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Williams, Evan


(b Mineral Ridge, OH, 7 Sept 1867; d Akron, OH, 24 May 1918). American tenor. He studied singing in Cleveland and New York, and became a professional church soloist in Brooklyn. In 1902 his voice failed during a performance of Elijah at Carnegie Hall, and for a while he renounced the singing profession. He visited Wales, however, and began afresh, singing in the first performance of David Jenkins’s oratorio Job at Rhyl in 1904; his repertory grew rapidly and included Gerontius, for which he became famous. Williams returned to the USA in 1906 and became a leading concert and oratorio singer. He sang Aeneas in a concert performance of Berlioz’s Les Troyens à Carthage in Cincinnati and Saint-Saëns’s Samson to the Delilah of Schumann-Heink in concert in Chicago; he appears never to have sung on the operatic stage. A heavy schedule of concerts in Britain and the USA led to renewed vocal difficulties; but in his prime Williams was one of the most popular artists in the USA, and the sales of his recordings (many of them of simple ballads but some of oratorio and opera in English) were surpassed only by those of Caruso and McCormack.

BIBLIOGRAPHY


G.H. Lewis: ‘Evan Williams’, Record Collector, xxiv (1978), 242–55 [with discography by W.R. Moran]

J.B. STEANE


Williams, Gene.


Pseudonym of Lawrence Wright.

Williams, Grace (Mary)


(b Barry, 19 Feb 1906; d Barry, 10 Feb 1977). Welsh composer. She was educated at Barry Grammar School and University College, Cardiff, where she took the degree of BMus in 1926 before continuing her studies with Vaughan Williams and Jacob at the RCM. Her fellow students there included Dorothy Gow, Imogen Holst and Maconchy, an unusually gifted group of women composers who maintained contact with each other in later years. In 1930 a travelling scholarship took Williams to Vienna, where she completed her studies with Egon Wellesz. On her return to London she taught for several years at Camden School for Girls and at Southlands College of Education. During the 1930s she enjoyed the friendship of Britten, but declined an invitation to act as his assistant (the position was later occupied by Imogen Holst).

In 1947 Williams returned to Wales, where she worked on educational programmes for the BBC and gradually made her name as a freelance composer. Most of her major works were written in response to commissions from the BBC, the Royal National Eisteddfod and festivals at Llandaff (Cardiff) and Swansea. Her output is mainly for orchestra and for voices with orchestra, and includes two symphonies (the first of which she withdrew), three concertos, a one-act opera and a mass. She also wrote several songs but showed little interest in instrumental chamber music, partly no doubt because of its relatively short tradition in Wales but also because her own musical temperament inclined more towards lyrical and declamatory forms than towards contrapuntal and dialectical ones (the direction ‘liricamente’ is one frequently encountered in her scores).

The music Williams wrote before about 1955 is to some extent influenced by that of her teacher Vaughan Williams. Elgar is another perceptible influence, and there are passages of chromatic writing reminiscent of Richard Strauss, for example in the last of the Sea Sketches and in the first two movements of the Violin Concerto. Folksong and traditional melodies are encountered in vocal settings and in the orchestral Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes, a piece that loosely strings together Welsh tunes and one which won her a wide following, particularly in Wales. Penillion for Orchestra, written for the National Youth Orchestra of Wales in 1955, inaugurated a period of greater maturity and more pronounced individuality. Many of the later pieces are deeply national in feeling (e.g. Ballads for Orchestra, Carillons, the Missa cambrensis and Castell Caernarfon). Although they include no actual folk melodies they are shaped by the rhythms and cadences of old Welsh poetry and oratory. The so-called Scotch snap applied to a rising tone or semitone is a particularly distinctive fingerprint; another is the juxtaposing, or superimposing, of major and minor 3rds. While the harmony remains basically (though at times shiftingly) tonal, melodies are often cast in a mode that includes both the augmented (Lydian) 4th and the flattened 7th (and sometimes too the flattened 6th); much use is made also of octatonic scales. Structures involving quasi-improvisatory variation within a rigid stanzaic repetition are closely related to the oldest traditions of ballad and penillion singing in Wales. The Trumpet Concerto may be seen as the natural outcome of a lyrical, even expressive, approach to this instrument which characterizes most, if not all, of the later orchestral scores. Its slow movement is a passacaglia on a 12-note theme as rigorously constructed as any by Webern — a surprising excursion for a composer whose aversion to Schoenbergian serialism was well known.

