Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
" music as sensuous as any you will find from a British composer."
EDWARD GREENFIELD, 'The Guardian'
Interviewer: Rob Barnett of The British Music Society
Born 11 March 1914, William Southcombe Lloyd Webber.
D.Mus (London) 1938; FRCM 1963; FRCO 1933; Hon.RAM 1966;
appointed Professor, Royal College of Music in 1946;
appointed Director, London College of Music in 1964;
Musical Director, Central Hall, Westminster from 1958.
Mercers' School & Royal College of Music.
Organist - Christ Church, Newgate Street 1929-32; St. Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, 1932-9; All Saints, Margaret Street, 1939-48.
When Did William Begin Writing Music?I think around the early 1930s.
What Was His First Piece?The earliest piece I know of was a Violin Sonatina (which is lost) which played as a student at the RCM with Cecil Aronowitz, who in those days played the violin.
What Prompted Him To Begin Writing Music?I don't know.
Was He More Drawn To Performing Than Composing?At the beginning, certainly. He was a child prodigy organist, giving recitals in many cathedrals and churches from an early age. He broadcast on the BBC when he was 14. But later on I think he regarded himself much more as a composer.
Did College Administration Attract Him At All - Was This Just A Necessity?I think he always had an interest in training young musicians although he often said that he thought it was impossible to teach composition - and he never did. Throughout his years as a professor at the RCM, he only taught harmony and counterpoint. As I said, I think composing was his first love, but after Andrew (1948) and I (1951) were born, there was a greater need for him to make money, which he was not doing in any significant way from his compositions. Although they had no money, my mother came from quite a classy family - my grandmother was Scottish and was married to an officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Unusually for that time, they divorced, and my mother hardly knew her father. My grandmother moved down to London with her three children, and they rented a flat in South Kensington - hence the lack of money. My father came from a very poor background, but nevertheless, his children were 'expected' by my grandmother to be privately educated, so from the early 'fifties he had to make more money. My father moved into my grandmother's flat when he married my mother, who he met as a violin student at the RCM. Her name was Jean Hermione Johnstone, and she studied violin with William Reed, who was Elgar's great friend.
Why Are There (Apparently) So Few Orchestral Works In The Oeuvre?My father was basically a miniaturist. He had a great suspicion of padding in music, and although he did write a symphony for his D.Mus. at the University of London, he was often dismissive of too-lengthy works. There are 5 surviving pieces with orchestra, all of which are on the forthcoming Chandos disc, conducted by Richard Hickox with the City of London Sinfonia. The most remarkable of these is the 'Lento' for strings. This is the earliest of the five, written in 1939, when he was just twenty-five, yet by far the most harmonically audacious, with a sound- world close to the Schoenberg of Verklärte Nacht. Probably the finest orchestral composition is Aurora (1950/51).
From The List Of Works Down For Recording The Output Does Not Appear Large Or Are There Many Other Works As Yet Not Ready For Recording?I am not sure what you have seen. There is the ASV disc, the new Chandos and Hyperion discs, and an organ disc by Jane Watts awaiting release. This still leaves a fair amount of music to be recorded, including the large works 'St Francis of Assisi', 'The Divine Compassion' and 'The Saviour'. However, as he did effectively cease composition from the early fifties to the late seventies, his oeuvre is obviously less than many of his contemporaries, although it is surprising how great his output was immediately after the war.
Did William Discard Works As Many Composers Have?Probably, yes, but it is hard to know. He effectively discarded virtually everything by giving it away or hiding it away!
Was He Never Drawn To Write A Symphony Or Concerto?Apart from the Symphony he wrote for his examination, I don't think he was ever drawn to write another. However, he did talk to Kevin Mayhew about writing a Piano Concerto. There was a Nocturne for Piano and Orchestra available on hire from Francis Day & Hunter, which is lost. According to Kevin, this was planned as the slow movement of a piano concerto. Apparently when he died, he was working on 'a new orchestral work'. This information comes from his friend and colleague at the London College of Music, John Chapman.
Many Of The Titles Are Illustrative - Was He Particularly Inspired By Landscape?I think he was mostly inspired by moods and impressions. He was not a great country lover. I think he had an idealised view of the country where it wasn't wet and windy! We would take our summer holidays always in England, where we would hire a house for two or three weeks. Some pieces, for example the flute and piano piece Mulberry Cottage were inspired by the places on these holidays.
