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Detailed Biographies are available form these links; an abbreviated biography appears below.

William Alwyn: A Memorial Tribute by Hubert Culot
(This article first appeared in the British Music Society Journal: Volume 7 1985)

William Alwyn - A romantic composer of his time by Ian Carmalt

Willliam Alwyn by John Huntley (1947)

William Alwyn's First Symphony by John France

The Music of William Alwyn By Trevor Hold
Reprinted from COMPOSER Spring 1972

William Alwyn by Francis Routh
reprinted from Contemporary British Music, Macdonald 1972
The last two articles contain musical extracts as graphics. You may prefer to load with the graphics option switched off.


William Alwyn, a contemporary of Britten, Walton, and Tippett, was born in Northampton in 1905. His works range from five Symphonies and concertante works for violin, viola, oboe, cor anglais, and piano to a Divertimento for Solo Flute; from song cycles to the two large-scale operas Juan, or The Libertine and Miss Julie. Alwyn was a pioneer in composing for films, and between 1936 and 1962 wrote the music for 60 feature films - including Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, and The History of Mr Polly - and nearly 150 documentaries ranging from short films on Your Children's Teeth to the great wartime epics such as Desert Victory, The Way Ahead, and The True Glory.

Alwyn's musical education was at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he gained scholarships for both flute and composition, and at the early age of 21 was appointed Professor of Composition. The following year he received his first engagement as flautist with the London Symphony Orchestra playing under Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, and Sir Henry Wood at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford Cathedral. He was soon equally in demand as a soloist, and gave first performances of many important chamber works.

Alwyn's compositions earned him in 1938 the coveted Collard Fellowship of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, which he held for three years. Other Honours included fellowships of the R.A.M., the British Film Academy, and the International Poetry Society, and a C.B.E. from the Queen in 1978 - her Jubilee Year. But maybe what pleased him most was the Honorary Doctorate in Music given by the University of Leicester in 1982.

Fellow musicians received help and encouragement not only from Alwyn's teaching at the R.A.M. between 1926 and 1955 but also from his committee work on their behalf. He was instrumental in forming the Composers' Guild of Great Britain and served as its Chairman for three terms - 1949, 1950 and 1954. He was a Director of the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society and a Vice-President of the Society for the Promotion of New Music, and for twenty years as a Director of the Performing Right Society he served on both its General and Executive Councils as well as on the Council of the Society for the Promotion of New Music. For many years he was also one of the panel reading new scores for the B.B.C. It is not surprising that he wrote to a friend 'Looking back on my career, I often wonder whether all the time I spent in committees etc. was really worth the sacrifice of my own precious time'. Yet many letters of gratitude now in the Alwyn Archive show how greatly valued was that sacrifice.

When Alwyn finally left London to live in the Suffolk countryside on the Eastern coast of England, lie resolved to spend his time as he really wanted to. From his home overlooking the estuary of the river Blyth and its ever-changing skyscapes, he wrote poetry, painted pictures and composed music. For he discovered that some things could be expressed only in words, others only in visual images and others only in abstract sounds. An Honorary Fellow of the Poetry Society, he had a separate

In the last 25 years of his life he composed the two operas and five song-cycles; he conducted all his major orchestral works for gramophone records, as well as the first performance of his Symphony No.5 and a special broadcast for his 75th birthday; and exhibitions of his paintings were held. After a long, nearly fatal illness in 1981 - a stroke followed by meningitis and pneumonia - he made a remarkable recovery, and happily filled his time with painting when his specialist would not allow him the excitement of writing music. But after two long years he did compose again, and in 1985 completed his String Quartet No.3. It was given its first performance in Blythburgh Church as part of that year's Aldeburgh Festival, just three months before he died.

In every branch of the arts that he cultivated Alwyn's aim was simple, as he made clear in his poem Daphne, or The Pursuit of Beauty:

Beauty is my reason for existence,
My day, my night, my all-in-all.
Faithless, I should cease to write.

His music is available from the following publishers:

Corda Music, 183 Beech Road, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL3 5AN

Roberton Publications, The Windmill, Wendover, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP22 6JJ

Boosey & Hawkes Ltd, The Hyde, Edgware Road, London NW9 6JN

Oxford University Press, Walton Street, Oxford 0X2 6DP

Chesters (for Lengnicks), Newmarket Road, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk 1P33 3YB

© Alwyn Archive 1996



These pages are maintained by Dr Len Mullenger