Author Topic: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003  (Read 10012 times)

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Offline vandermolen

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Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« on: March 14, 2009, 09:15:50 AM »
I thought that we had a Williamson thread - but evidently not, although I seem to recall discussing him. The subtitle above is the reference to a new biography on Malcolm Williamson which I have managed to get my local library to find for me (they have been good about getting new books about Rubbra and Alwyn too).

I have always liked some of Williamson's work - he reminds me of Bernstein a bit. In particular his Symphony No 1 'Elevamini', The Violin Concerto - with a wonderfully moving last movement and the Organ Concerto (which I saw decades ago at the Proms with the dedicatee - Adrian Boult conducting and possibly Williamson on the organ - but I may have got this wrong). There are a couple of good Lyrita and Chandos releases of his music.

His rather tragic, disordered private life has been a feature, which has distracted from serious interest in his music. (Alcoholism/broken relationships/missed deadlines for Royal commissions). His son Peter, endearingly comments in his foreword to the new book...'Keeping to family traditions, I exceeded my deadlines'

There are some very good compositions by Williamson (Symphony No 5 'Aquero', Lento for Strings - in addition to those mentioned above) and I feel that he deserves a thread of his own.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2009, 09:22:38 AM by vandermolen »
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2009, 10:07:41 AM »
The Australian Malcolm Arnold.

I could never understand the famous quote from Sir William Walton when Williamson was appointed Master of the Queen's Music that the "wrong Malcolm" had been appointed. Malcolm Arnold would have (sadly) been a disaster. It is tragic that a number of prominent composers have fallen foul of chaotic private lives closely associated with an overfondness for alcohol :(

Williamson-probably as a consequence-is a maddeningly inconsistent composer. Some of his music is tuneful, energetic and appealing without any great profoundity(the Piano Concerto No.3 or the opera 'Our Man in Havana') while the more serious works which actually demonstrate a composer of depth(Symphony No.1, Violin Concerto, Organ Concerto) all seem to date from Williamson's 20s or 30s.

It may, however, be that more exposure to more of the later music would lead to a revision of this opinion. The disappointing thing is that the promised Chandos series seems to have ground to a halt after only two releases. We need to hear Symphonies Nos. 2-6: No.2 is highly thought of, No.3 'The Icy Mirror' is a big choral work, No.4 'Jubilee' has never been performed while No.6 is a massive piece composed for the 50th anniversary of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2009, 10:33:01 AM »
While I remember, Jeffrey...I recently bought the Piano Concerto by Ross Edwards(along with Williamson's Double Piano Concerto and Sculthorpe's Piano Concerto). I was not particularly impressed by the Edwards but I recall you speaking highly of his Symphony No.1.

Could you elaborate?

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2009, 11:41:39 AM »
While I remember, Jeffrey...I recently bought the Piano Concerto by Ross Edwards(along with Williamson's Double Piano Concerto and Sculthorpe's Piano Concerto). I was not particularly impressed by the Edwards but I recall you speaking highly of his Symphony No.1.

Could you elaborate?

Colin, I must point out that this is a Malcolm Williamson thread and here on the Good-Music-Guide Forum we take a dim view of attempts to derail threads  ;D

But since you ask, I have rummaged around in my collection to find Ross Edwards Symphony No 1 'Da Pacem Domine' (recommended to me by Andre 'Lilas Pastia') which I am now playing. It is a very deeply felt and haunting mono-thematic, monolithic score, inspired by the First Gulf war and the terminal illness of Edwards's friend, the conductor Stuart Challender. It is a haunting, beautiful score, rather like Sculthorpe at his best. It has a uniquely haunting atmosphere. My guess is that you would like it. There are two versions now on the ABC label (Adelaide SO with Richard Mills is excellent, but both are recommendable).

