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Biography of

William Alwyn

7 nov 1905 (Northampton) - 11 sep 1985 (Southwold)
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Portrait of William Alwyn

William Alwyn CBE, born William Alwyn Smith[1] (7 November 1905 – 11 September 1985),[2] was an English composer, conductor, and music teacher.

Life and music

William Alwyn was born in Northampton, where he showed an early interest in music and began to learn to play the piccolo. At the age of 15 he entered the Royal Academy of Music in London where he studied flute and composition. He was a virtuoso flautist and for a time was a flautist with the London Symphony Orchestra.[3] Alwyn served as professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music from 1926 to 1955.[4]

William Alwyn had a remarkable range of talents. He was a distinguished polyglot, poet, and artist, as well as musician.[4] In 1948 he became a member of the Savile Club in London. He helped found the Composers' Guild of Great Britain (now merged into the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors), and was its chairman in 1949, 1950 and 1954.[5] He was also sometime Director of the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society, a Vice-President of the Society for the Promotion of New Music (S.P.N.M.) and Director of the Performing Right Society. For many years he was one of the panel engaged by the BBC to read new scores to help assess whether the works should be performed and broadcast. He was awarded a CBE in 1978 in recognition of his services to music.[6]

His compositional output was varied and large and included five symphonies, four operas, several concertos, film scores and string quartets.

Alwyn wrote over 70 film scores from 1941 to 1962. His classic film scores included Odd Man Out, Desert Victory, Fires Were Started, The History of Mr. Polly, The Fallen Idol, The Black Tent, The Way Ahead, The True Glory and The Crimson Pirate. Some of the scores have been lost, although many scores and sketches are now in the William Alwyn Archive at Cambridge University Library. In recent years CD recordings have been made. Some works, for which only fragmentary sketches remained, were reconstructed by Philip Lane or Christopher Palmer from the film soundtracks themselves.[7]

Alwyn relished dissonance, and devised his own alternative to twelve-tone serialism. For instance, in his third symphony (1955–56), eight notes of the possible twelve are used in the first movement, with the remaining four (D, E, F, and A♭) constituting the middle movement, and all twelve being combined for the finale. The work was premièred by Sir Thomas Beecham.

Alwyn's concerto for harp and string orchestra, Lyra Angelica, was popularized when the American figure skater Michelle Kwan performed to it at the 1998 Winter Olympics.[8]

William Alwyn spent the last twenty-five years of his life at Lark Rise, Dunwich Road, Blythburgh, Suffolk,[9] and died in Southwold, Suffolk, England, in 1985. He was survived by his second wife, the composer Doreen Carwithen. (The actor Gary Cooper was a cousin of his, on Alwyn's mother's side.)

