An Entertainment in Forfar and Brechin

Brechin Cathedral, concert venue on Sunday, June 18.
Brechin Cathedral, concert venue on Sunday, June 18.

Concert goers in Angus have the rare opportunity to hear the strange and fantastical poems of Dame Edith Sitwell’s Facade with wonderful music by Sir William Walton.

Performances of “Walton’s Façade - An Entertainment” will take place in St John’s Forfar on Saturday, June 17 at 1pm and Brechin Cathedral on Sunday, June 18, at 3pm.

Geoffrey Bridge will direct a group of professional musicians and the poems will be declaimed by Thomas Ian Young and Fay Cholerton.

The work was surrounded by controversy after its first public performance given in 1923 with Edith Sitwell declaiming the poetry and the composer conducting the ensemble. The poems were declaimed using a megaphone projecting through a decorative screen!

The press at the time was almost undivided in its condemnation of the piece. Almost a century later we are so familiar with the tunes and the sound of the music that we may be surprised by the initial reactions.

Here are some of the choicest comments: “Drivel That They Paid to Hear”. The Daily Express loathed the work, but admitted that it was naggingly memorable. The Manchester Guardian wrote of “relentless cacophony”. The Observer condemned the verses and dismissed Walton’s music as “harmless”. In The Illustrated London News, Edward J. Dent was much more appreciative: “The audience was at first inclined to treat the whole thing as an absurd joke, but there is always a surprisingly serious element in Miss Sitwell’s poetry and Mr Walton’s music, which soon induced the audience to listen with breathless attention”. In The Sunday Times, Ernest Newman said of Walton, “as a musical joker he is a jewel of the first water”. Among the audience were Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward. The last was so outraged by the avant-garde nature of Sitwell’s verses and the staging that he marched out ostentatiously during the performance. The players did not like the work: the clarinettist asked the composer, “Mr Walton, has a clarinet player ever done you an injury?” Nevertheless, the work soon became accepted, and within a decade Walton’s music was used for the popular Façade ballet, choreographed by Frederick Ashton. Later, Walton devised and orchestrated two Façade Suites from the score that are nowadays hugely popular concert items.

In the June performances the reciters are Thomas Ian Young and Fay Cholerton, who will be using more up-to-date amplification equipment!