Title graphic: William Walton (1902 - 1983)
Walton: 1

Largely self-taught, William Turner Walton was an English composer who, despite a relatively small output, produced at least one major work in almost every genre. Although he was at first considered something of an enfant terrible, Walton's fundamental traditionalism soon became apparent, his style, characterized by its unique lyricism and the use of traditional structures invigorated by modernistic harmonies, forming a parallel with Prokofiev's later idiom. Among official honours he received were seven doctorates, a knighthood (1951) and the Order of Merit (1967).

Born in Oldham, Lancashire, the son of a local choirmaster and singing teacher, Walton won a place as a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, in 1912. He began to compose two years later, and such was his promise that he was accepted as an undergraduate at Christ Church at the early age of sixteen, although he left Oxford in 1920 without completing his degree. At Oxford he met Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell and for many years lived under their protection. By the age of twenty Walton had already completed a Piano Quartet (1919), which received a Carnegie Award, a String Quartet (1922), according to the composer "full of undigested Bartók and Schoenberg", and Façade (Edith Sitwell, 1922), for reciter and chamber ensemble. The langorous Southern melancholy and witty use of parody (including the (mis-)quotation of popular song) provide Façade with a Gallic sensibility, at once knowing and fresh, that was virtually unique in English music of the time.