Back to Williamson. I agree with what you say above and was also thinking of the absurdity of Walton's 'wrong Malcolm' comment. Arnold would have been a catastrophe as MQM (although a great composer). Now, talking of Walton......
« Last Edit: March 14, 2009, 12:26:03 PM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Mark G. Simon

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2009, 12:11:05 PM »
Malcolm Williamson was composer in residence at Florida State University early in 1975 when I was a student there (they had 2 composers in residence that year; the other was Penderecki). I remember I really enjoyed the college's production of Our Man in Havana, and would gladly go back in time to see it again. I was in the habit attending opera dress rehearsals to get familiar with an opera through a staged production, so I saw the work 3-4 times. What really impressed me was what happened in the last act at one of the performances. I don't think I had stayed for the last act at any of the rehearsals so I didn't know what was coming next. There was a very tense ensemble number for the main characters, when they realize there really is a sinister organization who had managed to kill all the people the main character had fraudulantly listed as his "agents" in his effort to raise money by pretending to be a spy. There was an atmosphere of threat in this music, and as they were singing a voice rose up on the intercom saying there was a bomb threat and everyone in the audience was to evacuate the building. The opera continued for about 15 seconds while this announcement was being made and for a while one didn't know if the announcement was part of the opera or not. Then the music broke down and the house lights came up and it became apparent that the announcement was real. The performance did not continue that evening. It was a surreal moment where the lines between drama and real life became eerily smudged.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2009, 12:28:13 PM »
Malcolm Williamson was composer in residence at Florida State University early in 1975 when I was a student there (they had 2 composers in residence that year; the other was Penderecki). I remember I really enjoyed the college's production of Our Man in Havana, and would gladly go back in time to see it again. I was in the habit attending opera dress rehearsals to get familiar with an opera through a staged production, so I saw the work 3-4 times. What really impressed me was what happened in the last act at one of the performances. I don't think I had stayed for the last act at any of the rehearsals so I didn't know what was coming next. There was a very tense ensemble number for the main characters, when they realize there really is a sinister organization who had managed to kill all the people the main character had fraudulantly listed as his "agents" in his effort to raise money by pretending to be a spy. There was an atmosphere of threat in this music, and as they were singing a voice rose up on the intercom saying there was a bomb threat and everyone in the audience was to evacuate the building. The opera continued for about 15 seconds while this announcement was being made and for a while one didn't know if the announcement was part of the opera or not. Then the music broke down and the house lights came up and it became apparent that the announcement was real. The performance did not continue that evening. It was a surreal moment where the lines between drama and real life became eerily smudged.

What an extraordinary story. I trust it was a false alarm. did you ever meet Malcolm Williamson?
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2009, 01:58:36 PM »
Thanks for the info' on Ross Edwards, Jeffrey! Naturally, I have ordered the cd(the one with the coupling of Symphony No.3).

As for derailing threads....I grovel in abject apology before my masters ;D

Mark G. Simon

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2009, 03:14:22 PM »
What an extraordinary story. I trust it was a false alarm. did you ever meet Malcolm Williamson?

I met him on a couple of occasions when he was there. He gave a seminar in which he directed a couple of his mini-operas for audience participation. There were to be no spectators in these works, only participants. There were no solo voices either. He divided everyone there into several groups and you sang the music of whatever group you were in, and he directed you in whatever movements were required. Naturally the music was very simple, and there was no purpose to it other than to be fun and entertaining, and maybe give layment an idea of what goes into putting an opera together. Afterwards he saw me napping on a bench in the auditorium's lobby and said "tired you out, did I?" as he passed by.

I didn't take composition lessons with him, but I had written a woodwind quintet that the faculty had thought very highly of, so they arranged that Williamson should hear the tape of it and give me his thoughts. Well, he heard it, and had a number of critical things to say about it, which I guess I didn't take very kindly to because I argued with him a bit. Afterwards he was all apologetic that he had gotten me all upset and I was feeling a little bit foolish, though I don't know if I expressed that to him. I only remember one of his criticisms, and I think that's because afterwards I thought of an easy refutation. One of the criticisms was that I had written such a thoroughly dissonant work only to go soft at the end and conclude it in octaves. I should have finished it off with a big crunching chord.  Some days later I thought about Schoenberg's Woodwind Quintet and how that ends with octaves (or is it a unison?). Surely no one has criticized Schoenberg for going soft. If I could have refuted them all that easily I might have remembered some of the others.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2009, 02:51:03 AM »
I met him on a couple of occasions when he was there. He gave a seminar in which he directed a couple of his mini-operas for audience participation. There were to be no spectators in these works, only participants. There were no solo voices either. He divided everyone there into several groups and you sang the music of whatever group you were in, and he directed you in whatever movements were required. Naturally the music was very simple, and there was no purpose to it other than to be fun and entertaining, and maybe give layment an idea of what goes into putting an opera together. Afterwards he saw me napping on a bench in the auditorium's lobby and said "tired you out, did I?" as he passed by.