What Part Did Church Music Play In His Output?Church music played a very large part in his output, principally because he held organ posts for a great deal of his life. I think he could compose short anthems, etc. very easily, with his immense knowledge of harmony and counterpoint, but I don't think his heart was always in this music, and he said as much to me. There are definitely exceptions to this, though, like the two masses, Missa Sanctae Mariae Magdalenae and Princeps Pacis. It is interesting these are Latin masses, both written while he was Director of Music at the Methodist Central Hall!
Was Church Music A Commercial Necessity Or A Matter Of Conviction Or Neither?I think this is answered by the above.
I Am Intrigued By The Tone Poem Aurora - What Is The Background To The Piece?Aurora is definitely a love-poem. I think it is in the abstract, and not inspired by one particular person, but I cannot be sure. It was almost certainly his favourite amongst his compositions, as it was almost the only one ever talked about.
When Was Aurora Premiered And By Whom?It was premiered by a BBC orchestra conducted by Alexander Gibson soon after it was written. This is actually a wonderful performance - I have dreadful quality acetates of it.
What Problems If Any Were There In Getting A Performance For Aurora?I have a feeling that it was written for the above occasion. It was published originally by Chappells and I think they did nothing with it, and my father would never have 'pushed' it himself.
What Was The Reaction Of The Orchestra And Conductor For That First Recording?I have no idea what the reaction of the orchestra was, but I know Gibson liked the work, as he mentioned it to me very affectionately many years later when I was working with him, but I don't know if he ever performed the piece again.
Did William Ever Conduct Any Of His Own Or Other People's Works?W never conducted an orchestral work of his, but conducted the cantatas and the church music a lot. He also played most of his organ music at some time.
What Were His Relationships With Other British Composers?W studied with Vaughan Williams, knew Herbert Howells all his life (Howells was my god-father), and certainly knew composers like John Ireland. He was always very vague about exactly who he had met and known and over some of the important things he'd done. For example, he thought (!) he had played at Delius' burial service at Limpsfield which was attended by such musical luminaries as Beecham, the Harrison sisters, etc. etc. He had been sent down by the Royal College of Music to play the organ, but he couldn't really remember whether it was that or not.
Were There Any British Works For Which He Had A High Or Low Regard - Details?He certainly had a very high regard for Elgar, but was rather daunted by the symphonies. I remember him saying that he found the structure of the first movement of Elgar 1 very dense; perhaps he felt the juxtaposition of such obscure keys was contrived rather than musical. Please do not credit this opinion to me, because I love the symphony! He was very fond of Delius, particularly The Walk to the Paradise Garden. He liked a lot of John Ireland, thought Frank Bridge had changed styles too many times to be thoroughly convincing, was intrigued and knowledgeable about Britten. I remember sitting in the kitchen listening to a broadcast of Malcolm Arnold's Fifth Symphony and him being very impressed by the slow movement, despite some of the younger elements present at the time dismissing it. This did not include me! He loved Parry's Blest Pair of Sirens.
Were There Any Unfinished Pieces - Any Especially Intriguing Ones?I believe so. I referred to an unfinished orchestral work above.
What Did He Make Of Andrew's Enormous Success?I think he was pleased on a father/son level, and full of admiration for the endeavour and brilliance displayed by Andrew in getting his shows accepted, but I think he found it very hard to handle everybody suddenly constantly coming up to him at a late stage in his life when he had stopped composing himself saying 'Aren't you proud of your son?'. He was proud, but it made him feel even more that he had not fulfilled his own potential. Later, this became 'Aren't you proud of your sonS?' and I don't think this made him feel any better! Although he was very supportive of my work and did attend concerts whenever he could. However, he offered very little in the way of praise to me. I heard second-hand how delighted he was at what I was doing.
What Mark Has William Left On Your Own Music Making?W was professional in everything that he did. His standards were extremely high, and you felt that he knew exactly what was right or wrong about a performance. He could be a very severe and dismissive critic. Once or twice I played through Beethoven or Brahms sonatas for him which I was about to perform in public with my pianists. They were constantly amazed at the ease with which he would penetrate to the core of an interpretation. After he would dismiss something you had done, you could never play it that way again, because he was right! He was a totally amazing musician, from that point of view. Certainly players like John Lill would play through their concertos to him, and would receive invaluable advice or criticism. Sometimes I didn't have the courage to do it! So, thorough preparation is one of the marks he left on my music making, and as a string player, he was particularly concerned with tone, and was critical of one or two very famous cellists for putting technique before music.
