President: Mary Alwyn
Patron: Vilem Tausky CBE

Cover Painting: The Ballet Dancer by William Alwyn


Fantasy Waltzes (1980)
Twelve Preludes

    John Ogdon - piano

To write for the piano you must love the instrument with all your heart - for it continually yields new and unsuspected sounds under the fingers.


The urge to write a virtuoso suite of piano pieces came to me after a visit to Grieg's lakeside home in Norway. This set of Fantasy-Waltzes was the result and was begun immediately upon my return to England. It has been an absorbing adventure in piano technique - using Chopin, Ravel and the Viennese Waltz of Strauss, the Russian Waltz of Tchaikovsky and even the "salon" pieces of the Nineties as my starting points. I think I have pushed and probed the possibilities of the "three-four" waltz rhythm to its furthest extreme. However complex the music, the basic, intoxicating throb is always maintained. The closing bars of each waltz are the harmonic inspiration and structural clue to the text. This 32 minute work is one connected entity. During this time the whole range of the waltz is passed in review - analyzed and elaborated, but never parodied.

The Suite divides into two parts -Nos 1-6 and 7-11 - expressing a variety of moods, some fleeting, some worked out in greater depth, all are composed within the scope of the waltz rhythm though the basic three-four pulse is treated with great freedom. The first group begins in nostalgic mood and ends with No.6, a fast and very rhythmic waltz which has an expansive and expressive middle section. The second group begins mysteriously, exploring the chordal sonorities of the piano, and the whole work concludes with a brilliant and light-hearted finale.

    To place one's fingers on the keyboard is to be transported into a world of still uncharted country, and the very feel of the keys seems to bring renewed life through the fingertips. I adore Schumann - the first composer who truly felt and lived pianistically - Chopin, whose music I love, simply does not fit my fingers (except for the marvelous mazurkas). Debussy suits my hands, but Ravel never does.
    I often wonder how much one's musical thinking and style is influenced by the shape of one's hands. The whole history of music would have been different if man had been born possessed of 6 fingers instead of 5!

Twelve Preludes

These preludes were written when I was experimenting with short note groups each with a strong tonal centre; a different group of notes is used for each Prelude. This system was fully explored in my third and fourth symphonies.

Prelude No.1 in E flat Andante espressivo is simple and reflective in mood. No. 2 in A Allegro drammatico is, by contrast, a strong and aggressive piece which finally dies away after mysterious repeated chords. No. 3 in A Molto semplice is followed by No. 4 in F Vivacissimo a study in rapid finger technique. No.5 Adagio elegiaco is an elegy in memory of the brilliant young New Zealand pianist, Richard Farrell, who was so tragically killed in a car accident. It was Farrell who gave the first performance of my Fantasy-Waltzes. The Prelude was written a few days after his death. No. 6 in G and F sharp Allegro strepitoso is a powerful study in rapid chordal writing, strongly rhythmical and passionate in intensity. No. 7 in B Andante con moto e tranquillo is a quiet Prelude suggesting the sound of distant bells. No. 8 in E flat Allegro ma non troppo, this prelude which is marked graziosos e delicato is a quietly rhythmical piece, pastoral in character. No. 9 in C Moderato e calmato is elusive in texture and drifts away in rapid quasi glissando scale passages. No. 10 in D Allegreto leggiero is a more extended piece and a study in delicacy of touch. No. 11 Sereno is a short and placid prelude constructed on only three notes (D flat, E flat and F). No. 12 in D Allegro moderato brings the set of preludes to a triumphant close.

William Alwyn

When - as a student - I heard my teacher Denis Matthews play William Alwyn's Sonata alla Toccata, his performance captivated me by its ebullient humour, and the music by its lyrical melodiousness. This was my first experience of William Alwyn's music.

That the Fantasy-Waltzes constitute a pianistic masterpiece is for me beyond certain doubt; to use the form of the Valse throughout a half-hour composition is arduous and courageous indeed. I was put in mind very often of Debussy's famous quotation: Ce qui ne danse pas fait un aveu très bas.

It was the greatest pleasure to record these magnificent pieces, in the presence of Mr and Mrs Alwyn, and I should like to express grateful thanks for their invaluable help during the sessions at Snape. William Alwyn's autobiography Winged Chariot elucidates the philosophy underlying his music; I feel sure that his piano works will take a place in the repertoire of pianists interested in performing music of the 20th century.

