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Malcolm Williamson

Malcolm Benjamin Graham Christopher Williamson, AO, CBE (21 November 1931 – 2 March 2003) was an Australian composer. He was the Master of the Queen's Music from 1975 until his death.

Williamson was born in Sydney in 1931; his father was an Anglican priest, Rev George Williamson. He studied composition and horn at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. His teachers included Eugene Goossens. In 1950 he moved to London where he worked as an organist, a proofreader, and a nightclub pianist. In 1952 he converted to Roman Catholicism. From 1953 he studied with Elisabeth Lutyens and Erwin Stein. His first major success was with his Piano Concerto No. 1, premiered by Clive Lythgoe at the 1958 Cheltenham Festival to a standing ovation. Williamson was a prolific composer at this time, receiving many commissions and often performing his own works, both on organ and piano.

In 1975, the death of Sir Arthur Bliss left the title of Master of the Queen's Music vacant. The selection of Williamson to fill this post was a surprise, over other composers such as Benjamin Britten (whose compositional inactivity and terminal illness were not then publicly known), Michael Tippett and Malcolm Arnold, such that William Walton had remarked that "the wrong Malcolm" had been chosen. In addition, Williamson was the first non-Briton to hold the post. He wrote a number of pieces connected to his royal post, including Mass of Christ the King (1978) (see below) and Lament in Memory of Lord Mountbatten of Burma (1980). However, controversy attended his tenure, notably his failure to complete the intended "Jubilee Symphony" for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. He became less prolific in "Royal" works during the last twenty years or so of his life, although he never completely ceased to take interest in writing music for the Royal Family (see list of "Royal Works" below). His overall compositional output slowed considerably due to a series of illnesses. He died in 2003 in a hospital in Cambridge. He was widely reported to have been an alcoholic.

Williamson married an American, Dolores "Dolly" Daniel, in 1960 and they had one son and two daughters.

Williamson had a number of relationships with both sexes, both before and after his marriage. After his marriage broke down in the 1970s, “a deep relationship with musician and publisher Simon Campion helped sustain him through the inevitably stormy periods, both in Australia and in England, that characterised the final stages of his career.”

He had a series of strokes that left him wheelchair-bound, and he spent his final months in hospital. His funeral was not attended by any representatives of the Royal Family.

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