Selected works

  • Five Preludes (1927)
  • Aphrodite in Aulis, Eclogue after George Moore for small orchestra (1932)
  • The Innumerable Dance, an English Overture (1933)
  • Tragic Interlude for 2 horns, timpani and string orchestra (1936)
  • Overture to a Masque (1940)
  • Concerto grosso No. 1 in B♭ major (1942)
  • Score for Country Town (1943)
  • Suite of Scottish Dances for small orchestra (1946)
  • Concerto grosso No. 2 in G major for string quartet and string orchestra (1948)
  • Symphony No. 1 (1948–1949)
  • Festival March (1951)
  • The Magic Island, Symphonic Prelude (1952)
  • Symphony No. 2 (1953)
  • Symphony No. 3 (1955–1956)
  • Elizabethan Dances (1956–1957)
  • Fanfare for a Joyful Occasion for brass and percussion (1958)
  • Symphony No. 4 (1959)
  • Derby Day, Overture (1960)
  • Concerto grosso No. 3 (1964)
  • Sinfonietta [No. 1] for string orchestra (1970)
  • Symphony No. 5 Hydriotaphia (1972–1973)
  • Sinfonietta No. 2 for string orchestra (1976)[citation needed]
  • The Moor of Venice, Overture for brass band (1956)
  • Piano Concerto No. 1 (1930)
  • Violin Concerto (1939)
  • Pastoral Fantasia for viola and string orchestra (1939)
  • Concerto for oboe, harp and strings (1944)
  • Autumn Legend for cor anglais and string orchestra (1954)
  • Lyra Angelica, Concerto for harp and string orchestra (1954)
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 (1960)
  • Concerto for flute and 8 wind instruments (1980)
Chamber music
  • Sonatina for violin and piano (1933)
  • 2 Folk Tunes for cello or viola and piano (or harp) (1936)
  • Novelette for string quartet (1938)
  • Ballade for viola and piano (1939)
  • Sonata Impromptu for violin and viola (1939)
  • Rhapsody for violin, viola, cello and piano (1939)
  • Divertimento for solo flute (1940)
  • Sonatina for viola and piano (1941)
  • Suite for oboe and harp (1944)
  • Sonata for flute and piano (1948)
  • Three Winter Poems for string quartet (1948)
  • Conversations for violin, clarinet and piano (1950)
  • Trio for flute, cello and piano (1951)
  • String Quartet No. 1 in D minor (1953)
  • Crepuscule for harp (1955)
  • Sonata for clarinet and piano (1962)
  • String Trio (1962)
  • Moto Perpetuo for recorders (1970)
  • Naiades, Fantasy Sonata for flute and harp (1971)
  • String Quartet No. 2 Spring Waters (1975)
  • Chaconne for Tom for descant recorder and piano (1982)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (1984)
  • Hunter's Moon (1920s)
  • Odd Moments, Suite (1920s)
  • The Orchard (1920s)
  • Haze of Noon (1926)
  • Two Irish Pieces
  • April Morn, 4 Petites Pièces (1924–1926)
  • Fancy Free, 4 Pieces
  • Contes Barbares, Hommage à Paul Gauguin (1930–1933)
  • Night Thoughts (1940)
  • Prelude and Fugue Formed on an Indian Scale (1945)
  • Sonata alla Toccata (1946)
  • By the Farmyard Gate, 4 Pieces
  • From Ireland, 7 Traditional Tunes
  • Wooden Walls, Suite
  • Midsummer Night, Suite
  • Green Hills
  • Five Pieces, Suite
  • Two Intermezzi
  • Two Pieces
  • Harvest Home, Suite
  • The Tinker's Tune
  • Down by the Riverside
  • Nine Children's Pieces
  • Fantasy-Waltzes (1956)
  • Twelve Preludes (1958)
  • Movements (1961)
  • Twelve Diversions for the Five Fingers
  • 3 Songs to Words by Trevor Blakemore for voice and piano (1940)
  • Mirages, Song Cycle for baritone and piano (1970)
  • 6 Nocturnes for baritone and piano (1973)
  • Invocations, Song Cycle for soprano and piano (1977)
  • A Leave Taking, Songs for tenor and piano (1978)
  • Seascapes, Song Cycle for soprano, treble recorder and piano (1980)