John Ogdon

Alwyn is one of the few composers who really knows how to write a Waltz. I mean that!
Hans Keller

Gramophone - November 1985

The agreeably wide representation on record William Alwyn achieved during his lifetime is now further extended by two major works for the piano. 'Major' works, for it seems, considering their inner structure as a sequence, necessary to regard the 11 Fantasy-Waltzes and the 12 Preludes each as a single work, a single sequence; not just an assembly of separable pieces as is often the case with similar groupings.

Great control is necessary in writing such a structure: but to my ears Alwyn managed it in both cases. The Waltzes must have been especially problematic, for here there would seem to be a built-in element of non-variety. In the event this is not the case; for although the basic 3/4 pulse is present throughout, the many different facets of the waltz are explored thoroughly and effectively. And exploited, as Alwyn intended, very effectively in terms of advanced piano technique. One mystery remains: how on earth could such an idea have come to Alwyn (for this he declares) as he contemplated Grieg's lakeside home in Norway"

No mystery about the set of 12 Preludes: these are, of course, though still unified as a whole, of greater individual variety. The slower Preludes especially do seem a welcome resource (excluded, of course, from the Waltzes); they are also very beautiful.

Waltzes and Preludes alike are handled with superb dexterity by John Ogdon, who also contributes, together with Alwyn himself, to the excellent sleeve-note. In the course of his note Ogdon suggests titles for the individual Preludes. These seem to me to be both apt and imaginative. And many who can write music easily and fluently then get stuck (especially in light music) with the simpler task, you might think, of finding a suitable title!

The quality of music, performance and notes is matched by that of the recording. A very welcome issue, especially during a month which has heard the unhappy news of Alwyn's death.

M. M.


This record has just been restored to the catalogue at full price (even though it dates from 1985) and a price reduction might have been feasible. The Fantasy-Waltzes are highly attractive and are excellently played by John Ogdon, who is responsible for a perceptive insert note. The Twelve Preludes are equally fluent and inventive pieces that ought to be better known and well repay investigation. The recording, made at the Maltings, Snape, is first rate and carries the imprimatur of the composer in whose presence it was made. recommended.

Which Compact Disc

What a marvellous disc! The Fantasy-Waltzes take us imaginatively through the possibilities of the waltz with extraordinary variety, with both brilliance and introspection, with cool clarity and whirling energy. Apart from a lot of Englishness, one might find hints of Ravel, Delius and Scriabin, but the music is always individual and distinctive. The Preludes are more adventurous, tonally and structurally, yet very accessible - exploratory and again very individual.

William Alwyn died recently after a distinguished career as composer, teacher, linguist and painter - a creative artist with a feeling for quality rather than quantity. John Ogdon responds to this music of the 50s with understanding, imagination and the expected virtuosity, the advocate who completes our pleasure.

Recorded last year at The Maltings, Snape, the piano sound is forward and rounded, complementing the musical excellence, possibly a mite short of the ringing realism one sometimes enjoys in recent work. It may be marginal but there is a hint of lumpiness to temper my enthusiasm. Concise and eminently readable notes by the composer and soloist are models of their kind. Well done! CS

Performance ......................... 10
Technical Merit .......................9

Hi-Fi News November 1985

Normally thought of as a symphonist, William Alwyn here displays a fine feel for piano composition. The range of mood and colour in the Fantasv-Waltzes is remarkable and I can appreciate why John Ogdon regards the work as a masterpiece. Alwyn treats the three-four waltz time fairly loosely and the effect varies from the brusque and swaggering to the dreamy and often haunting and melancholic. There are hints of Debussy and of John Ireland, but overall this is a work of notable individual imagination. No less remarkable is the set of Twelve Preludes: powerful, dramatic, technically and intellectually demanding, and composed in more of a serial form than the Waltzes. I found them full of interest and utterly involving.

Of course, Alwyn couldn't want for a better or more enthusiastic advocate than Ogdon; there's a complete affinity.

Chandos used the Snape Maltings for this recording, the first time they've done so I believe. Engineer Ralph Couzens has cer- tainly managed to overcome some of the quirks of that fine, if sometimes over-warm and over-reverberant acoustic, and the result is a piano sound that is rich-toned, weighty, sparklingly detailed and yet well-proportioned. John Ogdon relates the pleasure he had recording these 'magnificent pieces', and I can only add that it has also been a pleasure, a rewarding one, to hear and discover them. I urge you to follow suit.
[A:11] Peter Herring

I find myself in complete agreement with PH's enthusiasm in his review of the black disc in November's HFNIRR (pl 15) for the Fantasy-Waltzes and the demanding Preludes of 1959. The DDD technique captures the warm Malting's reverberance whilst allowing one to hear what's going on even in the busiest of textures. A very attractive piano sound.

Roger Bowen

Notes by William Alwyn, © Mary Alwyn

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