Clifton Williams (composer)

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James Clifton Williams, Jr. (26 March 1923 Traskwood, Arkansas — 12 February 1976 Miami, Florida) was an American composer, pianist, French hornist, mellophonist, music theorist, conductor, and music educator. Williams was known by symphony patrons as a virtuoso French hornist with the San Antonio and New Orleans Symphony Orchestras. But he went on to become widely known as one of America's leading wind ensemble composers.[1]

Education[edit]

Williams began playing French horn, piano, and mellophone early on and played in the band at Little Rock High School. His senior class of 600 voted him as most outstanding in artistry, talent, and versatility.

Williams attended Louisiana State University (B.M., 1947) where he was a pupil of Helen M. Gunderson (1909–1997). He also attended the Eastman School of Music (M.M., 1949) where he studied with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson. It was Howard Hanson who led Williams to write for the wind band rather than the orchestra, counseling Williams that he would get larger audiences and a larger range of organizations to perform his music in doing so.[2] [3]

During his musical studies at Louisiana State University Williams joined the fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the largest, oldest musical fraternity in America. Later in his career, he honored this fraternity with a symphonic concert march, "The Sinfonians," that remains a staple of the concert band's repertoire today.

Career highlights[edit]

He also served in the Army Air Corps band as a drum major, composing in his spare time.[4][5]

In 1949 Williams joined the composition department at the University of Texas School of Music. He taught there until he was appointed Chair of the Theory and Composition Department at University of Miami School of Music in 1966. Williams retained this position until his death from cancer in 1976. His composition students included W. Francis McBeth, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Sheldon, Kenneth Fuchs, Ron Miller, Robert X. Rodriguez, Thomas Wells, Gordon Richard Goodwin, and John Barnes Chance. He was a close colleague of fellow composer Alfred Reed while the two worked at the University of Miami, their offices being only steps apart in the music building at UM.

Compositions[edit]

Williams' early compositions were for orchestra and he would later achieve great success writing for concert band. One of his earliest works, Fanfare and Allegro, was completed in 1954 but was considered, at the time, exceptionally difficult by the bands (including some military bands) that attempted to perform it. In particular, a military band struggled mightily with the work at a performance at the 1954 Brownsville (TX) Music Festival. Thus, Williams laid the work aside for some time.

The American Bandmasters Association then announced its first Ostwald Composition Prize in the winter of 1955. Williams slightly revised Fanfare and Allegro and entered it into this contest. Fanfare and Allegro won the inaugural American Bandmasters Association's Ostwald Award for original band literature in 1956. The first performance of the revised work, at the 1956 ABA convention, won rave reviews and the work moved rapidly to the forefront of serious wind literature. Williams won the award again in 1957 for Symphonic Suite. Williams entered the competition for a third time in 1958 with an earlier work, his Symphonic Essays of 1953, but withdrew the work the day before the award winner was to be announced, feeling that winning a new competition a third consecutive time would discourage other equally worthy composers.

It was not revealed until several years later that Symphonic Essays was, in fact, set to be the winner of the 1958 ABA prize. The San Antonio Symphony commissioned Williams to compose a work for its 25th anniversary. He composed five symphonic dances of which he would later transcribe two of the dances for concert band. Francis McBeth, in 2000, reset the first dance for band but the parts remain in manuscript in the possession of Williams's daughter, Michele Williams Hanzlik.

Dances four and five also have been recast for band, and between 2007 and the present, a few performances of the entire work have occurred. The primary publishers of his wind music included Southern Music, Summy Birchard, Piedmont, C. L. Barnhouse, and University of Miami Music Publications. As of 2011, ten more of Williams' band compositions have been published by Maestro & Fox Music by arrangement with the estate of the composer. These never-before released works are: Dramatic Variations, Sonata Allegro, Show Tune, Caprice Americana, Postwar Prelude, Louisiana Tech Band's March, Roll of Honor March, Hall of Fame March, Ballade, and The Hero March.

