Having both read and been disappointed by Michael Kennedy's book A Portrait
of Walton I turned to Lady Walton's book with high expectations.
I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the omission of vital facts from
biographies and the way some writers get away with xxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxx. It is rather like an embittered, wealthy old lady who
wants to cut out of her will a once much-loved relative. I wrote to Michael
Kennedy about his failure to include in his book the fact that Walton studied
for two years after the Second World War with Humphrey Searle. I sent him
much evidence of this but he replied with a churlish letter. Walton's studies
with Searle led the Lancastrian to adopt a less tense and overwhelming texture
as seen in his Johannesburg Festival Overture and the equally splendid
Symphony No 2 noted for its clarity. Kennedy also asserts that Walton
was Elgar's successor and while Walton said little he loathed that ridiculous
concept. In the book British Composers in Interview by R Murray Schafer
(Faber 1960) Walton states that the greatest composer of the 20th century
was Shostakovich. Elgar was a pig. He heard Walton's Viola Concerto
and dismissed it as rubbish and as the murder of the viola. He was more
interested in visiting the lavatory and finding out the horse-racing results.
Lady Walton refers to this.
Walton had a difficult relationship with Britten ... but, then, everybody
did. At a reception in Leningrad a chamber group played Britten's Simple
Symphony and Walton's voice was heard above the music saying, "Oh, not
that piece." The LSO were greatly amused and endorsed his sentiments.
Lady Walton misquotes Arnold Bax on page 36, unless there were other incidents.
Walter Legge said of Britten, "He only has to fart and someone will record
it." Lady Walton tells the story of how Britten and Pears dressed as choirboys
for George Harewood and Marion Stein's wedding and, as they looked so ridiculous,
people began to laugh. In 1947 Walton was so incensed by the exaggerated
publicity given to Britten's new opera Peter Grimes that in a local
music shop he picked up a large photograph of Britten and put it neatly on
a chair face down. Lady Walton expresses her disgust at Britten and Pears
sharing a double bed and of Britten's petulance and rudeness to which I can
The author's frankness is either revealing or unwise. She recalls Britten
asking her husband if he were interested in little boys. I doubt the author's
suggestion that it was an innocent remark. It is true, and yet people want
not to accept it, that Britten was sexually interested in boys.
And if a paedophile is someone who has a sexual interest in children, whether
or not there is sexual activity, and that is what my Oxford Dictionary
says, then one cannot conceal Britten's true and repulsive character.
Lady Walton is not quite right about the argument over royalties when her
husband wrote his Impromptu on a theme of Britten - it was Britten
who told his publishers to obtain royalties from Walton's publishers, OUP.
There is a lot in this book which is too candid to be comfortable. Lady Walton
talks of the contraception they used; how Walton was a terrible flirt and
liked looking at the knees of the ladies in the orchestra. There is also
a lot of boring information about what the author wore, what she cooked and
what she did. We even have some details of rows between them. She also makes
some exaggerated statements. For example, on page 82, she writes that the
Symphony No 1 was the first fruits of Walton's relationship with Alice,
Lady Wimborne which followed his failed relationship with Baroness Imma von
I am concerned with Lady Walton's writing about her husband's dislike of
Zoltan Kodaly. Sometimes the book reads like mere gossip and loses its
Myths arise about composers. I was shocked to hear Michael Berkeley in BBC
Television's series Masterworks state that Walton liked brass bands
and used two in Belshazzar's Feast. It simply is not true. There are
no brass bands in the score. A brass band is composed of cornets, flugelhorns,
saxhorns, euphoniums, trombones, bombardons and perhaps saxophones. No such
instruments appear in the score.
It is gratifying to read of the Waltons' friendships with Paul Hindemith
and Hans Werner Henze. Hindemith is a great composer but sadly maligned and
out of fashion. Henze is also a fine composer and upstaged Britten by using
W H Auden as his librettist for Elegy for Young Lovers and The
Bassiards. Britten was furious and unreasonable.
The curious relationships Walton had with the Sitwells is brought to life
as is the distinguished poet, Seigfried Sassoon's financial backing to Walton
which kept his head above water.
The author fails to acknowledge all who helped her in this book including
John Veale's contribution of Walton writing a fugue in the Symphony No
1 on page 86.
The account of Walton's death and cremation is not is the best of taste.
It is indiscreet.