I didn't take composition lessons with him, but I had written a woodwind quintet that the faculty had thought very highly of, so they arranged that Williamson should hear the tape of it and give me his thoughts. Well, he heard it, and had a number of critical things to say about it, which I guess I didn't take very kindly to because I argued with him a bit. Afterwards he was all apologetic that he had gotten me all upset and I was feeling a little bit foolish, though I don't know if I expressed that to him. I only remember one of his criticisms, and I think that's because afterwards I thought of an easy refutation. One of the criticisms was that I had written such a thoroughly dissonant work only to go soft at the end and conclude it in octaves. I should have finished it off with a big crunching chord.  Some days later I thought about Schoenberg's Woodwind Quintet and how that ends with octaves (or is it a unison?). Surely no one has criticized Schoenberg for going soft. If I could have refuted them all that easily I might have remembered some of the others.

Thank you Mark - very interesting account. What happened to your woodwind quintet?
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #9 on: March 16, 2009, 02:51:59 AM »
Thanks for the info' on Ross Edwards, Jeffrey! Naturally, I have ordered the cd(the one with the coupling of Symphony No.3).

As for derailing threads....I grovel in abject apology before my masters ;D

Hope you like it Colin - good late night listening I think. I will be v interested to hear what you think of it.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Mark G. Simon

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #10 on: March 16, 2009, 06:24:51 AM »
Thank you Mark - very interesting account. What happened to your woodwind quintet?

Enh*. Student work. I wouldn't let it see the light of day again unless I were to thoroughly revise it. For the time and energy spent on that labor it would be better to just write something new. I'm a much harsher critic of it now than Malcolm Williamson ever was.

* (Enh. -- vocalization intended to convey indifference or mild disdain)

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #11 on: March 20, 2009, 02:09:28 PM »
Colin, I must point out that this is a Malcolm Williamson thread and here on the Good-Music-Guide Forum we take a dim view of attempts to derail threads  ;D

But since you ask, I have rummaged around in my collection to find Ross Edwards Symphony No 1 'Da Pacem Domine' (recommended to me by Andre 'Lilas Pastia') which I am now playing. It is a very deeply felt and haunting mono-thematic, monolithic score, inspired by the First Gulf war and the terminal illness of Edwards's friend, the conductor Stuart Challender. It is a haunting, beautiful score, rather like Sculthorpe at his best. It has a uniquely haunting atmosphere. My guess is that you would like it. There are two versions now on the ABC label (Adelaide SO with Richard Mills is excellent, but both are recommendable).

Back to Williamson. I agree with what you say above and was also thinking of the absurdity of Walton's 'wrong Malcolm' comment. Arnold would have been a catastrophe as MQM (although a great composer). Now, talking of Walton......

Thank you, thank you, Jeffrey :) I too am now playing my recently arrived copy of the Ross Edwards Symphony No.1. You are absolutely right-"haunting and beautiful" is exactly what this music is! It reminds me at times of of Arvo Part or Peteris Vasks.

How wonderful to discover yet another contemporary composer who can write such music :)

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2008/Nov08/Edwards_Star_abc4766161.htm

Maybe I should now try the other Australian symphonist Carl Vine:

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Nov05/Vine_symphonies_4767179.htm

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #12 on: March 21, 2009, 03:06:54 AM »
Enh*. Student work. I wouldn't let it see the light of day again unless I were to thoroughly revise it. For the time and energy spent on that labor it would be better to just write something new. I'm a much harsher critic of it now than Malcolm Williamson ever was.