More new publications are slated for 2012, some 36 years after the composer's death. The New Jersey City University's Symphony of Winds and Percussion will be re-premiering Williams' unpublished piece Symphonic Essays in the spring of 2013.[6][7][8]

Williams considered The Ramparts to be his best work. It was commissioned for the United States Air Force Academy. It contains the hymn, What Greater Thing, which became the unofficial Alma Mater and has been played at every USAFA commencement ceremony since 1965. His wife Maxine wore a charm bracelet with six charms, each charm representing a significant band work. The charm for The Ramparts was the largest.


The following is a partial list of his band compositions. Works marked with an asterisk are unpublished; all others are published although some may have gone out of print over the years.

  • Academic Processional (1960)
  • Air Force Band of the West (1964)
  • Arioso (1958)
  • Ballade (1944)
  • Band of the Hour (1968)*
  • Border Festival (1966)
  • Caccia and Chorale (1973)
  • Caprice Americana (1944)
  • Castle Gap (1964)
  • Concertino for Percussion and Band (1958)
  • Dedicatory Overture (1964)
  • Dramatic Essay (1958)
  • Dramatic Variations (1975)
  • Fanfare and Allegro (1954, rev 1956)
  • Festival (1961)
  • Future Music Leaders of America March (1974)
  • Hall of Fame March (1940)
  • Henderson Festival (1967)
  • Hermitage (1975)
  • Hero March, The (1938)
  • Hill Country Ballad (1956)
  • Killian (1968)
  • Laredo (1963)
  • Louisiana Tech Band March, The (1940)
  • Lyric Psalm (1957)*
  • March Lamar (1964)
  • Pandean Fable (1965)*
  • Pastorale (1958)
  • Patriots (1970)
  • Postwar Prelude (1943)
  • Ramparts (1965)
  • Regal Procession (1957)
  • Roll of Honor March (1939)
  • Show Tune (1944)
  • The Sinfonians (1960)
  • Solumn Fugue (1960)
  • Sonata Allegro (1949)
  • Songs of Heritage (1975, completed by W. Francis McBeth and Harold Walters, 1978)
  • Strategic Air Command March (1965)
  • Symphonic Dances (1963–65; No. 2 and No. 3 published)
No. 1: Comanche Ritual
No. 2: Military Ball: The Maskers
No. 3: Fiesta
No. 4: Square Dance
No. 5: New Generation
  • Symphonic Essays (1953)*
  • Symphonic Suite (1957)
  I: Intrada
 II: Chorale
III: March
IV: Antique Dance
  V: Jubilee
  • Texas Bands (1969)*
  • Toccata (1953)*
  • Trail Scenes (1968)
  I: Round Up
 II: Nighthawk
III. Railhead
  • Tribute to Barney Chance (ms, 1973)*
  • Trilogy for Band (1964)
  I: Declamation
 II: Elegy
III: Quickstep March
  • Variation Overture (1962)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Deaths: James Clifton Williams, San Diego Union, February 14, 1976, pg. 2
  2. ^ Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians
    Seventh edition, 1984
    Eighth edition, 1992
    Ninth edition, 2001
  3. ^ Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Classical Musicians, by Nicolas Slonimsky, New York: Schirmer Books, 1997
  4. ^ Contemporary American Composers. A biographical dictionary, compiled by E. Ruth Anderson, Boston: G.K. Hall & Co.
    First Edition, 1976
    Second Edition, 1982
  5. ^ Contemporary American Composers. A biographical dictionary. Second edition, compiled by E. Ruth Anderson,. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1982
  6. ^ The Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music, Composers and their music, Two volumes, by William H. Rehrig, Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1991
  7. ^ ASCAP Biographical Dictionary, Fourth edition, compiled for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers by Jaques Cattell Press, New York: R.R. Bowker, 1980
  8. ^ Biography Index, A cumulative index to biographical material in books and magazines, Volume 30: September 2004 — August 2005, New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 2005