The English music composer Robert Walker lived in Asia for 14 years, first in Bali for 10 years where he played gamelan and then in Thailand where he taught at Bangkok 's premier arts university. Robert Walker returned to his roots in Northamptonshire in April 2004 and is now reacquainting himself with the life he left behind. Most of Robert Walker's music is published by Novello and Peters Edition, but check his list of works for new updates and works available through the net. The latest edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and The Concise Oxford Companion to Music have references to Robert Walker.
Welcome to his web site.
If it wasn't for Northampton the musical world would be the poorer and without the film and lyric composer William Alwyn, symphonist Sir Malcolm Arnold, art-song composer Trevor Hold, pianist and composer Terrence Allbright and - um - Robert Walker. Not a bad list for a small town in the middle of England.
It was a church what done it, M'Lud: S. Matthew's, where Walker was not so an angelic a choirboy. He learned music backwards there; starting with contemporary composers like Britten, Tippett, Finzi (all of whom had been commissioned by S. Matthew's) Vaughan Williams, and Messiaen. Only later, in the politically incorrect atmosphere of Cambridge University did he discover Beethoven wasn't much to write home about and Ockeghem was the bee's knees.
A stint as organist in the fishing port of Grimsby made him practical. (You try training 11 year old boys to sing a minor ninth and asking your pianist-wife to negotiate impossible leaps - you learn fast the hard way.)
Being an organist is no life for a rebel, but by a series of remarkable strokes of good fortune at the age of 27 Walker found himself commissioned to write all the new music for the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Another lucky happenstance found him living in a picture-postcard thatched cottage in Sussex where Elgar had lived and composed his famous cello concerto. Elgar sojourned there for four years; rather less restless, Walker remained for 15. In Sussex he loved, lost and wrote copiously, perhaps, his best works: the Symphony, De Profundis, Variations on a theme of Elgar, the Piano Quintet and many more. He also conducted choirs, played the organ at the local church and started the Petworth Festival which still flourishes. And he discovered a talent for broadcasting; making many notable films for BBC television, Channel Four and chatting away amiably on BBC Radio Four. (Never part of 'the scene' the BBC classical station Radio Three has always been out-of-bounds to Walker.)
An idyllic life? Of a sort; but it all went pear-shaped and Walker ran away to the island of Bali and, like the Canadian composer Colin McPhee fifty years before, he built himself a palace out of bamboo and thatch, engaged servants and ate lotuses for 10 years. The musical language changed. Works like the choral symphony Journey into Light and the 16 choral songs of Catullus Mele Livida were inevitably influenced by the Balinese gamelan music surrounding him. The massive undertaking to collect all the fragments which Elgar left for a putative piano concerto and make something out of them occupied him for over two years. The result was Fragments of Elgar, a brilliant tour de force for piano and orchestra. In a remote village away from the tourists he learned how to play Balinese gamelan with his rice-farming neighbours. Now that's idyllic! Except politics has a way of intervening, and in the pan-Indonesian riots following the downfall of the despot Suharto, Walker found himself caught up in a series of events which made a mockery of that idyll.
Another stroke of luck and a chance request from a university led him to Thailand where he lived for four years teaching at Silpakorn University in Bangkok . For the first time in his life he found himself living in a bustling city. However exciting on initial contact, In the end the noise and pollution took its toll and he decided to come back to where it all began: the peaceful, quiet, clean lanes of Northamptonshire. All-in-all not a bad life so far.