Walter Leigh

Walter Leigh

Walter Leigh (June 22, 1905 – June 12, 1942) was an English composer. He was born in Wimbledon.

His first teacher was Harold Darke, with whom he worked from the age of eight until he was seventeen. He went to Christ's College, Cambridge graduating in 1926. For two years thereafter, he studied composition under Paul Hindemith at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik.

In 1930, Leigh declined a teaching job and set about earning a living by accepting small commissions and becoming increasingly involved with the theatre. With V. C. Clinton-Baddeley he wrote a pantomime for the Festival Theatre at Cambridge, and two comic operas, the second of which, "Jolly Roger", ran for six months at the Savoy Theatre in London, with a cast headed by George Robey. He composed an elaborate score for Basil Wright's documentary film "Song of Ceylon" and the concert overture "Agincourt", commissioned by the BBC in celebration of George V's Silver Jubilee. The "Harpsichord Concertino" is one of a number of chamber works of the period: an elegant and concise work, more French than German in its spare-noted neo-classicism, the keyboard writing showing signs of Ravel's influence. For the Cambridge production of "The Frogs" in 1936, Leigh produced another score precision-made for the occasion. The music for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was written for open-air schools performance at Weimar in 1936; it is scored for flute, clarinet, trumpet , strings and harpsichord. "Music for String Orchestra" is a work written sympathetically for amateurs in four movements: "Adagio - Vivo - Lento - Allegro". The only other major commission Leigh undertook before the outbreak of war was to produce the music for Farjeon's intimate revue, "Nine Sharp" (1938).

He was a composer who thrived on limitations and who needed the right external stimulus if he was to produce the best work that it was in him to do. He was a craftsman-composer of a sort commoner in the 18th century than the 20th century. Almost all his music was written for immediate use; like Haydn, he would not have dreamed of fulfilling a commission without ascertaining the probable capabilities of his performers; he could turn to any number of different idioms according to the needs of the occasion.

In 1941, during the Second World War, he joined the British army and served as a trooper with the Royal Armoured Corps, 4th Queen's Own Hussars. He was killed in action near Tobruk, Libya in 1942, just before his 37th birthday leaving a widow, Marion, and three children, Julian, Veronica and Andrew, who had been sent to Canada to escape the London Blitz. [ [ CWGC entry] ]

Leigh is most famous for his "Concertino for harpsichord and string orchestra" written in 1934. Other famous works include the overture "Agincourt" and "The Frogs of Aristophanes" for chorus and orchestra. He wrote music for documentary films and there is an unfinished sketch for a symphony.


*Jack Westrup/Kenrick Dance: 'Leigh, Walter', "Grove Music Online", ed. L. Macy (Accessed 23 November 2006), []
*Hugo Cole; notes to recording: Lyrita SRCS. 126.

External links

*imdb name|0500309|Walter Leigh
* [ Walter Leigh: directory of manuscripts]
* [ Oxford University Press: Walter Leigh]
* [ Article on Basil Wright & Walter Leigh's use of sound in the film "Song of Ceylon".]

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