A more cosmopolitan style is evident in Williams’s only opera, The Parlour, to a libretto brilliantly adapted by the composer from a story by Guy de Maupassant. Comparison with Britten’s Maupassant opera, Albert Herring, is inevitable, but Williams’s music shows a genuine individuality and inventiveness, allied to a rare sense of stagecraft. Since its WNO première in 1966 The Parlour has been revived a number of times, and several other choral and orchestral pieces have been recorded. Another fine achievement of her later years, the Missa cambrensis, a large-scale setting of the mass ordinary with interpolations, has been unaccountably neglected since its first performance in 1971.


WORKS


(selective list)

Stage: The Parlour (op, 1, Williams, after G. de Maupassant: En famille), 1961, Cardiff, New Theatre, 5 May 1966

Orch: Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes, 1940; Sinfonia concertante, pf, orch, 1941; Sym. no.1, 1943, withdrawn except Scherzo barbaro e segreto; Sea Sketches, str, 1944; The Merry Minstrel (Williams, after J.L. Grimm and W.C. Grimm), nar, orch, 1949; Vn Conc., 1950; Penillion for Orchestra, 1955; Sym. no.2, 1956; Processional, 1962; Tpt Conc., 1963; Carillons, ob, orch, 1965; Ballads, 1968; Castell Caernarfon, 1969

Choral: Hymn of Praise (Gogonedawg Arglwydd) (from the 12th-century Black Book of Carmarthen, trans. Williams), chorus, orch, 1939; The Dancers (H. Belloc, T. Chatterton, M. Sarton, K. Raine), S, female chorus, str, hp/pf, 1951–2; All seasons shall be sweet (S.T. Coleridge and others), S, female chorus, small orch/pf, 1959; Benedicite, SA/SATB youth chorus, orch, 1964; Missa cambrensis, S, A, T, B, boys’ chorus, chorus, orch, 1971; Ye highlands and ye lowlands (anon., R. Burns, W. Scott), male chorus, pf, 1972; Ploratione cygni (9th century), 1972; Ave maris stella (8th century), SATB, 1973; 2 interlinked choruses: Harp Song of the Dane Women (R. Kipling), Mariners’ Song (T.L. Beddoes), SATB, 2 hn, hp, 1975

Other vocal: The Song of Mary (Magnificat setting), S, chbr orch, 1939; 6 Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, A, str sextet, 1959; The Billows of the Sea (W. Scott, A. Tennyson, J. Gay, anon.), A, pf, 1969; Fairest of Stars (J. Milton), S, orch, 1973; My Last Duchess (R. Browning), Bar, pf, 1974; other songs, folksong arrs.

Film music

Principal publishers: OUP, University of Wales Press

BIBLIOGRAPHY


A.F.L. Thomas: ‘Grace Williams’, MT, xcvii (1956), 240–43

A.F.L. Thomas: ‘The Music of Grace Williams’, Anglo-Welsh Review, xv (1965), 90–103

G. Williams and A.J.H. Rees: ‘Views and Revisions’, Welsh Music, v/4 (1975–8), 7–18

E. Davies: ‘A Pianist’s Note on Grace Williams’s Sinfonia Concertante’, Welsh Music, v/9 (1975–8), 22–9

A. Whittall: ‘Grace Williams 1906–1977’, Soundings, vii (1978), 19–25

M. Boyd: ‘Benjamin Britten and Grace Williams: Chronicle of a Friendship’, Welsh Music, vi/6 (1979–82), 7–38

M. Boyd: Grace Williams (Cardiff, 1980)

E. Davies: ‘Grace Williams and the Piano’, Welsh Music, vi/4 (1979–82), 18–25

E.R. Warkov: ‘Traditional Features in Grace Williams’s “Penillion”’, Welsh Music, vii/1 (1982–5), 15–24

‘Grace Williams: a Self Portrait’, Welsh Music, viii/5 (1986–9), 7–16 [4 radio scripts]



D. Mitchell and P. Reed, eds.: Letters from a Life: Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten (London, 1991)

MALCOLM BOYD




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