Walton's final work: Harmony and the art of (make-believe) fugue

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Walton's Prologo e Fantasia, written at the end of his life, is one of the few completed original works of his final decade. Undoubtedly flawed, it can be seen simply as an exemplar of Walton's failing creative powers and his sheer difficulty in writing any music at all. But it is also possible to discern in it continued experimentation with developing aspects of his language, especially seen in the context of his exploration of similar devices in preceding works. Analysis of his harmony shows development of greater ambiguity in a tonal context. And, while many of his other works contain significant fugal passages, particularly towards their conclusions, the use of a fuga finta here presents a different perspective on a typical Waltonian device. While the work does not stand alongside Walton's most important orchestral achievements, and performances will probably remain relatively few, it does nevertheless provide some interesting insights into the musical language of his post-war music.

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The debt of Walton's First Symphony to Sibelian models of symphonic form is often acknowledged, but the debt's wider implications are seldom considered. The inter-war English idolization of Sibelius may help to explain why Walton should use characteristic Sibelian procedures such as rotational form, heavy dependence on pedal points for structural purposes, and focus on a sound-sheet or Klang—however individually Walton treats these devices—but it does not account for all that is interesting in this moment in British musical history. In this article a richer context is drawn by locating Walton's Sibelianism in a more general contemporary artistic concern with what Michael Saler calls 'the myth of the North': an inter-war emphasis on the industrialized north of England. This 'myth', a development of modernist preoccupations with the relationship between technology and humanity, is reflected both in what Jed Esty calls an 'anthropological turn' in writers such as Eliot and Woolf (a turn to a romantic nationalism), and in Heidegger's philosophy of art—connections that open up a range of ethical and political considerations. After presenting an analysis of the Sibelian technique of Walton's symphony alongside discussion of its thematic treatments of nation, cultural, and geographic environment, and the changing antagonisms of late modernism, this article reconsiders the historical significance of Walton's music, and reads it as a presentation of views on authentic community and the place of England in the twentieth century.
Any consideration of William Walton's Second Symphony should begin with some mention of its predecessor, first performed complete in November, 1935, twenty-five years before No.2. The First Symphony created an enormous impact, coming soon after the successes of the Viola Concerto of 1929 and the oratorio Belshazzar's Feast of 1931. The Symphony's vast scale, its emotional power and fierce utterance, allied to an impressive consistency of style, conspired to declare a work of originality and almost instantaneous appeal. An early Decca recording of it under Sir Hamilton Harty, who had conducted the first performances, enabled the Symphony to be heard worldwide.