William Walton (Oldham, 1902 – Forio, Ischia, 1983) is considered to be one of the major English composers of the 19th century.
Born into a musical family, at 10 years old Walton became a chorister at Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford and he continued his undergraduate studies at the college. Initially self taught he was influenced by works of Stravinsky, Bartók, Prokofiev, Strauss and Schönberg.
At this time he realised his first series of compositions. He left Oxford University in 1920 without graduating and moved in with the Sacheverell Sitwell and his family and came into contact with a new world of musicians and more particularly with the sister of his host, Edith, a poet on whose verses Walton’s Façade – An Entertainment which is still considered one of the most emblematic of his composition style.
Active in a jazz band and curious about all forms of music, he was drawn to film music. HIs first soundtrack was written for Escape Me Never, a film by Paul Czinner in 1935. Composer of a violin sonata dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin, two works commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the soundtracks of Henry V (1944) and Richard III with Lawrence Olivier (1955), he also acted, together with the wife Susana, in the television miniseries Wagner (1983), directed by Tony Palmer, with Richard Burton, as the German composer. In 1951 the Queen conferred a knighthood on him and in 1967 awarding him the Order of Merit, the highest British honour.
During the 1950s and 1960s he experienced great acclaim in the United States where, in 1955, Gregor Piatagorsky commissioned a Cello Concerto from him and in 1957, George Szell Partita for the Cleveland Orchestra.
In 1981 he wrote Prologo e Fantasia for Rostropovich and National Symphony Orchestra, Washington DC, USA.