President: Mary Alwyn
Patron: Vilem Tausky CBE

Painting: Bird of Paradise Flowers by William Alwyn

Notes © by Mary Alwyn

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano

Commissioned for Thea King who gave the first performance in London in 1962.
William Alwyn writes:

Divertimento for Solo Flute

When Alwyn learned that the International Society of Contemporary Music was inviting entries for the next Festival (New York, 1941), he pondered on what could be the most unlikely piece to be written for solo flute - the instrument he knew best. The result was this Divertimento. By exploiting his intimate knowledge of the instrument, he contrived a contrapuntal work in the classical form of four movements: a Prelude and Fugue, Variations on a Ground, Gavotte and Musette and a Finale alla Gigue. It was a technical tour de force for both composer and performer, as one American reviewer commented:

As Britain was in the depth of war the composer only learned of this performance and its success sometime later.

Crépuscule for Solo Harp

This little piece was written at the request of the BBC for a broadcast on Christmas Eve. In November 1955 Alwyn recorded in his journal Ariel to Miranda:

During the period between the wars Sir Henry Wood conducted many concerts in the provinces and to strengthen these largely amateur orchestras he took with him a number of professional wind players - Alwyn as principal flute, Helen Gaskell ( a pupil of Léon Goossens) played the oboe and Archie Comedian the bassoon. It was for these players and the string players with whom he frequently broadcast that Alwyn wrote much chamber music.

Sonata for Oboe and Piano

This was first played at a concert of the Royal Academy of Music New Music Society in 1934 by Helen Gaskell and her sister Lilian. A notice in The Times praises the work as "a true sonata" giving each instrument an equal share in the progress of the music. By 1939 it was sufficiently in demand to be included in a broadcast on the BBC National Programme in the series Your Choice for this Week. It is interesting to note that in today's series Listener's Choice, Alwyn's music is often among the requested works.

The Sonata's first movement is based on a two-bar phrase, played on the piano and echoed on the oboe. After the chorale-like second movement comes a lively waltz followed by a slower Coda whose gently moving semiquavers bring the piece to a close.

Sonata for Flute and Piano

During the war, Alwyn gave lessons at the Academy on the flute as well as in composition (he had been Professor of Composition there from the age of 21). One of his pupils was the flautist Gareth Morris, who would later gain international acclaim. Morris gave the first performance of this Sonata in a broadcast in November 1948, with Ernest Lush. I found the flute part amongst my husband's music, but nowhere was there any sign of the final piano part. There were, however, two pencil copies - but these gave differing versions of one particular phrase. The distinguished flautist, Christopher Hyde-Smith kindly resolved this problem for me in the version which is played here.

The work is in one movement but falls into three distinct sections: the first, slow, in which the theme is announced by the piano. Next, an Adagio tranquillo in which the main idea is first played by the flute then appears in various guises on both flute and piano until it resolves into the quavers leading to Allegro ritmico e feroce. This is a fugue with the first and second voices both played by the flute. The piano joins in with the third and fourth voices growing to a fortissimo based on the Adagio, which leads to the Coda.

Sonata Impromptu

The Sonata Impromptu for violin and viola was completed in 1939 and was written for Alwyn's viola-playing friend, Watson Forbes, who played it with Frederick Grinke. Among its performances was one in May 1940 at the National Gallery in London. This museum of art (bereft of its pictures, which had been removed from the constant bombing of London to safety in the country) was used for lunch-time concerts of classical music. The recitals were given by the finest artists, who often appeared in their war-time uniforms. The audience ranged from members of the armed forces on leave and off-duty fire and air raid wardens to secretaries and music students from the R.A.M. and R.C.M. - of which I was one- often eating their lunchtime sandwiches in the interval.

The Sonata is in three movements: the first a Prelude in which the bold opening is followed by a fugal section with a return to the opening in the Coda. The second is a theme and seven variations, the last of which, an Intermezzo, leads directly into the Finale alla Capriccio. This is a much extended movement with fugal writing based on the Prelude and a brisk ending in a major key.

The composer's mastery of the possibilities of string techniques is so great that this little piece frequently sounds like a string trio or quartet with three or even four players performing.

© Mary Alwyn



Undoubtedly the finest piece here is the Oboe Sonata, a splendid piece, pastoral in feeling, which should be in every oboists repertoire. The first movement is delectably grazioso, the second has a gentle, chorale-like tune which immediately lodges in the memory and then is charmingly embroidered by the oboe, while the finale, in waltz tempo, ends wistfully.
A winner! ......
....Alwyn demonstrates in all these works a natural skill in part-writing and his ready flow of appealing invention.......
The recording is first-class, a typically superior Chandos product
Ivan March


For much of his lifetime William Alwyn was looked upon as a composer's composer, relied upon for his utter professionalism, both in terms of the craftsmanship of his music (particularly in his film scores) and in what is asked of, and offered the performer. I remember, for example, during a performance by John Ogden of Alwyn's Fantasy-Waltzes, Hans Keller passing me a not which read "Alwyn is one of the very few composers who knows how to write a waltz". Hans didn't give that kind of praise easily. (It strikes me that, less than ten years later, all three men are dead.) The few pieces that made it to the ears of a wider public - mainly thanks to Lyrita's pioneering LPs - confirmed the quality of Alwyn's muse. And there it seemed to stop: nothing "next" came along to launch Alwyn as one of Britain's more important traditional - i.e. tonal - composers. Now, as Hyperion for Robert Simpson. Chandos' ongoing series of recordings (each with a reproduction of one of Alwyn's striking paintings on the front) have revealed that Alwyn was indeed a master symphonist, a composer who was certainly a consummate craftsman - and was also a powerful and original voice.

This second in Chandos' recording of the chamber music reflects Alwyn's expert knowledge of just how far he could push his performers. The Clarinet Sonata of 1962 contains some cruelly high writing for the instrument. Alwyn described it as "a fantasy-sonata full of dramatic contrasts" which is fair comment, if slightly disingenuous - it contains extremes as marked as anything else in the English pastoral tradition within which it loosely sits...........
The prime mover of this series seems to have been Mary Alwyn, the composer's widow. She can allow herself the satisfaction of seeing her husband's name firmly enshrined in the symphonic mainstream: and if individual players and chamber musicians wonder what gems there might be for their own instruments, they could do worse than keep an eye on the Chandos new-release sheets.

Martin Anderson


Crépuscule, a beautiful piece for solo harp. Finally we find Alwyn in neoclassic mode for the Sonata for Violin and Viola, a fine 15-minute piece reminiscent of his Concerto Grossi previously recorded by Chandos. This disc is a fine addition to their collection, beautifully played and recorded.

D Moore

The Penguin Guide

Alwyn demonstrates in all these works a natural skill in interweaving his part-writing and his usual ready flow of appealing melody. Overall this programme is consistently rewarding and the recording is very real and immediate.

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