled in the UK for most of his adult life (like Arthur Benjamin) or do we regard him as an Australian Huh Australia seems to have largely forgotten his existence.
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« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2014, 01:57:40 am »

I believe there were some reasons as to why those Chandos series hit the buffers - The Williamson series owing to Iceland's financial collapse a few years back (and consequently affecting the Iceland SO used for the sessions) and the Bennett series because of Richard Hickox's death.
As for Williamson himself, what I've heard of his has always left me wanting more, and with as big an output as his, there's plenty of his stuff out tehre waiting to be discovered.
Having acquired Piers Lane's new set of the Piano Concertos I can report that there's a great deal to enjoy - no.2 is an especially infectious creation. The late no.4 has a rather wonderful tune in the central movt., too.
First review I read was (alas) Norman Lebrecht on the Sinfini site - a typically condescending, damning-with-faint-praise piece which tends to be the sort of thing he does for any composer who has the temerity to spell his name something other than M-A-H-L-E-R. And as such, best ignored. The music, naturally, is another matter entirely!  Smiley
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« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2014, 06:29:15 am »

Yes...the reasons given for the abrupt curtailment of the two Chandos series do make sense. It is however still sad that Chandos did not get Rumon Gamba, who had conducted the two Williamson discs, to record more with another orchestra and equally sad that they have not used him or any number of other young and upcoming conductors to tackle more Bennett. Instead they are using Andrew Davis to re-record Elgar, Delius and Holst-with mixed results (his Delius has certainly attracted rave reviews) and Edward Gardner to record mainstream or fairly mainstream repertoire.
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« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2014, 01:16:44 pm »

I think it was Richard Baker who was sent to interview Malcolm Williamson after his appointment as Master of the Queen's Music, and managed to address him as "Malcolm Arnold" live on air. Williamson was very unhappy about it.
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« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2014, 04:17:54 am »

I think it was Richard Baker who was sent to interview Malcolm Williamson after his appointment as Master of the Queen's Music, and managed to address him as "Malcolm Arnold" live on air. Williamson was very unhappy about it.
Williamson was an Aussie, just wondered how he bumped someone equally (if not more) talented and obviously better-known who was home grown?
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« Reply #7 on: March 17, 2014, 04:28:13 am »

I think it was Richard Baker who was sent to interview Malcolm Williamson after his appointment as Master of the Queen's Music, and managed to address him as "Malcolm Arnold" live on air. Williamson was very unhappy about it.
Williamson was an Aussie, just wondered how he bumped someone equally (if not more) talented and obviously better-known who was home grown?

this is what some Australians thought of him, a mixed bag would be very appropriate.
http://www.smh.com.au/news/book-reviews/malcolm-williamson-a-mischievous-muse/2008/01/18/1200620198853.html
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« Reply #8 on: March 17, 2014, 01:16:56 pm »

I think it was Richard Baker who was sent to interview Malcolm Williamson after his appointment as Master of the Queen's Music, and managed to address him as "Malcolm Arnold" live on air. Williamson was very unhappy about it.
Williamson was an Aussie, just wondered how he bumped someone equally (if not more) talented and obviously better-known who was home grown?


Well the Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland is also the Queen of Australia (and New Zealand, and Canada...... Smiley) so Williamson was not an "improper" choice.

The fact was that the appointment was made in 1975 on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Had Bliss died two years earlier then the Prime Minister at the time would have been Edward Heath-who was passionate about classical music. Heath's successors have shown no such interest Sad Sad

The possible candidates in 1975-apart from Williamson-would have been Herbert Howells(at 83 too old), Gordon Jacob(80 and probably not taken seriously enough), Alan Bush(75 and probably politically unacceptable Grin), Sir William Walton(73, living in Ischia and would probably have refused the job), Edmund Rubbra(74), Lennox Berkeley(72), Michael Tippett (70), William Alwyn(70) and a whole group of British composers in their 50s or 60s almost completely unknown to "the general public" and, generally speaking, little performed publicly or recorded commercially. The exception was, clearly, Malcolm Arnold. By 1975 however it was well-known that Arnold was "in a bad place" mentally, his music was becoming unpredictable, his behaviour even more unpredictable and often downright appalling. What was probably not evident (or was not sufficiently investigated) was that Williamson himself was or would soon prove to be similarly -although to a lesser extent-unpredictable and erratic and that this would lead to royal commissions not being delivered on time.

