Recently I’ve been loading more music onto my MP3 player, and it’s been interesting to stand back and observe what I’ve been reaching for first from the shelf. One surprise has been how music of William Walton I have.
Unlike Gerald Finzi, much of whose music was love at first listening, Walton has crept up on me more quietly, over a number of years. I love the sheer range of his composition, from the more challenging passages of the violin concerto to instant accessibility and catchiness of his film music, and the humour of smaller pieces like ‘The First Shoot’. There’s something in Walton’s film music in particular which has really helped to shape our cultural memory – perhaps because so much subsequent film and TV score writing has been so influenced by him? The music to Henry V is a particular personal favourite (not least because a few years ago I had the hugely exciting experience of singing in it with Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and with Sam West as narrator), but I also have a soft spot for the ‘Wartime Sketchbook’, Christopher Palmer’s arrangement of extracts from Walton’s wartime film scores. However, my favourite, and another piece I was lucky enough to sing with Sheffield Phil, is ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ – its power and energy send shivers up my spine every time I hear it, and I must have listened to it scores of times.