In 1962 the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths charged William Walton to compose a song-cycle for voice and piano for the City of London Festival of that year. It was first performed by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Gerald Moore in the Goldsmith’s Hall.
Deborah writes: “The cycle requires a big and generous voice with operatic flair. Although William Walton himself never used the term symphonic, it could well be described as such.
The first song, The Lord Mayor’s Table, opens the cycle in a grand and broad ternary structure (A, B, recapitulation A and coda). This is followed by two shorter and contrasting intermezzi: Glide Gently and Wapping Old Stairs. The rich chromatic harmonies in both these intermezzi are explored fully and dramatically. They are followed by the main slow movement, Holy Thursday. This describes the traditional pathos of the annual service held at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Ascension Day. The young orphan children from around London were marched two by two through the streets to give thanks for their blessings.
The Contrast marks the main scherzo of the work. In this most demanding movement the piano and vocal lines rarely come together, creating the design intended from the title. Here we can see William Walton’s rather mischievous character in the way he contrasts not only the voice and piano but also the town and the country. In the coda of this song, the reference to ‘devils’ seems to be one based on pre-war high society London when ‘devils’ - in female guise - were in plentiful supply!
Lastly, the finale is brilliant in its character and bell-like sonorities. Based on the old the old children’s singing-game Oranges and Lemons, Walton chooses to set an older, longer version from Gammer Gurton’s Garland’of 1810. This includes many more bells than those found in the children’s rhyme and omits the line ‘Here comes a candle to light you to bed’.
This work encompasses life in London with all its highs and lows. A vision of pride and pomp was created through this song-cycle and still lives on in London today.”