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Composer: William Lloyd Webber

William Lloyd Webber (1914–1982) William Lloyd Webber was born into a poor London family in 1914. The son of a self-employed plumber, he was fortunate, from a musical point of view, that his father was a keen organ 'buff' who spent what little spare money he had travelling to hear various organs in and around the capital. Often he would take his son with him, and before long, young William started to play the organ himself and developed an interest that bordered on the obsessional. By the age of 14, William Lloyd Webber had already become a well-known organ recitalist, giving frequent performances at many important churches and cathedrals throughout Great Britain. He won an organ scholarship to Mercer's School, later winning a further scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams and gained his FRCO diploma at nineteen.[bg_collapse view="link" color="#72777c" icon="arrow" expand_text="Show More" collapse_text="Show Less" ] Parallel to his activities as an organist, he began to compose, and several interesting works date from this early period including the Fantasy Trio of 1936. Although the second world war interrupted his composition (he was organist and choirmaster at London's All Saints, Margaret Street throughout the war), its ending marked the beginning of Lloyd Webber's most prolific years as a composer. During the war he had married Jean Hermione Johnstone, a violinist and pianist. They had two sons: Andrew (b.1948) and Julian (b.1951). From 1945 to the mid-1950s William Lloyd Webber wrote music in many different forms: vocal and instrumental, choral and organ, chamber and orchestral. Works from this period include the oratorio 'St. Francis of Assisi', the orchestral tone poem 'Aurora', the Sonatinas for viola and piano and flute and piano, and numerous songs, organ pieces and choral works. But Lloyd Webber's roots were firmly embedded in the romanticism of such composers as Rachmaninov, Sibelius and Franck, and he became increasingly convinced that his own music was 'out of step' with the prevailing climate of the time. Rather than compromise his style, he turned to the academic side of British musical life - teaching at the Royal College of Music and, in 1964, accepting the Directorship of the London College of Music. Disillusioned with composition, he wrote virtually nothing for the next 20 years - until shortly before his death, when a sudden flowering of creativity produced among a number of works the mass 'Missa Sanctae Mariae Magdalenae' (available on ASV CD, DCA 961). William Lloyd Webber was by nature a shy and withdrawn character. He had an avowed dislike of self-promotion and, rightly or wrongly, found the 'cut and thrust' approach apparently necessary for the furtherance of a composer's career a complete anathema to him. He had no time for the trappings of verbosity. He was a man who wasted few words and, in his music, equally few notes. "Why", he would ask his pupils, "write six pages when six bars will do?" The possessor of a remarkable melodic gift which he frequently allied with surprisingly 'purple' harmonies, Lloyd Webber was a composer who knew exactly what he wanted to say and how to say it. When 'Aurora' was recorded for Philips in 1986 by Lorin Maazel and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, it was a revelation. Edward Greenfield of The Guardian called it "skilfully and sumptuously scored ... music as sensuous as any you will find from a British composer". Yet his music has remained virtually undiscovered until recently when works that have lain unpublished and unperformed for many years have gradually come to light. Today in an age when the musical world is perhaps readier to accept new compositions in many different styles, we can listen to William Lloyd Webber's music as if for the first time.[/bg_collapse]

Composer: William Croft

William Croft (1678–1727) William Croft is now remembered chiefly for his church music, and in particular for a setting of the burial sentences probably written for the funeral of the Duke of Marlborough in 1722 and sung at almost every state funeral since. He also produced a good deal of secular vocal music, and there is much fine keyboard and other instrumental music as well. Born in Nether Ettington, Warwickshire, in 1678, Croft was brought up as a chorister of the Chapel Royal under John Blow, whom he succeeded in October 1708, not only as Composer and Master of the Children of the Chapel, but also as organist of Westminster Abbey. As Composer to the Chapel Royal he was later forced into competition with Handel who, at the instigation of George I, was given an identical title in February 1723. But such was Croft’s natural modesty and unassuming nature that there was never, it seems, any real friction between them. In the ordinary course of events, the music at the coronation of George II ought to have been Croft’s responsibility, but as the composer died on 14th August 1727, just two months before the actual ceremony, it was Handel who took charge of the occasion.

Composer: William Byrd

William Byrd (c.1539–1623)Born in London at the end of 1539 or early 1540, William Byrd was the foremost composer of the Elizabethan age and among the three or four English composers since the Renaissance who have stood unequivocally as equals with their continental contemporaries. A master of keyboard music and the madrigal as well as Latin and English church music, he was an organist and member of the sovereign's private religious establishment, the Chapel Royal. Yet he remained throughout his life a dedicated Roman Catholic who was persecuted as a recusant and who upheld through his art the old faith. The spirit of his work survived undimmed through the neglect of the baroque and classical periods. It was only with the publication of The Byrd Edition during the 20th century, however, that the full range of his genius became evident and accessible to music lovers, an awareness enhanced by the wide range of recordings now available, performed by many of the world's leading early music specialists.