Frankly, no one really wants the job of Master of the Queen's Music Grin The holders of the post pre-Edward Elgar were nonentities. Elgar took it as the pre-eminent British composer of his time. He could hardly refuse (even if he had wanted to -and my guess is that he was proud of this further sign of his recognition). Vaughan Williams is believed to have refused the appointment in 1934 when Elgar died. Arnold Bax was a strange choice as Elgar's successor since his music was unsuited to royal occasions and he composed very little suitable music whilst in the post.

Maxwell Davies accepted the job with serious reservations, imposed conditions and will resign in any case this year.  His successor Huh Huh Now there IS a question Grin Grin
Sir Paul McCartney Huh Huh Huh Roll Eyes Roll Eyes For all the interest David Cameron takes in classical music it could be anybody Sad
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« Reply #9 on: March 17, 2014, 04:51:25 pm »

Although I read this forum avidly, I do not usually venture to write, primarily because there are much better informed people than I here, and many of you seem to know each other well, no doubt through long association. However Malcolm Williamson, his music and life are a particular passion of mine.

I was particularly disappointed when Chandos abandoned their series of Williamson's music after Volumes 1 and 2. There were rumours that they were to record his opera 'The Violins Of St. Jacques'. Listening to the download from the library here, it is a very approachable piece, with some beautiful music particularly the aria "How can I explain to you?", recorded separately by Cheryl Barker. Williamson wrote in various styles, and my own view was instinctively a romantic pulled around somewhat by twelve tone techniques, training with Elizabeth Luytens, the BBC and the musical establishment. He also spent time working with Benjamin Britten, but listening to an interview by Williamson on Britten, he seemed to have been discarded for daring to question Britten. I would believe that could be sour grapes, were it not for the fact that I have read Imogen Holsts life story, who devoted much of her life to helping Britten, and wouldn't hear a word against him, but the way they parted company leaves a bitter taste.

He sometimes used one of my favourite techniques dissonance leading to beauty. You only have to listen to his 'Lento For Strings', 'Our Man In Havana', and Overture 'Santiago de Espada' to realise he was more than capable of writing accessible music.

Hyperion have just recorded and released his complete Piano Concertos, so at least one enterprising record company is testing the water in a substantial way.

Which leads me to express my gratitude to those who have worked tirelessly on this forum, and has enabled me to hear works by Williamson I would never otherwise have heard.

Thank you.



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« Reply #10 on: March 17, 2014, 05:27:30 pm »

Although I read this forum avidly, I do not usually venture to write, primarily because there are much better informed people than I here, and many of you seem to know each other well, no doubt through long association. However Malcolm Williamson, his music and life are a particular passion of mine.

Which leads me to express my gratitude to those who have worked tirelessly on this forum, and has enabled me to hear works by Williamson I would never otherwise have heard.

Thank you.

Welcome, tappell - please feel free to contribute to the forum on any relevant topic, any friend of Malcolm Williamson's music is more than welcome here!

 Grin
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A piece is worth your attention, and is itself for you praiseworthy, if it makes you feel you have not wasted your time over it. (SG, 1922)
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« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2014, 05:37:08 pm »

Although I read this forum avidly, I do not usually venture to write,primarily because there are much better informed people here than I and many of you seem to know each other well, no doubt through long association. However Malcolm Williamson, his music and life are a particular passion of mine.

