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The later orchestral works of William Walton: a critical and analytical re-evaluation

Byde, Michael Geoffrey John (2008) The later orchestral works of William Walton: a critical and analytical re-evaluation. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.


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Although the British twentieth-century composer William Walton enJoys a continuing presence in the international canon, the body of scholarship that seriously engages with his life and work is small. The post-war music, which includes the Cello Concerto (1956), Second Symphony (1961), Variations on a Theme of Hindemith (1963), Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten (1969), and the film score for Battle of Britain (1969), has been particularly underrepresented in critical and analytical writing. In this thesis, I give detailed analyses of these scores, alongside an investigation of the contemporary critical climate and reception history of these works. I argue that the series of significant lifestyle changes that Walton underwent in the years immediately following the Second World War - including exchanging the busy musical life of London and a series of affairs with high-profile figures for the 'dolce far niente' of an isolated Italian island and a stable marriage - are suggestive of a broad shift in the composer's social and cultural values with consequent changes in musical attitudes and compositional tendencies. Walton's later music is differentiated from the pre-war works by the presence of octatonic, twelve-note, hexatonic and other non-diatonic harmonic constructions in the foreground, and a change from teleological to network-based or rotational background structures. My analyses adopt a deliberately eclectic range of analytical strategies, combining aspects of set-class approaches alongside tools from the tonal tradition. This methodological pluralism reflects my argument that the vitality of these scores derives from a tension between modernist and traditional tendencies. I argue that Walton appropriates a wide range of influences, including to some extent that of the European avant garde, in contradistinction to the assertion prominent in contemporary reception literature that his music had stagnated into a single outmoded and rarefied style. I conclude that although Walton's post-war music was indeed conservative in comparison to that of several of his younger contemporaries, his music engages, through opposition and assimilation, with many of the most characteristic trends of twentieth-century concert music. Nevertheless, I argue that the temptation to label Walton as a 'modernist' should be avoided; his works should be judged on their own terms and not according to the regressive--progressive axis prominent in much of the contemporary reception literature. These scores may not have been progressive, but they have a distinctive sound-world and an invigorating vitality that makes them exceptionally engaging both as works of art and objects of study.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Music (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.491659
Depositing User: Ethos Import
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2011 10:00
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2014 11:14
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/1579

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