Composer: William Boyce

William Boyce (1711–1779) The music of William Boyce, who is buried under the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, is of such self-evident merit that its qualities might be taken for granted. If so, then the 300th anniversary of his birth falling this year is a splendid opportunity to rediscover its virtues of fresh, robust melody and vigorous harmony, which make his work an outstanding example of English late-Baroque style. One positive outcome from any such appraisal will surely be a higher repertoire profile for Boyce’s remarkable serenata Solomon (an excellent recording on the Hyperion label is strongly recommended). Though regularly performed during the composer’s lifetime and for long afterwards, this piece fell from favour when 19th-century prurience objected to its mildly erotic text. No such reservations need apply today, and its ravishing and melodious numbers such as the duet ‘Arise, my fair, the doors unfold,’ should command a popularity no less undimmed than the composer’s tuneful Eight Symphonys. In addition to his employment as a church musician and organist to the Chapel Royal, for which he supplied anthems and court odes, Boyce was engaged as conductor of the Three Choirs Festival in 1737. At David Garrick’s request he composed several scores for Drury Lane. He also supplied many songs for the famed Vauxhall Gardens. Their music is always of the finest quality, and exquisitely matches the moods of their Georgian pastoral texts. Boyce’s other great contribution to English musical culture was as a pioneering musicologist. His inestimable collection Cathedral Music, published between 1760 and 1773, did much to preserve an understanding of music from the period of Tallis to the early eighteenth century, and prefigured later scholarly editions. It is fitting therefore not only that Solomon is included in the Musica Britannica series but also that a selection of pieces by Boyce – odes, songs and theatrical music – is available in the facsimile series Music for London Entertainment.

Composer: William Alwyn

William Alwyn (1905–1985) Born in Northampton and trained at the Royal Academy of Music (where he later became a professor), Alwyn’s prolific output included five symphonies, four operas, several concertos and string quartets. He also composed the soundtrack for around seventy feature films including ‘The Winslow Boy’, ‘The History of Mr Polly’, ‘The Mudlark’, ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’ and ‘A Night to Remember’ – the story of the ill-fated Titanic. Alwyn was also a virtuoso flautist and was for a time a member of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)Ralph Vaughan Williams was an outstanding 20th-century composer, and one of a handful of British composers whose achievement ranks equal in genius with that of Henry Purcell. Drawing on the rich treasury of national folk song and dance, he created a uniquely English style that is also universal in its range of appeal. Many of his most popular works in the Stainer & Bell catalogue reflect this lifelong interest in the music of the people. The Five English Folk Songs for SATB chorus, for example, and the Six Studies in English Folk Song, have been firmly established in the repertoire of singers and instrumentalists for many years. Another favourite, the Fantasia on Christmas Carols, derived from his reforming work as editor of the English Hymnal. In both A Sea Symphony and A London Symphony, the folk song essence is transformed into visionary, transcendental statements of a kind also found in Toward the Unknown Region, for chorus and orchestra, and the Five Mystical Songs, for solo baritone, chorus and orchestra. Much influenced by the legacy of the Tudors, Vaughan Williams paid homage to the English Renaissance tradition of viol consort music in his Phantasy Quintet, worthy to stand with the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis as emblem of his gift for fusing past and present in a powerfully arresting identity.

Composer: Chris Williams

Chris Williams Chris began his musical career at the age of eight as a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Having won a scholarship to study Music at New College, Oxford, he went on to study postgraduate composition and piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he won several prestigious prizes, including the 1979 Royal Philharmonic Prize for composition. His work ranges from large-scale music theatre pieces to simple choral works, accompanied and a cappella, as well as instrumental and orchestral pieces. He lived in India for 16 years, where, for two years, he was Composer-in-Residence at the Lawrence School, Sanawar, in the Himalayan foothills, and from 2004, he lived in Bangalore as a composer, pianist and teacher. Before India, Chris lived in Devon, U.K. In 1985, he was appointed as Musician-in-Residence at the Beaford Centre and thereafter worked freelance as a composer, teacher and musical director for choirs and music theatre, especially with The Young Company and the People’s Company at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. Major productions of “Korczak” (about an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto) have been produced by YMT UK (2011), Wroclaw (2016), and Opera I Filharmonia Podlaska in Poland (under the auspices of UNESCO), which was voted the most important historical event in Poland and won the Jan Kiepura Award for Best Theatrical Performance in 2012.
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