Film scores

Date Title Director Notes
1941 Penn of Pennsylvania Comfort, LanceLance Comfort
1941 They Flew Alone Wilcox, HerbertHerbert Wilcox
1942 Squadron Leader X Comfort, LanceLance Comfort
1942 The Harvest Shall Come Wright, BasilBasil Wright
1943 Escape to Danger Comfort, LanceLance Comfort
Victor Hanbury
1943 Desert Victory Boulting, RoyRoy Boulting
1944 On Approval Brook, CliveClive Brook
1944 Medal for the General Elvey, MauriceMaurice Elvey
1944 The Way Ahead Reed, CarolCarol Reed
1944 The True Glory Reed, CarolCarol Reed
1945 Great Day Comfort, LanceLance Comfort
1945 Rake's ProgressThe Rake's Progress Gilliat, SidneySidney Gilliat
1946 I See a Dark Stranger Launder, FrankFrank Launder a.k.a. The Adventuress
1946 Odd Man Out Reed, CarolCarol Reed
1946 Green for Danger Gilliat, SidneySidney Gilliat
1947 Take My Life Neame, RonaldRonald Neame
1947 October ManThe October Man Baker, Roy WardRoy Ward Baker
1947 Captain Boycott Launder, FrankFrank Launder
1948 Escape Mankiewicz, Joseph L.Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1948 So Evil My Love Allen, LewisLewis Allen music also by Victor Young
1948 Fallen IdolThe Fallen Idol Reed, CarolCarol Reed
1948 Winslow BoyThe Winslow Boy Asquith, AnthonyAnthony Asquith
1949 History of Mr. PollyThe History of Mr. Polly Pelissier, AnthonyAnthony Pelissier
1949 Rocking Horse WinnerThe Rocking Horse Winner Pelissier, AnthonyAnthony Pelissier
1949 Cure for LoveThe Cure for Love Donat, RobertRobert Donat
1949 Madeleine Lean, DavidDavid Lean
1949 Golden Salamander Neame, RonaldRonald Neame
1950 State Secret Gilliat, SidneySidney Gilliat
1950 MagnetThe Magnet Frend, CharlesCharles Frend
1950 MudlarkThe Mudlark Negulesco, JeanJean Negulesco
1950 Morning Departure Baker, Roy WardRoy Ward Baker
1951 Night Without Stars Pelissier, AnthonyAnthony Pelissier
1951 No Resting Place Rotha, PaulPaul Rotha
1951 Magic BoxThe Magic Box Boulting, JohnJohn Boulting
1951 House in the SquareThe House in the Square Baker, Roy WardRoy Ward Baker a.k.a. I'll Never Forget You
1951 Lady Godiva Rides Again Launder, FrankFrank Launder a.k.a. Bikini Baby
1952 CardThe Card Neame, RonaldRonald Neame
1952 Saturday Island Heisler, StuartStuart Heisler a.k.a. Island of Desire
1952 Mandy Mackendrick, AlexanderAlexander Mackendrick
Fred F. Sears
1952 Crimson PirateThe Crimson Pirate Siodmak, RobertRobert Siodmak
1952 Long MemoryThe Long Memory Hamer, RobertRobert Hamer
1953 Malta Story Hurst, Brian DesmondBrian Desmond Hurst
1953 Master of Ballantrae (film)The Master of Ballantrae Keighley, WilliamWilliam Keighley
1953 Personal Affair Pelissier, AnthonyAnthony Pelissier
1954 Million Pound NoteThe Million Pound Note Neame, RonaldRonald Neame
1954 Rainbow JacketThe Rainbow Jacket Dearden, BasilBasil Dearden
1954 SeekersThe Seekers Annakin, KenKen Annakin
1954 Svengali Langley, NoelNoel Langley
1955 Bedevilled Leisen, MitchellMitchell Leisen
1955 Ship That Died of ShameThe Ship That Died of Shame Dearden, BasilBasil Dearden
1955 Geordie Launder, FrankFrank Launder
1955 Safari Young, TerenceTerence Young
1956 Black TentThe Black Tent Hurst, Brian DesmondBrian Desmond Hurst
1956 Smiley Kimmins, AnthonyAnthony Kimmins
1956 Zarak Young, TerenceTerence Young
1957 Smallest Show on EarthThe Smallest Show on Earth Dearden, BasilBasil Dearden
1957 Manuela Hamilton, GuyGuy Hamilton a.k.a. Stowaway Girl
1958 Fortune Is a Woman Gilliat, SidneySidney Gilliat
1958 Carve Her Name with Pride Gilbert, LewisLewis Gilbert
1958 I Accuse! Ferrer, JoséJosé Ferrer
1958 Silent EnemyThe Silent Enemy Fairchild, WilliamWilliam Fairchild
1958 Night to RememberA Night to Remember Baker, Roy WardRoy Ward Baker
1959 Shake Hands with the Devil Anderson, MichaelMichael Anderson
1959 Killers of Kilimanjaro Thorpe, RichardRichard Thorpe
1959 Third Man on the Mountain Annakin, KenKen Annakin
1959 Devil's Bait Scott, Peter GrahamPeter Graham Scott
1960 ProfessionalsThe Professionals Sharp, DonDon Sharp
1960 Swiss Family Robinson Annakin, KenKen Annakin
1961 Naked EdgeThe Naked Edge Anderson, MichaelMichael Anderson
1962 Night of the Eagle Hayers, SidneySidney Hayers
1962 Life for Ruth Dearden, BasilBasil Dearden
1962 In Search of the Castaways Stevenson, RobertRobert Stevenson
1963 Running ManThe Running Man Reed, CarolCarol Reed


  1. ^ Ian Johnson, William Alwyn: The Art of Film Music (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), ISBN 1-84383-159-7.
  2. ^ "Alwyn, William". Who Was Who in America, 1993-1996, vol. 11. New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who. 1996. p. 5. ISBN 0-8379-0225-8. 
  3. ^ William Alwyn, Winged Chariot Composing in words (London: Toccata Press, 2009) ISBN 978-0-907689-71-3
  4. ^ a b Mervyn Cooke, "Alwyn, William", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2001).
  5. ^ English Music Festival: Composer Profiles. Accessed 27 April 2013
  6. ^ William Alwyn Foundation: Biography. Accessed 26 February 2016
  7. ^ Philip Lane, "Reconstructing Film Scores", William Alwyn Society Newsletter (December 1997).
  8. ^ Michelle Kwan at the 1998 Olympics.
  9. ^ Correspondence in the William Alwyn Archive, Cambridge University Library

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "William Alwyn. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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