Cello Concerto (Walton)

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Sir William Walton's Cello Concerto was written between February and October 1956, in Ischia.[1] It was commissioned by and dedicated to the Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.

It was first performed in Boston on 25 January 1957, by Piatigorsky with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Charles Munch. It received its first British performance three weeks later, on 13 February 1957, again with Piatigorsky, this time with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent.[1] It received its first recording shortly after this, with the original forces.[2]

The concerto is in three movements:

  • Moderato
  • Allegro appassionato
  • Theme and improvisations.

The finale contains four improvisations, two each for orchestra alone and solo cello,[3] and ends adagio, quietly. Piatigorsky told Walton that the violinist Jascha Heifetz had some reservations about the ending, so the composer provided an alternative ending, but ultimately his first version was the version that was premiered. In 1975 Piatigorsky himself asked Walton to revise the ending. He did so, but Piatigorsky's illness (and death) prevented him from performing that version, and it remains unheard.[4]

The concerto is scored for 2 flutes (second doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (second doubling cor anglais), 2 clarinets (second doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (second doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 3 percussion (vibraphone, xylophone, suspended cymbal, bass drum, castanets, snare drum), celesta, harp, strings.

The concerto has been described as subdued, brittle, lyrical, bittersweet, ruminative and introspective.[5] Walton regarded it more favourably than his violin or viola concertos.[4][6][7]

Walton's regular arranger, Roy Douglas, made an arrangement for cello and piano.

Cellists who have recorded the concerto since Piatigorsky include Steven Isserlis, Pierre Fournier, Paul Tortelier, János Starker, Ralph Kirshbaum, Yo-Yo Ma, Raphael Wallfisch, Lynn Harrell, Pieter Wispelwey, Julian Lloyd Webber, Paul Watkins, Christian Poltéra and others.

Laura van der Heijden won the 2012 BBC Young Musician Competition playing this concerto.


  • williamwalton.net
  • The British premiere of the Walton Cello Concerto on 13 February 1957 by Gregor Piatigorsky, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent, was filmed and can be seen in its entirety on an EMI Classics dvd, classic archive series (DVA 4928419), released in 2002.
  • KING, Terry: Gregor Piatigorsky. The Life and Career of the Virtuoso Cellist. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland and Co., 2010. Pages 177–82 discuss in detail the commissioning of the concerto and its early performances, as well as the several different endings Walton composed at the request of Piatigorsky.
  • NEWTON, Ivor: At the Piano—Ivor Newton. The World of an Accompanist. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1966. Pages 128–29 describe Newton's role as the intermediary between Piatigorsky and Walton in the commissioning of the concerto.
  • WALTON, Susana: William Walton. Behind the Façade. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Pages 162–66 discuss the concerto, giving details of the automobile accident in Italy that prevented Walton and his wife from attending the London premiere in February 1957 (Susana Walton misdates this performance to a year after the world premiere, rather than a few weeks after it).