This is a solidly written biography
by which I do not mean stolid. The evident
rigour which these writers bring to
their work is worn lightly. That there
are footnotes and appendices does not
stop this book being eminently and fluently
readable. This is all the more to the
authors' credit given their adroit use
of quotation from original sources some
of these being very personal indeed.
This is primarily and
overwhelmingly a biography not a study
of the music although drawing on press
cuttings and the like we soon gain a
feeling for the music that is being
It's a big book and
well indexed. The pages are liberally
laid out with a host of photographs.
These are printed direct onto the paper
- no ghetto of glossy plate pages. Pictures
appear next to the text to which they
relate. This again aids the book with
coherence and narrative flow.
It's a mark of the
book's approach that the list of Williamson's
works is not the usual pulseless recital
of works by date and genre. Instead
the authors give each work a personable
thumbnail description. It's the sort
of approach that might yet enthuse concert
promoters and explorer conductors. Just
what is needed. There is so much Williamson
to discover. Even recentish works like
the Mass of Christ the King have
fallen into desuetude. This is quite
unjust - time for a revival of the Mass
and the premiere of the Fourth Piano
Concerto written for Marguerite Wolff.
Williamson left the
damaged and wounded along the way and
cocked a snook at the Establishment
both in the UK and Australia and the
Royal Family. After whirlwind years
when his productivity and reliability
with commissions became a byword he
collapsed into delays and controversy.
This was just when this very solid reputation
had won him the Master of the Queen's
Music and many other accolades. Commissions
came in very late and work proceeded
as it had during the years of his marriage
only when friends locked him away literally.
As the years passed
he became his own worst enemy and reaction
to his homosexuality might well have
played its part in his neglect. In addition
he charged every red rag and often enough
during the years since 1977 was bated
by the media. When bated he responded.
Drink did not help. He went on benders
and on several occasions took the cure.
This book comes from
the same team that made such a triumph
with their revelatory biography of Malcolm
Arnold. Here they bear the laurels again
with a book that will make for a good
seasonal reading binge or frankly an
indulgent and provocatively Rabelaisian
read at any time of year.
The extraordinary story of Malcolm Williamson,
whose rich creative gifts were undermined
by a self-destructive streak.
After living a wild, bohemian life since
arriving in London from Sydney in the
early 1950's, Williamson settled down
under the influence of his American
wife to become a highly successful composer,
as hugely productive as he was outspoken
and controversial, his work possessing
a popular appeal rare in the 1960s.
Made Master of the Queen's Music - the
first non-Briton to be so honoured -
he seemed set for an even more brilliant
But the royal post, undertaken in 1975
at a period of great personal crisis,
proved hugely damaging. Having failed
to complete some high-profile works
for the Queen's Silver Jubilee, he quickly
gained a reputation for unreliability.
Subsequently excluded from the wedding
of Prince Charles and Princess Diana
and other important royal occasions,
he was the constant target of innuendo
in the media, suggesting he had offended
Buckingham Palace by improper or outrageous
behaviour. The Master of the Queen's
Music was largely forgotten at the time
of his death in 2003.