WILLIAM ALWYN (1905 - 1985)
William Alwyn’s training at the Royal Academy of Music in London was interrupted by the death of his father, but after earning his living for a time, principally as a flautist, he returned to teach composition at the Academy whilst simultaneously pursuing his career as a flautist. He later developed his technique and particular musical language, rejecting his earlier work. He won a reputation as a composer of film scores, with music for The Way Ahead and Odd Man Out among 86 such collaborations, and he wrote music for 107 documentaries. A man of diverse gifts, he also turned his attention to painting and writing.
Alwyn’s orchestral music includes five symphonies and a number of concertos, two of them for piano. The first of the latter was written in 1930 and later rejected by the composer, a judgement that to many has appeared too harsh. The second concerto was written in 1960.
After earlier work for documentary films, in the 1940s Alwyn began an important collaboration with the film director Carol Reed, writing scores for films including Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, The Winslow Boy and The History of Mr Polly.
Vocal and Chamber Music
Alwyn was equally prolific as a composer of music for voice and for smaller ensembles, his vocal works including an oratorio (the words taken from Blake), an opera, and song cycles. The latter make particular use of poems by his friend Michael Armstrong.
A pianist himself, Alwyn wrote music for the piano throughout his life, sometimes making notable technical demands on a performer.