I was particularly disappointed when Chandos abandoned their series of Williamson's music after Volumes 1 and 2. There were rumours that they were to record his opera 'The Violins Of St. Jacques'. Listening to the download from the library here, it is a very approachable piece, with some beautiful music particularly the aria "How can I explain to you?", recorded separately by Cheryl Barker. Williamson wrote in various styles, and my own view was instinctively a romantic pulled around somewhat by twelve tone techniques, training with Elizabeth Luytens, the BBC and the musical establishment. He also spent time working with Benjamin Britten, but listening to an interview by Williamson on Britten, he seemed to have been discarded for daring to question Britten. I would believe that could be sour grapes, were it not for the fact that I have read Imogen Holsts life story, who devoted much of her life to helping Britten, and wouldn't hear a word against him, but the way they parted company leaves a bitter taste.

He sometimes used one of my favourite techniques dissonance leading to beauty. You only have to listen to his 'Lento For Strings', 'Our Man In Havana', and Overture 'Santiago de Espada' to realise he was more than capable of writing accessible music.

Hyperion have just recorded and released his complete Piano Concertos, so at least one enterprising record company is testing the water in a substantial way.

Which leads me to express my gratitude to those who have worked tirelessly on this forum, and has enabled me to hear works by Williamson I would never otherwise have heard.

Thank you.




I admire your modesty;but if I worried too much about things like that (and I do! Sad) I'd never write anything here!! Huh Sad Grin The brazen know-it-all types are what bother me! Roll Eyes No one like that here,thank goodness!

Write more,tappell!!!
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« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2014, 05:43:54 pm »

I am afraid that it is an inevitable aspect to internet forums that those members who have been involved for quite a long time and have, as a result, got to know each other well, will often "chat away" in an informal and friendly fashion. That can make a new member feel rather strange and a bit "out of the loop".

We certainly don't bite here (unlike in some other forums I could-but won't- mention) so do feel free to join in Smiley

As for being "better informed"....speaking entirely personally, my knowledge of the orchestral repertoire of the last 100 hundred years is pretty broad (I would claim Grin) but how deep it is..... Huh That is an entirely different matter. I know almost nothing of the technical aspects of music Sad I can recognise a fugue and, probably, a passacaglia when I hear it but that is about as far as it goes. If there is a very obvious change of key I can pick up on that. But which key Roll Eyes Ah...now we are getting beyond me.

So don't be fooled Grin Grin
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« Reply #13 on: March 17, 2014, 05:55:32 pm »

The possible candidates in 1975-apart from Williamson-would have been Herbert Howells(at 83 too old), Gordon Jacob(80 and probably not taken seriously enough), Alan Bush(75 and probably politically unacceptable Grin), Sir William Walton(73, living in Ischia and would probably have refused the job), Edmund Rubbra(74), Lennox Berkeley(72), Michael Tippett (70), William Alwyn(70) and a whole group of British composers in their 50s or 60s almost completely unknown to "the general public" and, generally speaking, little performed publicly or recorded commercially.

Jones? Hoddinott?
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« Reply #14 on: March 17, 2014, 06:13:36 pm »

Daniel Jones would certainly have refused the post. He loathed the whole London "music scene" and was perfectly happy to live and work in South Wales (Swansea).

Now, you might say, Maxwell Davies has somewhat renounced the metropolitan south to live and work in Orkney...but that sort of "eccentricity" (as it might be perceived) or individuality is more acceptable today.

Jones was also almost completely unknown to the general musical public; a couple of Lyrita cds only Huh

Hoddinott Huh Well, despite his image as the composer of dark, nocturnal, a trifle complex music, Hoddinott could compose in a lighter vein (the Welsh Dances, for example) and might have made a decent fist of it. But, again, he was Welsh and was not based in London-which Williamson was.

Anyway....the powers that be did not consult those of us who were around at the time and opted for Williamson-who, at the time, had a growing reputation and was "in favour" with the establishment and the critics............from which he, very rapidly, fell out of favour again Sad
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