Monday, 12 September 2011

William Walton: Constant Lambert writing on ‘Facade’


Constant Lambert first appeared as a reciter in Facade in the New Chenil Galleries, Chelsea, London on 29 June 1926 and had an involvement with the work over the succeeding years. In the February 1928 edition of The Dominant magazine he wrote an article entitled ‘Some Recent Works by William Walton.’

The music of the entertainment Facade includes, in its different versions, [1] work ranging over several years, although the only published numbers are of recent date. For the benefit of those who have not heard Facade it may be explained that the entertainment consists of a series of poems by Miss Edith Sitwell, spoken through a megaphone to the accompaniment of six instruments, namely, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, 'cello and percussion. Both orchestra and reciter are concealed by a screen decorated with a large mask, through the mouth of which the megaphone protrudes.
The poems are recited, for the most part, ‘senza espressione’, but with the utmost precision and variety of rhythm.
The collaboration is most successful and one can think of no other composer who could so well supply the musical equivalent of what has been admirably described as 'the hallucinated vision, the glassily clear technique, the curiously profound wit' of Edith Sitwell's poems. In the early version of Facade the music did little save add a background of strange arabesques and unexpected timbres to the poems; in the later versions, the music is much more clearly formed and there is a greater wealth of thematic material.
The orchestral suite [2], though a very enjoyable work, represents only one side of Facade for the composer has chosen the more brilliant and satirical numbers for adaptation and one may search in vain for the pastoral charm of ‘Daphne’ or the sinister atmosphere of ‘Four in the Morning'. The composer has kept closely- and in my opinion, too closely - to the form and rhythm of the poems. He has not always realized that certain passages have but little meaning when divorced from their peculiar method of presentation; thus, in the fourth number we are given nothing save a rather perfunctory crescendo passage to take the place of the brilliant cadenza for voice which (in the entertainment) leads from the tango to the paso-doble.
The only piece in which he has departed from the original form of the poem is the ‘Tarantella-Sevillana’, perhaps the most successful number in the suite, where the original material has been considerably expanded into a brilliant burlesque of the ‘Mediterranean’ style. [...]
The Dominant February 1928 (with minor edits)

Notes
[1] The study of the versions and recensions of Facade is complex. Suffice to say that most of the pieces of the original series were composed between 1922 and 1929. The first private performance was given at the Sitwell home at 2 Carlyle Square, London on Sunday 24 January 1922. Edith Sitwell was the reciter and William Walton conducted the ensemble of musicians. The first public performance was given at the Aeolian Hall, London, on 12 June 1923. Lambert would have been aware of the original Walton music and also some revisions.
[2] Lambert, at the time of writing this article, would also have known the 1926 Orchestral Suite which included Polka, Valse, Swiss Jodelling Song, Tango-Pasodoble and the Tarantella-Sevillana. This was first heard at the Lyceum theatre on Friday 3 December 1926.

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