> WALTON The Romantic loner [DW]: Book Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The Romantic Loner: A centenary portrait album

by Humphrey Burton and Maureen Murray
Published by Oxford University Press in January 2002
£25, hardback
ISBN 0-19-816235-9


AmazonUK  £20 AmazonUS $39.95



This is a handsome book of 170 odd pages of crisp black and white photographs cataloguing the life and times of Walton. It is also fascinating as a history book with stunning pictures of Oldham in the early days of the 20th century.

While the text contains the usual mistakes and omissions about Walton, ignoring vital facts such as his studies with Humphrey Searle and asserting that he (Walton) and Britten were friends, this is a wonderful portrait of his life and times in pictures.

The foreword is by the recently knighted André Previn whose performances of Walton's works are extremely good in contrast to some dreadful recorded performances by Rattle, Haitink and Paul Daniel.

The first picture is of a trolley bus in Oldham. There is a lovely picture of his parents on their wedding day.

Walton always loved the ladies and the picture of the Edwardian women, called here a ‘bevy of beauties’, published by the Oldham Council was intended to welcome people to this factory town. There is a hand-written family tree and a simply gorgeous picture of Billie, as he was then known, with his older brother, Noel. The pictures of them as choristers at St Johns is quite stunning and I do know that Walton hated Britten's evil remarks about choirboys.

There is the story of Elsie Slight, as well!

And there is a copy of a letter he wrote to his mother in 1910 and a picture of the seaside which inspired a movement from Façade. How different things were in those days!

There is much about Sir Thomas Beecham who was also a Lancastrian. Walton saw him conduct Boris Godunov. We are reminded that in Oldham there were as many pubs as mills.

Among my favourite pictures is that on page 24 with the staff and pupils of Christ Church Choir School, Oxford. in 1912. I wish they had been identified separately. There are some super pictures of musicians of the past, Hugh Allen and Henry Ley among them.

There are copies of manuscripts of early Walton, the Litany Drop drop slow tears of 1916, a real homesickness piece and a Chorale Prelude Wheatley. The cathedral society really affected the boy. There is also a banal Valse in C minor of 1917.

One cannot imagine Willie at sport but he loved rowing.

Now here is a mystery. Early photographs of Willie and of Edith Sitwell show a remarkable likeness. Charles Walton was known to be a ladies' man and a bit of a lecher.

The decadent 1920s are well portrayed. Willie loved the company of beautiful young women. He loved pub crawls and met the first love of his life the German princess Imma von Doernberg.

Walton had the distinction of meeting Berg and Schoenberg. He also had among his friends the poet Roy Campbell and that sublime musician Constant Lambert, who, like Rawsthorne and others became seriously affected with alcohol. Rawsthorne was carrying on with Lambert's wife behind Constant's back and while Lambert was so ill.

There is a reference and picture of Paul Hindemith, who, along with Searle and Henze, was one of Walton's greatest music friends.

There is a picture of Elgar and a record of his abject rudeness to Walton

Of special mention are the pictures of productions of Troilus and Cressida with super pictures of stars like Janet Baker and Jill Gomez.

Highly recommended

David Wright

See also reviews by Christopher Fifield and Ian Lace


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