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Working together: William Walton and Oxford University Press

The British composer Sir William Walton (1902-1983), writer of operas, symphonies, concertos, and instrumental music, enjoyed an exclusive publishing relationship with Oxford University Press from the mid-1920s until his death. The works collected in OUP’s twenty-four volume William Walton Edition are representative of all that composer and publisher together achieved. Sitting behind the published scores, however, is a collection of materials relating to the original publications, amassed during Walton’s lifetime and now in the OUP Archive: proofs, copyist’s scores, early versions, original orchestral parts, conductor-marked scores, programmes, and correction sheets. Together these artefacts, the chippings on the workshop floor, tell the story of publisher working with composer, bringing to life a corpus of music now known and admired worldwide. Let us glance at some of the collection’s most revealing items.

Troilus and Cressida: first thoughts

Christopher Hassall’s early draft of the libretto for Troilus and Cressida.

Despite playing to mixed reviews Troilus and Cressida was, in the words of Walton’s biographer Michael Kennedy, ‘the opera he wanted to write’: large-scale, big-boned, romantic. This complete recasting of Chaucer’s masterpiece Troylus and Criseide was composed to a libretto by Ivor Novello’s collaborator Christopher Hassall. Surviving in OUP’s collection is Hassall’s first draft, neatly scribed in a wartime issue ‘Stationery Office’ folio notebook. Now looking back at this draft, the libretto as finally set by Walton is all but unrecognizable within it. Hassall’s first version reads more as a play, having none of the crisp concision characteristic of an opera libretto—it is expansive, wordy, and overflowing with a cast of superfluous ‘extras’. While a few of the draft’s choice phrases (Pandarus on Troilus: ‘On jealousy’s hot grid he roasts alive’) survived into the final text, and a couple of the opera’s eventually famous set pieces (for example, the female chorus ‘Put off the serpent girdle’) were there, in some form, from the start, it is clear that it was only the ruthless cutting and re-writing undertaken by Hassall and Walton (as, for years, they worked together on the opera) that transformed it to become the spectacular piece of musical theatre first revealed as the curtain of the Royal Opera House rose on the night of 3 December 1954. Embedded in the draft, though, are many ‘lost gems’—it’s tempting to speculate on what otherwise might have been. Text, subsequently cut, for a humorous ‘round’ or ‘catch’, to be sung at sunrise, might well have resulted in a perfectly sardonic Waltonian redress to traditional and benign views of larks ascending: ‘Hark, hark, the horrid lark hilariously calls! How sprightly and depressing! How soon that tuneful blessing disgruntles and appalls!’. In all, this long-forgotten manuscript has a multitude of stories to tell.

Walton, Menuhin, and the Violin Sonata

The Violin Sonata: Yehudi Menuhin’s marked and edited ‘pre-publication’ copy of the violin part

‘Work in progress’ of a different order is preserved in a pack of materials relating to Walton’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. This was written for Yehudi Menuhin: he and the pianist Louis Kentner gave a public ‘run through’ in Zürich in 1949. They gave the first performance of the by then definitive version in London on 5 February in the following year. That London version had been ‘overhauled’ by Menuhin to the extent that upon receipt of Menuhin’s edited violin part OUP wrote to Walton, ‘It really is quite a nightmare since there is hardly a note which hasn’t got a marking of some kind’. This edited solo part, and a set of proofs, survive—with their multiplicity of fingerings, articulation marks, queries, and dynamic markings, they together demonstrate dramatically Menuhin’s important contribution to the work’s final form. There is a separate note about bowings, flamboyantly signed by ‘Yehudi’—this eventually appeared in the published score.

Menuhin’s editorial note on his markings for bowing was printed in the published edition of the Violin Sonata.

In May 1950 Menuhin and Kentner recorded the sonata for HMV. It is possible, by bringing this recording and the proofs together, not only to hear Menuhin creating the sonata in sound but at the same time also to watch him, collaborating with Walton through an intense shaping and a burnishing of the text, to perfection—a rare ‘open window’ on the creative process.

Outside the concert hall: big screen and airwaves

Some collection items serve as reminders of Walton’s work in what today would be labelled as ‘media’—music not written for concert hall or theatre, but for the cinema, and for radio. Although OUP was not directly involved in Walton’s works for cinema, radio, and television, his editors would nonetheless proffer advice and assistance, and Walton and the companies often placed the scores with OUP to ‘look after’. In many cases OUP then published suites and other selections, suitable for concert use, using the materials entrusted to them. In 1936 Walton wrote the score for Paul Czinner’s film As You Like It (the first of Walton’s several Shakespeare film scores): while his autograph manuscript is today in the Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, surviving in the OUP collection are two bags containing the hastily-written orchestral parts used by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the recording session—these show alterations made as the music was recorded to film. And for the music written for the BBC Home Service’s broadcast of Louis MacNeice’s radio play Christopher Columbus on 12 October 1942, a 160-page manuscript full score (in the immaculate hand of a professional copyist) survives.

Recording session orchestral parts for William Walton’s film score As You Like It.

To the Bodleian Libraries

Other collection highlights include manuscripts relating to the early performances of Façade: An Entertainment (and a 1926 London performance programme), an arrangement of the Spitfire fugue made for the band of Bomber Command, and Walton’s marked score for the Piano Quartet revision. Oxford University Press is delighted that the whole Walton publishing collection will, this year, be transferred to the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections at Oxford’s Weston Library where, in due course, it will be catalogued, stored, and curated. In doing so, scholars and all with an interest in William Walton’s music will be enabled to take a glance behind the covers of the published scores, finding out more about how his works took shape.

Photographs by Jerry Black

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