Any Anecdotes About William From Childhood?People may have an impression from what has been recently written about William that he lacked a sense of humour. This is very far from the truth, particularly when he was younger, he could be quite light-hearted. He loved pets and for a time, my parents had a monkey which created havoc in Harrington Court! The monkey had to be given away when my mother was pregnant with Andrew because it became fiercely jealous! He also loved to relate the tale of an old lady in another nearby block of flats, who had been surprised one day when sitting on the lavatory by a snake which belonged to one of the other residents in another flat and had got into the plumbing system! There was also a story, constantly recurring, that he was never able to finish, due to hysterical laughter, which had something to do with his mother and a hot-water-bottle that burst! You could try and ask John Lill about this, because he tried to coax the ending out of him many times!
There Is A Positive Explosion Of CDs Of Your Father's Music Now - What Is Behind That - Is This Something Long Planned?I would hardly call it that! It is the result of my endeavours to uncover exactly what he did write. It has taken a long time, especially with my being away so much through my own work, and would not have been possible while he was alive. Although my mother was very supportive of his work, in a strange way, it only really became possible for me to investigate what he had done after she died in December 1993.
What Are The Release Dates?The Priory disc of W's organ music, performed by Jane Watts on Salisbury Cathedral organ, will be released this Winter ('97). The Chandos disc with Hickox and the CLS is released in March '98. The Hyperion disc with the Nash Ensemble will be released sometime late Spring/Summer '98.
What Are Your Own Favourites Amongst The Works Being Recorded?There are many pieces I like. I would say Aurora and some of the exquisite miniatures like the Cello and piano Nocturne and the flute and piano Mulberry Cottage. These are pieces in which not one note is superfluous or out of place.
What Are Your Own Favourites Among Works As Yet Unrecorded?This is a hard question to answer as I have not had a chance to hear them performed.
Were Any Of The Works Written Especially For You - Which And Background?Yes. The song The Forest of Wild Thyme. It must have been written when I was born as it carries the dedication 'To Julian' and was composed in 1951. It is the saddest song you can imagine! Basically it concerns the hardships people have to endure through their lives and has pity for a child coming into the world.
Were Any Of The Works Written Specifically For Other Performers And If So Which?Yes, some of the pieces carry dedications, like for example, the Viola Sonatina was written for the player John Yewe Dyer, and the Air and Variations for Clarinet and piano are dedicated to Frederick Thurston and all his pupils at the Royal College of Music.
Any Particularly Noteworthy/Obscure Pupils Of Your Father?Yes. John Lill, Julian Bream, John Williams. Many of the students who went through the Royal College of Music. He taught Malcolm Arnold for two lessons, deputising for Gordon Jacob, I believe. Arnold said to me several times that he learnt from my father in those two lessons than in the whole of the rest of his time at the college. You might like to verify this remark with Sir Malcolm.
Did William Ever Plan Or Start A Cello Concerto Or Other Major Work For The Instrument?No. If I had only known what I know now, I would have pleaded with him to do so!
Your Father's Views On His Own Teachers?He never talked about them, although come to think of it, he had a huge respect for Sir George Dyson. He described Vaughan Williams as 'a nice old boy'.
Any Landmark Musical Experiences In Your Father's Life?There must have been many. He kept an ear open for all developments in music. He felt there was great future for electronic instruments, and I think if he had got near something like the Clavinovas that are made now, you would never have got him off it! Compositionally, there were obviously many works that moved him. There were the organ composers Vierne, Rheinberger and César Franck. Rachmaninov was a huge influence on him, as were Tchaikovsky and Sibelius. He particularly liked Strauss' Death and Transfiguration - the Metamorphosen obviously is relevant to W's Lento for Strings - and he remarked that he could easily understand how a composer like Schoenberg had come to the end of what he could do with the traditional scale.
Style Of Conducting/Rehearsal?The little conducting I saw him do was utterly undemonstrative. The only other person I've ever seen conduct so undemonstratively was Walton.
