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  AmazonUK (£12.97)  AmazonUS

Malcolm Williamson - A Mischievous Muse
Authors: Paul Harris; Anthony Meredith

Publisher: Omnibus Press
Published on: 14/09/2007
Format: Biography
Length: 536 pages
Language: English
ISBN: 9781847721020
Price: 19.95

This is a solidly written biography by which I do not mean stolid. The evident rigour which these writers bring to their work is worn lightly. That there are footnotes and appendices does not stop this book being eminently and fluently readable. This is all the more to the authors' credit given their adroit use of quotation from original sources some of these being very personal indeed.

This is primarily and overwhelmingly a biography not a study of the music although drawing on press cuttings and the like we soon gain a feeling for the music that is being described.

It's a big book and well indexed. The pages are liberally laid out with a host of photographs. These are printed direct onto the paper - no ghetto of glossy plate pages. Pictures appear next to the text to which they relate. This again aids the book with coherence and narrative flow.

It's a mark of the book's approach that the list of Williamson's works is not the usual pulseless recital of works by date and genre. Instead the authors give each work a personable thumbnail description. It's the sort of approach that might yet enthuse concert promoters and explorer conductors. Just what is needed. There is so much Williamson to discover. Even recentish works like the Mass of Christ the King have fallen into desuetude. This is quite unjust - time for a revival of the Mass and the premiere of the Fourth Piano Concerto written for Marguerite Wolff.

Williamson left the damaged and wounded along the way and cocked a snook at the Establishment both in the UK and Australia and the Royal Family. After whirlwind years when his productivity and reliability with commissions became a byword he collapsed into delays and controversy. This was just when this very solid reputation had won him the Master of the Queen's Music and many other accolades. Commissions came in very late and work proceeded as it had during the years of his marriage only when friends locked him away literally.

As the years passed he became his own worst enemy and reaction to his homosexuality might well have played its part in his neglect. In addition he charged every red rag and often enough during the years since 1977 was bated by the media. When bated he responded. Drink did not help. He went on benders and on several occasions took the cure.

This book comes from the same team that made such a triumph with their revelatory biography of Malcolm Arnold. Here they bear the laurels again with a book that will make for a good seasonal reading binge or frankly an indulgent and provocatively Rabelaisian read at any time of year.

Rob Barnett

The extraordinary story of Malcolm Williamson, whose rich creative gifts were undermined by a self-destructive streak.
After living a wild, bohemian life since arriving in London from Sydney in the early 1950's, Williamson settled down under the influence of his American wife to become a highly successful composer, as hugely productive as he was outspoken and controversial, his work possessing a popular appeal rare in the 1960s. Made Master of the Queen's Music - the first non-Briton to be so honoured - he seemed set for an even more brilliant career.
But the royal post, undertaken in 1975 at a period of great personal crisis, proved hugely damaging. Having failed to complete some high-profile works for the Queen's Silver Jubilee, he quickly gained a reputation for unreliability. Subsequently excluded from the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and other important royal occasions, he was the constant target of innuendo in the media, suggesting he had offended Buckingham Palace by improper or outrageous behaviour. The Master of the Queen's Music was largely forgotten at the time of his death in 2003.


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