Sir William Walton (1902 – 1983) was an English composer who created music in styles from film scores to operas over his sixty-year career. “Façade,” which he scored for poet Dame Edith Sitwell in 1922, is one of his better known works.
British Prime Minister Edward Heath hosted a 70th birthday dinner for Sir William Walton (1902-1983) at 10 Downing Street with the Queen Mother and many royals in attendance. Ten movements from Walton’s Façade were performed by the London Sinfonietta, and the Martin Neary Singers sang a grace specially written by Herbert Howells. Composer Benjamin Britten, one of Walton’s most eminent colleagues, presented a Walton evening at his famed Festival Aldeburgh at his home base. André Previn conducted a special all-Walton concert from London’s Royal Festival Hall in Walton’s presence to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Sitwell began to publish some of the Façade poems in 1918, in the literary magazine Wheels. In 1922 many of them were given an orchestral accompaniment by Walton, Sitwell’s protégé and were performed publicly the following year. Façade consists of various Edith Sitwell poems recited rhythmically over music by William Walton, performed by a small orchestra. Scholars vary over whether these poems are pure nonsense or contain buried references to Sitwell’s troubled childhood. Over the decades, Walton continually revised the suite, adding and dropping poems. Several different versions of the piece now exist.
It is sometimes said that the Façade verses are nonsense poetry, in the tradition of Edward Lear. But despite the experiments with sound and rhythm, there is meaning in Sitwell’s poems. The literary scholar Jack Lindsay wrote, “The associations are often glancing and rapid in the extreme, but the total effect comes from a highly organized basis of sense.” Other writers have detected personal references in the Façade poems. Christopher Palmer lists many references to Sitwell’s unhappy childhood, from the kind Mariner Man (her father’s valet who entertained her with seafaring stories) to the implacable Mrs. Behemoth, her mother.
March 26 7:30pm
Orinda Library Auditorium
March 27 3:00pm
Bankhead Theater, Livermore