The selection of Williamson to fill this post was a surprise, over other composers such as Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett and Malcolm Arnold, such that William Walton had remarked that "the wrong Malcolm" had been chosen. In addition, Williamson was the first non-Briton to hold the post. He wrote a number of pieces connected to his royal post, including Mass of Christ the King (1978) (see below) and Lament in Memory of Lord Mountbatten of Burma (1980). However, controversy attended his tenure, notably his failure to complete the intended "Jubilee Symphony" for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. He became less prolific in "Royal" works during the last twenty years or so of his life, although he never completely ceased to take interest in writing music for the Royal Family (see list of "Royal Works" below). His overall compositional output slowed considerably due to a series of illnesses. He died in 2003 in a hospital in Cambridge. Williamson married Dolores Daniel in 1960 and had one son and two daughters.
They were divorced in 1978. He later had a long-term partnership with his publisher Simon Campion. Williamson's music Some of Williamson's early works use the twelve tone technique of Arnold Schoenberg, but his greatest influence is often said to be Olivier Messiaen. He discovered Messiaen's music shortly before converting to Roman Catholicism in 1952. He was also influenced by Britten, as well as by jazz and popular music (this latter influence may have come in part from him working as a night club pianist in the 1950s). Williamson wrote seven symphonies, four piano concertos, operas including Our Man in Havana and The Violins of Saint Jacques, the ballets Sun Into Darkness and The Display, choral works, chamber music, music for solo piano, music for film and television including "Prologue" and "Main Title" of Watership Down, and others. Williamson also wrote music for children, including the opera The Happy Prince (based on the story by Oscar Wilde) and cassations, short operas incorporating audience participation.
One of these, The Valley and the Hill, written for the silver jubilee of Elizabeth II, was performed by 18,000 children. His largest choral work, the Mass of Christ the King, was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, and attracted popular attention largely because Williamson delivered it late. It is written for two sopranos, tenor and baritone soli, SATB chorus, SATB echo choir and a large orchestra. There were a number of performances over the next few years, including a live BBC broadcast in 1981, but the work is now largely forgotten. Williamson became generally much less prolific in later life, although he had some very busy years. For example, in 1988 Williamson wrote a large-scale choral-orchestral work The True Endeavour, the orchestral Bicentennial Anthem, the Fanfare of Homage for military band, a ballet Have Steps Will Travel for John Alleyne and the National Ballet of Canada, Ceremony for Oodgeroo (Oodgeroo Noonuccal, formerly known as Kath Walker) for brass quintet, and also commenced work on a substantial new choral-symphony The Dawn is at Hand (to texts by Kath Walker), completed and performed in Australia the following year.
Other works include the Requiem for a Tribe Brother (another Australian work, completed in 1992), a third string quartet (1993), a fourth piano concerto (1994) and a symphony for solo harp, Day that I have Loved (1994). The orchestral song cycle on texts by Iris Murdoch A Year of Birds premiered at The Proms in 1995. The same year also saw the premiere of an orchestral work With Proud Thanksgiving, commissioned for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, and dedicated to the memory of Williamson's long-time friend, the UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Honours Williamson was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1976, and an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1987. The latter award was honorary, but it is not clear why he no longer qualified for a substantive award.
The citation for the award read "For service to music and the mentally handicapped". Unusually for Masters of the Queen's Music, he was never knighted. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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