Façade (entertainment) Information

From Wikipedia

Edith Sitwell in 1912, by Roger Fry
Man (William Walton) in suit and tie looking towards the camera
William Walton in 1937

Façade is a series of poems by Edith Sitwell, best known as part of Façade – An Entertainment in which the poems are recited over an instrumental accompaniment by William Walton. The poems and the music exist in several versions.

Sitwell began to publish some of the Façade poems in 1918, in the literary magazine Wheels. In 1922 many of them were given an orchestral accompaniment by Walton, Sitwell's protégé. The "entertainment" was first performed in public on 12 June 1923 at the Aeolian Hall in London, and achieved both fame and notoriety for its unconventional form. Walton arranged two suites of his music for full orchestra. When Frederick Ashton made a ballet of Façade in 1931, Sitwell did not wish her poems to be part of it, and the orchestral arrangements were used.

After Sitwell's death, Walton published supplementary versions of Façade for speaker and small ensemble using numbers dropped between the premiere and the publication of the full score in 1951.


Façade exists in several strongly contrasted versions, principally:

  • Edith Sitwell's Façade and Other Poems, 1920–1935 – the published versions of those of the poems chosen by the author for her 1950 volume of collected verse.
  • The Sitwell-Walton Façade (1951) – the first, and definitive published version of the full score of the entertainment
  • Façade Revived (1977) – a set of eight poems and settings not included in the 1951 version, published by Walton to mark his 75th birthday
  • Façade II (1979) – a revised version of Façade Revived, with some numbers dropped and others added
  • Façade – the complete version, 1922–1928 – a 42-number CD set compiled and performed by Pamela Hunter (1993) restoring all the poems that Walton set, and nine that he did not set.
  • Walton's orchestral Façade Suites (1926 and 1938)

A table showing the various permutations can be seen here.

Sitwell's published Façade poems

It is sometimes said that the Façade verses are nonsense poetry, in the tradition of Edward Lear. [1] But despite the experiments with sound and rhythm, there is meaning in Sitwell's poems. [1] The literary scholar Jack Lindsay wrote, "The associations are often glancing and rapid in the extreme, but the total effect comes from a highly organized basis of sense." [2] Other writers have detected personal references in the Façade poems. Christopher Palmer lists many references to Sitwell's unhappy childhood, from the kind Mariner Man (her father's valet who entertained her with seafaring stories) to the implacable Mrs Behemoth (her mother). [1]

The Façade poems published by Sitwell in her 1950 collection, Façade and other Poems, 1920–1935 are:

The Sitwell-Walton Façade – An Entertainment

The "entertainment" Façade, in which Sitwell's poems are recited over an instrumental accompaniment by Walton, was first given privately in the Sitwell family's London house on 24 January 1922. The first public performance was given at the Aeolian Hall, London, on 12 June 1923. On both occasions, the author recited the verse and the composer conducted the ensemble. [3]

Walton made changes to the instrumentation for the entertainment between its premiere and the publication of the first printed score nearly thirty years later, [3] but in both 1922–23 and 1951 he scored for six players. The published score specifies flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), alto saxophone, trumpet, percussion, and cello. [4] Walton quotes a range of earlier composers in his score, from Rossini (the William Tell overture appears in the Swiss Jodelling Song) to George Grossmith (whose comic song, "See me dance the polka", is present throughout Walton's Polka). [5]

In the Sitwell-Walton Façade there are three poems, "Through Gilded Trellises," "A Man from a far Country" (from Sitwell's The Sleeping Beauty), and "Tarantella" (never formally published by Sitwell), that do not feature in her published edition of Façade. As the performing version frequently recited in public and recorded for the gramophone by Sitwell included the Tarantella, it may be assumed that she did not require the musical version to adhere strictly to the text of the published poems.

The public premiere of the entertainment was a succès de scandale. [6] The performance consisted of Sitwell's verses, which she recited through a megaphone protruding through a decorated screen, while Walton conducted an ensemble of six players in his accompanying music. [6] The press was generally condemnatory. One contemporary headline read: "Drivel That They Paid to Hear". [1] The Daily Express loathed the work, but admitted that it was naggingly memorable. [7] The Manchester Guardian wrote of "relentless cacophony". [8] The Observer condemned the verses and dismissed Walton's music as "harmless". [9] In The Illustrated London News, Edward J. Dent was much more appreciative: "The audience was at first inclined to treat the whole thing as an absurd joke, but there is always a surprisingly serious element in Miss Sitwell's poetry and Mr Walton's music ... which soon induced the audience to listen with breathless attention." [10] In The Sunday Times, Ernest Newman said of Walton, "as a musical joker he is a jewel of the first water". [11] Among the audience were Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward. The last was so outraged by the avant-garde nature of Sitwell's verses and the staging, that he marched out ostentatiously during the performance. [12] The players did not like the work: the clarinettist asked the composer, "Mr Walton, has a clarinet player ever done you an injury?" [6] Nevertheless, the work soon became accepted, and within a decade Walton's music was used for the popular Façade ballet, choreographed by Frederick Ashton. [13]

On 3 March 1930, the BBC made what it described as a "complete" broadcast of the work (18 poems) from the Central Hall, Westminster, produced by Edward Clark. The speakers were Sitwell and Constant Lambert and the conductor was Leslie Heward. [14]

Walton revised the music continually between its first performance and the first publication of the full score in 1951. That definitive version of the Sitwell-Walton Façade consists of:

Walton's later additions

In the 1970s, Walton released some further numbers, under the title Façade Revived, later revising, dropping and adding numbers, as Façade II.

