Portsmouth Point by Thomas Rowlandson

Walton certainly was a far better composer than he was a man. His personal behaviour could be quite poisonous, as I understand it, and he was exceedingly jealous of other people’s success.

Although I admire most British composers active throughout the twentieth century I am often disappointed by Walton. Clearly he was a composer of great talent and the list of his compositions whilst in his twenties and thirties contains a number of masterpieces. Belshazzar’s Feast is an exciting and dramatic oratorio, the First Symphony is a work of very considerable power and at times snarling menace. These are certainly personal favourites. After the war however there just seems to have been a long period of much more modest achievement with few works which resonate long in the memory. I try to like the Cello Concerto (1956) and the Second Symphony (1960) but there just seems to be something lacking. Walton’s move to take up residence on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples supposedly added a Mediterranean warmth to his music but to my ears it is more a Mediterranean languor, a sort of sleepy laziness. The enormous promise of the young composer seems to have dissipated. The great works which might have been expected from the older composer just don’t seem to have been written.

I remember as a young man reacting violently against what my friends and I thought was a national obsession with the music of Benjamin Britten and the neglect of composers like Walton. Now however I do have to admit that Britten was a greater composer and a composer of much more depth.

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