Attitude Towards Agents And The Wider World Of Artists?He had a total abhorrence for the world of promotion. It was an anathema to him. He never had an agent, and dealt with publishers only out of necessity. He would never write to them or ring them to complain about nothing happening with the works, believing it was their job to promote them. He knew many conductors, particularly through his work at the RCM, where he was much liked and respected. However, when I worked later with conductors like Groves and Marriner, they both said he had never mentioned his orchestral works to them.
Did His College Put On Works Of His Own?Yes, they did.
The Titles Of Some Of The Pieces May Suggest Works For Students - Fair Or Unfair?I think this is unfair, although he did write some specific teaching pieces, for example the Scenes from Childhood for piano, and some of the smaller organ pieces.
Attitude Of Bbc To His Works And Also Towards Broadcasts Involving Himself?He gave early organ broadcasts. I don't think the BBC ever would have seen the orchestral pieces outside the first performance of Aurora.
Did He Do Talks For The BBC?No.
Any Foreign Travels And Links With Non Uk Composers Or Institutions?He travelled very little, except towards the end of his life when he visited America and several European countries. He had an offer to take charge of a conservatoire in Adelaide, Australia, which he refused. He had some surprising links with other countries that I never knew of, for example the Missa Sanctae Mariae Magdalenae is dedicated to Evert Heyblok and the Zeeuwse Koorschool (Holland).
Are You Considering Setting Up A Website For W?What a good idea!
Any Performances Of Your Father's Works By Amateur Orchestras Or Regional Or BBC Orchestras?Yes. The orchestral pieces have only just been made available and they are being done by several orchestras now.
There is already one William Lloyd Webber disc available:
ASV CDDCA 961
SONATINA for viola and piano (viola solo by Philip Dukes)
NOCTURNE for cello and piano and TWO PIECES for cello and piano (performed by Julian Lloyd Webber and John Lill)
MISSA SANCTAE MARIAE MAGDALENAE (performed by the Richard Hickox Singers)
SEVEN PIECES for piano (performed by John Lill)
FIVE SONGS for tenor and piano (performed by John Graham-Hall) Julian Lloyd Webber
There is a forthcoming Nash Ensemble/Hyperion CD. (please note, the order of the pieces, as they will appear on the discs, has not yet been finalised)
Hyperion disc: (The Nash Ensemble)
AIR & VARIATIONS for clarinet and piano
FRENSHAM POND for clarinet and piano
SONATINA for flute and piano
MULBERRY COTTAGE for flute and piano
THE GARDENS AT EASTWELL for flute and piano
FANTASY TRIO for piano, violin and cello
THREE SPRING MINIATURES for piano
A SONG FOR THE MORNING for piano
SUMMER PASTURES for horn and piano
SEVEN SONGS FOR TENOR AND PIANO: The Call Of The Morning, I Looked Out, Into The Morning, Sun-Gold, To The Wicklow Hills, How Do I Love Thee, Love, Like A Drop Of Dew The Forest Of Wild Thyme
Furthermore, another major CD of William Lloyd Webber's music was recorded in summer 1997, by Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia, for Chandos. This features some choral and instrumental works (including a piece performed by Julian himself), but most notably, this disc will include the complete orchestral music:
CHANDOS disc: (City of London Sinfonia, conducted by Richard Hickox)
AURORA Tone Poem for Orchestra
SERENADE FOR STRINGS
THREE SPRING MINIATURES for Orchestra
INVOCATION for harp, timps and strings
LENTO for strings
JESUS, DEAR JESUS for boy treble, children's choir and organ (performed by The Choir of the Arts Educational School, London)
MASS 'PRINCEPS PACIS' for SATB choir and organ (performed by the Westminster Singers)
LOVE DIVINE, ALL LOVES EXCELLING for SATB choir and organ (Westminster Singers)
BENEDICTUS for violin and organ (Violin solo by Tasmin Little)
NOCTURNE for cello and harp (Cello solo by Julian Lloyd Webber)
Several of these works have not been performed before, so both discs promise to be very exciting when they are released early next year. There is also a third disc coming out soon. This will feature a selection of William Lloyd Webber's organ music, performed by Jane Watts, and will be released by Priory Records.
List of Works