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University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, UK
Manor House, Main St, Ashby St Ledgers, Rugby CV23 8UN, UK

Sir William Turner Walton, OM (29 March 1902 – 8 March 1983) was an English composer. During a sixty-year career, he wrote music in several classical genres and styles, from film scores to opera. His best-known works include Façade, the cantata Belshazzar's Feast, the Viola Concerto and the First Symphony.

Born in Oldham, Lancashire, the son of a musician, Walton was a chorister and then an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford. On leaving the university, he was taken up by the literary Sitwell siblings, who provided him with a home and a cultural education. His earliest work of note was a collaboration with Edith Sitwell, Façade, which at first brought him notoriety as a modernist, but later became a popular ballet score.

In middle age, Walton left Britain and set up home with his young wife Susana on the Italian island of Ischia. By this time, he had ceased to be regarded as a modernist, and some of his compositions of the 1950s were criticised as old-fashioned. His only full-length opera, Troilus and Cressida, was among the works to be so labelled and has made little impact in opera houses. In his last years, his works came back into critical fashion; his later compositions, dismissed by critics at the time of their premieres, were revalued and regarded alongside his earlier works.

Walton was a slow worker, painstakingly perfectionist, and his complete body of work across his long career is not large. His most popular compositions continue to be frequently performed in the twenty-first century, and by 2010 almost all his works had been released on CD.

Walton's house in London was destroyed by German bombing in May 1941, after which he spent much of his time at Alice Wimborne's family house at Ashby St Ledgers in the countryside of Northamptonshire in the middle of England. While there, Walton worked on projects that had been in his mind for some time. In 1939 he had been planning a substantial chamber work, a string quartet, but he set it aside while composing his wartime film scores. In early 1945 he turned again to the quartet. Walton was conscious that Britten, with Les Illuminations (1940), the Sinfonia da Requiem (1942), and Peter Grimes in 1945, had produced a series of substantial works, while Walton had produced no major composition since the Violin Concerto in 1939.[55] Among English critics and audiences, the Violin Concerto was not at first rated one of Walton's finest works. Because Heifetz had bought the exclusive rights to play the concerto for two years, it was not heard in Britain until 1941. The London premiere, with a less famous soloist, and in the unflattering acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall, did not immediately reveal the work as a masterpiece.[56] The String Quartet in A minor, premiered in May 1947, was Walton's most substantial work of the 1940s. Kennedy calls it one of his finest achievements and "a sure sign that he had thrown off the trammels of his cinema style and rediscovered his true voice."[57]

Walton died at La Mortella on 8 March 1983, at the age of 80.[6] His ashes were buried on Ischia, and a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey, where a commemorative stone to Walton was unveiled near those to Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten.[82]


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  3. Kennedy, p. 6
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  112. Recorded 1951, CD catalogue number EMI Classics 5 65004 2
  113. With Frederick Riddle (1937), CD catalogue number Pearl GEM 0171, William Primrose (1946), CD catalogue number Avid Classic AMSC 604, and Yehudi Menuhin (1968), CD catalogue number EMI Classics 5 65005 2
  114. With Heifetz (1950) CD catalogue number RCA Victor Gold Seal GD87966, and Menuhin (1969) CD catalogue number EMI CHS5 65003-2
  115. With Peter Katin (1970) CD catalogue number Lyrita SRCD 224
  116. (1936–38) CD catalogue number EMI Classics 7 63381 2
  117. CD catalogue number EMI Classics 65006
  118. 1943, CD catalogue number EMI Classics 7 63381 2; and 1959, CD catalogue number EMI Classics 5 65004 2
  119. 1963, CD catalogue number EMI Classics 5 65007 2
  120. With Pierre Fournier (1959), CD catalogue number BBC Legends 4098-2
  121. 1966, CD catalogue number BBC Legends 4098-2
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