THE WILLIAM ALWYN SOCIETY
President: Mary Alwyn
Patron: Vilem Tausky CBE
Cover Painting: The Ballet Dancer by William Alwyn
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.
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!
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.
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
Alwyn is one of the few composers who really knows how to write a Waltz. I mean that!
Notes by William Alwyn, © Mary Alwyn