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Façade. Ballet suite

Walton's own arrangement; 1928

The Walton–Lambert relationship was a close one, both personally and musically, and has yet to be examined in detail. It seems that though Lambert was the younger by three years or so, he was the natural mentor and guide, rather than the other way around. Certainly he was associated with Façade—Walton’s first major work—almost from its inception. In its original form it was an ‘entertainment’ for speaker(s) and instrumental ensemble; in Walton’s estimation Lambert was one of the best speakers the work ever attracted, and a famous early recording of selected numbers exists in which Lambert shares the speaking role with Edith Sitwell, the authoress of the poems. Lambert was the dedicatee of Façade and collaborated with Walton on ‘Four in the Morning’ (not in the suites). In fact in many ways Façade is Walton’s most Lambertian work, not least in its recreation or stylisation of popular idioms.

Lambert once wrote of the Sitwells’ (Edith and Sacheverell’s) poems that for all their ‘modernistic’ overtones they belonged in reality more to the classic tradition of English poetry, ‘more particularly that of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when beauty was not yet divorced from wit, and when it was realised that artifice and sincerity were not necessarily antagonistic’. He could just as easily have been describing the music of Façade. In Music Ho! he praises the latter as one of the few successful examples since Chabrier of ‘sophisticated music with a popular allure’, the ‘concentrated brevity’ of its contrasting numbers, ‘satiric genre pieces, over in a flash but unerringly pinning down some aspect of popular music, whether foxtrot, tango or tarantella’ being in his view one of the strongest features of Façade. Another was the tunes—‘one good tune after another, the waltz is an excellent waltz, the tarantella an excellent tarantella. Theirs is not the obvious humour of a Beerbohm parody. They are not only like the originals but ridiculously like’. Lambert also considered that, for Walton, writing in a popular idiom had the salutary effect of clarifying his melodic line, but for which the poetic achievement of the Viola Concerto or the slow movement of the Sinfonia Concertante would not have been as great.

In 1926 Walton took five of the more self-contained numbers of Façade, omitted the speaking voice, and transcribed the instrumentation for medium orchestra. Lambert dcscribed this suite as a ‘very enjoyable work’ while admitting that it represented but one side of Façade, the brilliant, satirical side. Lambert looked in vain for the pastoral charm of ‘Daphne’, or the sinister atmosphere of ‘Four in the Morning’—forgetting, presumably, that these could not have stood upon their own without the speaker and would have needed to be completely re-composed. Clearly Walton wanted to keep as closely as possible to the form and rhythm of the original settings. Lambert noted ‘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 material has been considerably expanded into a brilliant burlesque of the ‘Mediterranean’ style’.

It was this first suite which attracted the attention of three major choreographers—Gunter Hess in 1929, Frederick Ashton in 1931, and John Cranko in 1961. The second production, of course, was the one with which Lambert was associated. He conducted the first performance of this ballet when the Camargo Society gave it in London in April 1931, and almost certainly scored the extra Façade numbers incorporated both on this occasion and in 1935 when the Vic-Wells Ballet first danced the work. Only after the Second Suite for orchestra had been published in 1938 could the composer’s own orchestration be used for the entire ballet.

We here follow the order recommended by Walton when the two suites are performed at a single sitting.

from notes by Christopher Palmer © 1990


Lambert: Horoscope; Bliss: Checkmate; Walton: Façade
Jill Gomez South of the Border
CDA66500Archive Service
Walton: Chamber Music


No 01: Fanfare
No 02: Scotch Rhapsody
No 03: Valse
No 04: Tango-Pasodoble
No 05: Swiss Yodelling Song
No 06: Country Dance
No 07: Polka
No 08: Noche española
No 09: Popular Song
No 10: Old Sir Faulk
No 11: Tarantella-Sevillana
No 16: Valse
Track 11 on CDA67340 [4'26]

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