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FastNotes

  • In 1918 Edith Sitwell had begun publishing some of the Façade poems she would later (1950) collect in book form, and in early 1922 she and Walton collaborated in Façade – An Entertainment in a private performance. They gave the first public performance in June 1923.
  • The performance consisted of her declaiming her verse – experimental in the meaningful nonsense style of Lewis Carroll – from behind a screen while Walton conducted an instrumental sextet in a sassy score full of allusions and quotations.
  • Of the public performance, Ernest Newman wrote in The Sunday Times that “as a musical joker [Walton] is a jewel of the first order” and the music soon became very popular. Many versions, revisions, and adaptations followed, including this Suite No. 2 in 1938.

Composed: 1922; 1938
Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, percussion (snare drum, suspended cymbals, castanets, triangle, temple blocks, bass drum), and strings

First LA Phil performance: August 13, 1953, William Walton conducting

In Walton’s career and music, the modern gesture and the traditional tune, the unconventional form and the establishment commission, co-existed equably, not as conflicting paradoxes but as mutually supporting elements of an eclectic whole. The son of professional singers, he entered the Cathedral Choir School at Christ Church, Oxford, and then the college itself. But he never graduated, and turned from traditionally-rooted choral music to jazzy instrumental works. At age 19 he composed Façade, and when Edith Sitwell herself shouted her verses through a megaphone at the London premiere two years later, Walton scored his first success/scandal.

Walton had become friends with Sitwell’s brother Sacheverell at Oxford, and at his invitation came to join the Sitwell family in London in 1920. “I went for a few weeks,” Walton later wrote, “and stayed about 15 years.” During this time he was something of a Sitwell protégé, meeting Stravinsky and Gershwin through their circle, and studying music with Ernest Ansermet and Ferruccio Busoni.

In 1918 Edith Sitwell had begun publishing some of the Façade poems she would later (1950) collect in book form, and in early 1922 she and Walton collaborated in Façade – An Entertainment in a private performance. This consisted of her declaiming her verse – experimental in the meaningful nonsense style of Lewis Carroll – from behind a screen while Walton conducted an instrumental sextet in a sassy score full of allusions and quotations. (Walton also notated the rhythms for the recitation.) They gave the first public performance in June 1923. It was generally panned in the press, but Ernest Newman wrote in The Sunday Times that “as a musical joker [Walton] is a jewel of the first order” and the music soon became very popular. Walton orchestrated five of the numbers in 1926 as the Suite No. 1, and that was used as the basis for Günter Hess’ ballet for German Chamber Dance Theater in 1929 and, most significantly, Frederick Ashton’s very successful 1931 ballet. Many versions, revisions, and adaptations followed, including this Suite No. 2 in 1938.

John Henken is Publications Editor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.