Cambridge University Library

William Alwyn Archive

Chronology


1905

Born William Alwyn Smith in Northampton, the son of a grocer.

ca. 1913

Starts lessons on the piccolo, and then the piano, writes his first piece Sparkling Cascades - now lost.

1916

Enters Northampton Grammar School.

1920

Studies flute, piano, and composition at the Royal Academy of Music.
Composition soon becomes his major study.

1922

Awarded the Ross and Michael Costa scholarships, writes The Fairy Fiddler.
Doreen Mary Carwithen is born in Haddenham, the daughter of an insurance clerk and a music teacher.

1923

Alwyn is forced to leave the Royal Academy of Music following the death of his father. He plays in seaside orchestras, and gets a job as a music teacher at Haslemere School but stays in contact with J.B. McEwen, his composition tutor, at the Royal Academy.

1924

John Blackwood McEwen is appointed Principal of the Royal Academy of Music.

1926

After being dismissed from Haslemere School, Alwyn returns to the Royal Academy to teach composition.
Becomes engaged to Olive Pull.
In Buckinghamshire Doreen Carwithen starts to learn the piano and violin.

1927

Alwyn deputises as principal flautist with the London Symphony Orchestra, and plays at the Three Choirs Festival. This includes a performance of The Dream of Gerontius conducted by Elgar.
Premiere of Five preludes for orchestra at the Proms.

1929

Marries Olive, a composer and fellow teacher at the Royal Academy.

1930

1st piano concerto premiered by Clifford Curzon in Bournemouth.

1932

Tours Australia examining for the Associated Board.

1934

Examining tour of Canada with Michael Head.

1936

First film score - The future's in the air.
Second examining tour of Canada.

1938

Awarded the Collard Fellowship of the Worshipful Company of Musicians for his setting of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

1939

Disowns earlier works. Writes Rhapsody for piano quartet and Divertimento for solo flute.
On the outbreak of the Second World War he moves his family to the countryside to stay with Alan and Nancy Bush, and their family.
Alwyn later returns to London where he volunteers as an air raid warden, and composes numerous film scores for the Ministry of Information.

1940

Premiere of Overture to a masque is cancelled when the Queen’s Hall is bombed, and the Proms season ends unexpectedly early.

1940-45

Plays flute in the National Gallery concerts organized by Dame Myra Hess.

1941

Doreen Carwithen wins a County Scholarship to study cello and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. William Alwyn becomes her composition tutor.
Angela Latham sketches William in his study at the Royal Academy.
Divertimento for solo flute premiered at the International Contemporary Music Festival in New York.

1943

Alwyn writes scores for Fires were started and Desert victory

1944

Works with Carol Reed for the first time on The way ahead.

1946-48

Doreen Carwithen becomes a sub-professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music.

1947

Odd man out.
Carwithen’s overture ODTAA is premiered by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Doreen becomes the first winner of a J. Arthur Rank scholarship.

1948

Fallen idol.
Alwyn starts work on Symphony No. 1.

1949

Instrumental in the founding of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain, Alwyn becomes its chairman 1949-50, and again in 1954. Also works to form the Society for the Promotion of New Music.

1950

Premiere of the 1st symphony.
Gains the support of Sir John Barbirolli who commissions Alwyn’s 2nd symphony for the Halle orchestra.
Alwyn becomes a council member of the Performing Right Society, he will remain on the council until his death.

1951

Writes Festival March for the Festival of Britain.

1952

Carwithen's 2nd string quartet wins a Cobbett award.

1953

Symphony no. 2 premiered to mixed reviews.
Alwyn starts a new cycle of string quartets (he had composed 14  string quartets prior to disowning his earlier works in 1939)
Doreen Carwithen writes the score for Elizabeth is Queen – the  official film of the coronation.

1954

Lyra Angelica is premiered at the Proms.

1955

Starts work on Symphony no. 3, and keeps a diary during this time, which is later published as Ariel to Miranda.
Alwyn resigns post at the Royal Academy of Music, having taught there for almost 30 years.

1956

Third symphony is premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the concert is conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, at short notice, when Sir John Barbirolli is taken ill.

1958

Elected a Fellow of the British Film Academy.

1959

4th symphony premiered at the Proms by the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli.

1960

Premiere of 2nd piano concerto.
Writes score of Swiss family Robinson for Disney.

1961

Separates from his wife. Moves to Blythburgh in Suffolk with Doreen Carwithen.
Doreen changes her name by deed poll to Mary Alwyn.

1962

Alwyn composes score for his final film The running man.
His major collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings is auctioned at Sothebys.
Suffers a nervous breakdown - Movements for piano is the first work he composes while recovering. 

1964

Premiere of Concerto grosso no. 3.

1965-71

Works on Juan, or the Libertine, his still unstaged opera.

1969

An anthology of twentieth century French poetry translated and edited by William Alwyn is published by Chatto and Windus.
William Mann writing in The Times names it his book of the year.

1971

Composes Naiades for Marisa Robles and Christopher Hyde-Smith.
The 1st string quartet is recorded by the Gabrieli quartet in the presence of the composer.

1972

Divorce becomes absolute.
Starts work again on Miss Julie - he had commenced work on the opera some years before but had abandoned it.
Alwyn conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra in what is to become a complete set of  his orchestral works recorded on the Lyrita label.

1973

Symphony no. 5, "Hydriotaphia"

1975

Marries Doreen Carwithen.
2nd string quartet premiered at Snape Maltings as part of the Aldeburgh Festival.

1977

Miss Julie is premiered on BBC Radio 3; it receives good reviews but no offers of staging.

1978

Appointed Commander of the British Empire for services to music.

1981

Suffers a severe stroke, and contracts meningitis.

1982

While recovering Alwyn concentrates on writing and painting.
He receives an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Leicester.

1983

Winged chariot: an essay in autobiography is published.

1984

String quartet no. 3 premiered at Blythburgh.

1985

William Alwyn dies in Southwold, not far from his Blythburgh home.
Doreen Carwithen sets up the William Alwyn Foundation to promote William’s life and work.

1992

Miss Julie receives its world premiere in a semi-professional production in Copenhagen.

1997

UK premiere (and the first professional production) of Miss Julie at the Norwich Triennial festival.

1999

Doreen Carwithen suffers a stroke...

2003

...and dies in a nursing home at Forncett St. Peter, Norfolk.

2005

Alwyn's centenary.