* (Enh. -- vocalization intended to convey indifference or mild disdain)

I get the point Mark - v interesting, your MW contact. Thanks for sharing it.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #13 on: March 21, 2009, 03:14:27 AM »
Thank you, thank you, Jeffrey :) I too am now playing my recently arrived copy of the Ross Edwards Symphony No.1. You are absolutely right-"haunting and beautiful" is exactly what this music is! It reminds me at times of of Arvo Part or Peteris Vasks.

How wonderful to discover yet another contemporary composer who can write such music :)

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2008/Nov08/Edwards_Star_abc4766161.htm

Maybe I should now try the other Australian symphonist Carl Vine:

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Nov05/Vine_symphonies_4767179.htm

I am very pleased Colin that the Ross Edwards was a success with you. I thought that you would probably like it - thanks to my friend Andre (Lilas Pastia), who very kindly sent me a copy of it.  One of the great things about this Forum is these new and exciting discoveries. You will not be surprised to hear that I have a Carl Vine box set of symphonies which hasn't, so far, made as much as an impression on me as the Edwards Symphony - but I must listen again. I have been off the Forum as we have all been finding out if we have kept our jobs at the school. As I convinced myself that I was about to be made redundant I even stopped buying CDs. I think that I am probably ok now, so Katy sarcastically said to me "don't let that stop you buying more CDs" - so nice to have such a supportive spouse when it comes to my CD collection  ;D
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #14 on: March 21, 2009, 05:58:46 AM »
I am very pleased Colin that the Ross Edwards was a success with you. I thought that you would probably like it - thanks to my friend Andre (Lilas Pastia), who very kindly sent me a copy of it.  One of the great things about this Forum is these new and exciting discoveries. You will not be surprised to hear that I have a Carl Vine box set of symphonies which hasn't, so far, made as much as an impression on me as the Edwards Symphony - but I must listen again. I have been off the Forum as we have all been finding out if we have kept our jobs at the school. As I convinced myself that I was about to be made redundant I even stopped buying CDs. I think that I am probably ok now, so Katy sarcastically said to me "don't let that stop you buying more CDs" - so nice to have such a supportive spouse when it comes to my CD collection  ;D

I was beginning to wonder if you had been cast prematurely aside in the big school shake-up, Jeffrey. Couldn't happen in the public sector, you know ;D ;D-you would have been redeployed on conserved salary! Delighted to hear though that you are probably ok :)

Onwards and upwards with the cd collection ;D

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #15 on: March 21, 2009, 11:32:10 AM »
I was beginning to wonder if you had been cast prematurely aside in the big school shake-up, Jeffrey. Couldn't happen in the public sector, you know ;D ;D-you would have been redeployed on conserved salary! Delighted to hear though that you are probably ok :)

Onwards and upwards with the cd collection ;D

Thanks Colin  :)
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #16 on: April 26, 2009, 01:09:11 PM »
I have been listening to Williamson's Organ Concerto (Lyrita) - probably my favourite work by Williamson, alongside Elevamini Symphony and the Violin Concerto. The Organ work should appeal to admirers of Copland's Organ symphony.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Rabbity Baxter

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #17 on: April 26, 2009, 02:36:42 PM »
I must have a go at this music. I have a number of friends who repeatedly speak highly. A couple of them show up in the index of that book, and they also show up if I want to have a drink in town. Funny that. But, more seriously, can someone recommend a recording with which I can get started on Malcolm W?

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #18 on: April 26, 2009, 02:42:22 PM »
I must have a go at this music. I have a number of friends who repeatedly speak highly. A couple of them show up in the index of that book, and they also show up if I want to have a drink in town. Funny that. But, more seriously, can someone recommend a recording with which I can get started on Malcolm W?

Either of the Chandos discs with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra under Rumon Gamba. One has the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 plus Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell and Lento for Strings, the second has a lighter collection-the Sinfonietta, Concerto Grosso, Suite "Our Man in Havana" and Overture "Santiago de Espada".

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Malcolm Williamson 'A Mischievous Muse' 1931-2003
« Reply #19 on: April 28, 2009, 02:23:34 AM »
I agree with Colin's recommendations.  I would opt for the CD below:

"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).