An English 20th century composer, William Walton (1902-1983) was educated as chorister and then undergrad at Christ Church, Oxford. However by 19 he had met the literary Sitwell sisters, whom through he met Gershwin and Stravinksy, one being Edith Sitwell. This led to the collaboration of Sitwell and Walton and in 1922 a performance of Façade – An Entertainment was born in a family home, with Walton’s music accompanying Sitwell reciting her poems. Despite critics knocking the work, this was Walton’s breakthrough where he became known as a modernist composer. Such success with the public led to Walton rearranging the music into 2 orchestral suits, the first in 1926 and the second in 1938, and 2 ballets. The first ballet was by Günter Hess for the German Chamber Dance Theatre in 1929, but the more well-known ballet was by Frederick Ashton in 1931, both using the first orchestral suite.
Both suites are very lively, incorporating numerous styles and cultures, with a particularly large percussion section. The polka in the first orchestral suite sets the show off, with buzzing repeated trumpet notes followed by an unexpected sforzando chord. Then the genteel oom-cha nature is introduced by the jolly strings, before a country melody in the clarinet and brass is introduced. The melody repeats itself, bolder this time, with the woodwind filling in brass gaps with running scalic passages. The tambourine begins to play a larger role in the next short section, acting like a full stop. The woodwind have a short homophonic section, before the oom-cha-ing is back. This is followed by the buzzing trumpet’s return to finish the piece in a loud tutti ending. As a polka, this movement is in a fast duple metre, with mostly diatonic harmony.
In the second orchestral suite, the Country Dance is a charming movement full of character and reminiscing the countryside. The pizzicato strings introduce the piece, before a beautiful duet between the flute and clarinet begins. Floating in the musical atmosphere, the flute and clarinet lines rise and fall, the clarinet ever slightly later than the flute. The woodwind continue to carry the tune, different woodwind instruments, such as the oboe and cor anglais, get an opportunity at the melody, and later the bassoon, creating a polyphony of melodic fragments. A minor section is sandwiched by two major sections, but as the piece progresses, the melody becomes increasingly more decorated, with more trills and grace notes.
For a change of scene, there is the Noche Espagnole (Spanish Night). The initial fanfare is accompanied by a constant rhythmical castanet, introducing the Spanish feel. Then a bass clarinet slips in, with accidentals galore and a slinkly melody, giving way to the cor anglais and oboe, whilst the clarinet has scalic runs in the background. However the strings take the piece into a major section, but not for long. The Spanish feel returns, though the strings fight back, leading us into a more luscious melody, with the trumpet providing a moments of interest. However then the weaving Spanish motifs recur and the strings back down. The interesting juxtaposition of Latin and Western influences show Walton’s secure foundation in all sorts of music, these suites demonstrating Walton’s creativity and ability to create music with different characters.
I couldn’t find a full version of the orchestral suites, but here is the original version of Facade: Facade – An Entertainment. Quite a lot of work for the declamator too!
Radio Kamer Filharmonie conducted by Alejo Perez
Sir Thomas Allen, declamator