Edward Williams (composer)

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Edward Williams

Edward Aneurin Williams (20 August 1921, Hindhead, Surrey[1] – 8 December 2013, Bristol, United Kingdom) was a British composer and electronic music pioneer, best known for his work on documentaries such as the Life on Earth series.

Early life and education[edit]

Although of Welsh descent, Edward Williams was born in Surrey in 1921. His father Iolo Aneurin Williams was a poet, journalist, folk song collector and politician, and his mother Francion Elinor Dixon was the musical daughter of a Colorado cattle rancher. He was the grandson of Liberal politician Aneurin Williams, and the nephew of politician Ursula Williams. Williams was initially educated at Rugby School, and later went on to read Languages at the University of Cambridge. Williams then served in the Royal Navy during World War II, working on minesweeping vessels.


In 1946 Williams studied under legendary conductor Muir Mathieson, and later with Vaughan Williams. His own prolific career as British documentary composer began in 1948, and his many scores included 24 shorts for British Transport Films alone, plus a number of television films and features, often with Welsh subject matter. During the 1960s, Williams lectured on music at the University of Bristol and developed his interest in electronic music.

Life on Earth[edit]

With its avant-garde and pioneering music, using flute, harp, clarinet, strings, percussion and early synthesisers, Williams's Life on Earth score provided an evocative counterpoint to the visuals and Attenborough's commentary. Williams and his orchestra intricately crafted the music scene-by-scene to reflect the imagery on-screen. In one sequence examining the flight of birds, the instrumentation mirrors each new creature's appearance. During the composition for Life on Earth, Williams mentored the film composer Martin Kiszko who then assisted him, and later by William Goodchild.


In 1984 he commissioned the design of Soundbeam, an ultrasonic movement-to-MIDI converter which enables electronic instruments to be played from a distance by body movements in an ultrasonic beam. This has proven particularly useful in schools for children with special needs. Sound beam has continued to be successful and is in use worldwide.

Later life and work[edit]

In 1992, Williams composed and published 'Landscapes', a 3 movement trio for horn, violin and piano. It was first performed in October 1997 by the Bristol Ensemble with Donald Clist (horn), Roger Huckle (violin) and Susan Bird (piano).

In 1995, Williams won the BAFTA Cymru award for best original score for the BBC/S4C series "Excalibur: The Search for Arthur".

In 1996 he collaborated with Pip Eastop for a piece for the Arts Council of Great Britain.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Williams was married to Judith Swingler, daughter of the poet Randall Swingler. Williams died in Bristol on 8 December 2013 age 92, after a short illness. He is survived by his wife Judith, and their 4 children.[3] He was a distant relative of the Welsh poet Iolo Morganwg. He was a keen sailor, owning a Wayfarer, and had built Optimist dinghies.


  1. ^ Edward Williams - IMDB
  2. ^ "Horn News Archive 1996". The British Horn Society. Archived from the original on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  3. ^ "EDWARD WILLIAMS 1921 - 2013". Soundbeam. Retrieved 15 December 2013.

External links[edit]