Walton's Façade and Its Descendants

By Rice, Rebecca | Journal of Singing, March/April 2010 | Go to article overview

Walton's Façade and Its Descendants


Rice, Rebecca, Journal of Singing


WILLIAM WALTON'S (1902-1983) FAÇADE represents an amalgamation of avant garde and popular music styles of the 1910s and 1920s. It was originally conceived in late 1921 as "An Entertainment" for chamber ensemble and speaker.1 However, over the course of Walton's career, it went through many additions, revisions, and deletions. Despite the continued presence the work had in Walton's compositional output, an investigation of all its incarnations and their relationships to each other is lacking.

Façade began as a collection of several pieces for reciter, flute and piccolo, clarinet and bass clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet, percussion, and cello. The poetry is by Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), who not only supplied the texts, but also had a major influence on their rhythmic setting-in many of the pieces Walton carefully notated the rhythm of Sitwell's recitation of the poems. The first performance in early 1922 was private; this was followed by a series of changes for several other performances, both private and public. A version emerged for a performance in 1942 and publication in 1951 that included twenty-one movements arranged in seven groups of three.

Walton and his cohorts, the Sitwells (Edith and her brothers), were part of the avant garde arts scene. Much of the music they heard in London and throughout Europe had a clear impact on the form Façade would take. The composer who most embodied this style in England was Arthur Bliss (1891-1975). His work, Rout (1921), for nine instruments and soprano maybe considered a sort of forerunner of Façade. Works like Igor Stravinsky's (1882-1971) A Soldiers Tale (1918), with its use of popular music forms, and Eric Satie's (1866-1925) Parade (1917), with its use of Jean Cocteau's (1889-1963) text, are also precursors.2 The influence of Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) Pierrot Lunaire (1912) for its instrumentation and presentation seems clear, despite the fact that Walton later said that although he had a score, "I'd never heard it and nobody I knew could play it and I couldn't read it, and so I was completely in the dark about it. But I pretended that I was an expert on Schoenberg."3

Façade went through much iteration as Walton explored various poems, other instrumentation, and different genres. He worked on settings of some of the Façade poems for voice and piano, resulting in a group of five songs titled Bucolic Comedies (1924). Later, two of these songs were recalled and the final set of three was published as Three Songs in 1932. Other incarnations of Façade leave out the text entirely. A ballet (1929) and two orchestral suites (1926 and 1938) retain much of the music of the Entertainment, but lack the text. (For the purposes of this article, the versions of Façade for reciter, flute, clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, percussion, and cello will be referred to as the Entertainment, while other versions will be referred to by their original titles.) Façade Revived (1977) and Façade 2 (1979) return to the original instrumentation but utilize poems not included in the 1942/1951 version. All of these incarnations of Façade contain elements that are part of the original Entertainment; however, each also contains alterations that make it a unique work unto itself.

There are many reasons for such a continuous reworking of Façade. Although at first a critical failure, the work brought Walton continued success through both the publication and performance of these reworkings. Seen this way, rescoring the music for different instruments and different genres made the music available to a wider audience, as well as earned more money for the composer. There is also the sense that Walton was a perfectionist, always searching for a better way to set the text, or represent the poems musically. An examination of the different incarnations of Façade, as well as the circumstances surrounding the composition of each incarnation, will serve to elucidate both Walton's original intentions and how his vision of the work evolved over time. …

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