WILLIAM MATHIAS (1934 - 1992)
William Mathias was one of only two Welsh composers of his generation to establish an international reputation, the other being his slightly older colleague Alun Hoddinott. Born in Whitland, on the border between Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire in West Wales on November 1st, 1934, Mathias was self-taught as a composer, having started to play the piano and to compose small pieces at the age of four or five. He went on to study at Aberystwyth University with Ian Parrott and then at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Sir Lennox Berkeley. He returned to Wales in 1959 as a lecturer in music at Bangor University and apart from a year teaching composition in Edinburgh University, he was back in North Wales as Professor of Music at Bangor from 1970 until his retirement in 1987. In 1972 he established the North Wales Music Festival at St Asaph Cathedral, which he directed until his untimely death in Menai Bridge on July 29th, 1992.
Mathias was an unusually prolific composer and he contributed works to every musical genre. At the very outset he deliberately sought to establish an unimpeachable technique in instrumental and orchestral writing, given that his perceived background was in the field of amateur choral music and song. His first great success was the Divertimento for strings which was premièred in London in 1958. This was soon broadcast and performed abroad and won its composer a ‘house’ contract with Oxford University Press which he retained for the rest of his life. During the early 1960s he developed a pattern whereby most of his works were written in direct response to commissions—but which managed at the same time to preserve a judicious balance between chamber and orchestral music, together with an increasing number of church and choral works. Three symphonies, three string quartets and major concertos for piano, harp, organ, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and violin were thus to rub shoulders with the cantatas Saint Teilo, This Worlde’s Joie, Lux Aeterna, World’s Fire and Jonah, together with a single full-scale opera The Servants to a libretto by Dame Iris Murdoch, premièred by WNO in 1980. In 1981 he was invited to write an anthem for the wedding in St Paul’s Cathedral of TRH The Prince and Princess of Wales, which became celebrated worldwide as the Royal Wedding Anthem and which is still widely performed today.