Façade Revived comprises:

  • Daphne
  • Came the Great Popinjay
  • The Last Gallop
  • The Octogenarian
  • March (Ratatatan)
  • The White Owl
  • Aubade – Jane, Jane
  • Said King Pompey

The work was premiered at the Plaisterers' Hall, London on 25 March 1977, with Richard Baker as reciter and the English Bach Festival Ensemble conducted by Charles Mackerras. [15]

Façade II comprises:

  • Came the Great Popinjay
  • Aubade – Jane, Jane
  • March (Ratatatan)
  • Madam Mouse Trots
  • The Octogenarian
  • Gardener Janus Catches a Naiad
  • Water Party
  • Said King Pompey

This version was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival on 19 June 1979, with Sir Peter Pears as reciter and an ensemble conducted by Steuart Bedford. [16]

Complete 1922–1928 version

When the most comprehensive edition of the Sitwell-Walton versions was released in 1993 (on a CD featuring the voice of the Façade specialist Pamela Hunter with the Melologos ensemble) the number of poems had risen to 42. Pamela Hunter recites all these poems on the 1993 CD, including the nine (indicated by an asterisk, below) for which there are no extant musical accompaniments.

After this recording was made in 1993, evidence of additional numbers that were included in the June 1923 performance of Façade came to light. As noted by Stewart Craggs, [17] a copy of the programme for this performance emerged which indicated that 28 poems by Sitwell were set by Walton, including four that were previously unknown, having been lost and forgotten in the intervening years: Clown Argheb's Song, Dark Song, Gone Dry and Serenade. A detailed chronology of the various versions of Façade has been given by Stephen Lloyd, who notes that Serenade may have been a recited poem or a purely instrumental piece. [18]

Three Songs

Walton set three selections from Façade as art-songs for soprano and piano (1932), [19] to be sung with full voice rather than spoken rhythmically. These are:

  • Daphne
  • Through Gilded Trellises
  • Old Sir Faulk

Façade Suites

The first of Walton's two Façade suites for full orchestra was published in 1926. Walton conducted the first performance. The suite consists of:

  • Polka
  • Waltz
  • Swiss Jodelling Song
  • Tango-Pasodoble
  • Tarantella Sevillana [20]

The second suite was premiered in 1938, with John Barbirolli conducting the New York Philharmonic. It consists of:

  • Fanfare
  • Scotch Rhapsody
  • Country Dance
  • Noche Espagnole
  • Popular Song
  • Old Sir Faulk – Foxtrot [20]

The orchestra for both comprises 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, tuba, timpani, 3 percussionists ( side drum, cymbals, xylophone, tambourine, bass drum, triangle, glockenspiel, castanets, rattle), and strings. Constant Lambert made an arrangement of both suites for piano duet. [21]

A third suite, arranged by Christopher Palmer, [22] was published in 1992, consisting of:

  • Hornpipe
  • Daphne (Song)
  • March
  • Through Gilded Trellises
  • Water Party Waltz
  • The Wind's Tambourine

The orchestra comprises: 2 flutes (both doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling cor anglais), 2 clarinets (2nd doubling bass clarinet), alto saxophone, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, tuba, timpani, 4 percussionists (side drum, large ide drum, field drum, bass drum, bass drum with cymbal, drum kit, wood block, castanets, maracas, tambourine, triangle, cymbals, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, glockenspiel, xylophone), piano (doubling celesta), and strings

Façade ballets

Façade was first made into a ballet by Günter Hess for the German Chamber Dance Theatre in 1929. In 1931 Frederick Ashton created another ballet version. Both used the First Façade Suite. For Ashton's version the Scotch Rhapsody and Popular Song were added to the First Suite. Ashton later expanded the ballet to include the Country Dance, Noche Espagnole and the Foxtrot, Old Sir Faulk. [23]

In 1972, to mark Walton's seventieth birthday, Ashton created a new ballet using the score of the "entertainment". It was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival, with Peter Pears as the reciter. [23]

Selected discography

Façade – An Entertainment

  • Sitwell-Walton version: Edith Sitwell, Peter Pears (reciters), English Opera Group Ensemble, Anthony Collins. Decca LXT2977 (1954)
  • Expanded Sitwell-Walton version: Pamela Hunter (reciter), Melologos Ensemble, Silveer van den Broeck. Discover DICD 920125 (1993)

Façade Suites

Three Songs from Façade

  • Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano, Richard Amner, accompanist, on the album A Portrait of Kiri Te Kanawa. CBS 74116 (1984)


  1. ^ a b c d Palmer, Christopher (1990). Liner notes to Chandos CD CHAN 6689
  2. ^ Sitwell, introduction, p. 18
  3. ^ a b Kennedy, p. 304
  4. ^ Walton, passim
  5. ^ See Kennedy, p. 112: Rossini was Walton's favourite composer, and is quoted in later Walton pieces also.
  6. ^ a b c Kennedy, p. 33
  7. ^ "Poetry Through a Megaphone", The Daily Express, 13 June 1923, p. 7
  8. ^ "Futuristic Music and Poetry", The Manchester Guardian, 13 June 1923, p. 3
  9. ^ "Music of the Week", The Observer, 17 June 1923, p. 10
  10. ^ "The World of Music", The Illustrated London News, 23 June 1923, p. 1122
  11. ^ Kennedy, p. 31
  12. ^ Hoare, p. 120. Soon afterwards Coward wrote a revue sketch lampooning the Sitwells, which caused a feud between him and them that lasted for decades.
  13. ^ Kennedy, p. 62
  14. ^ Stephen Lloyd, William Walton: Muse of Fire
  15. ^ "Façade Revived", The Times, 19 March 1977, p. 9
  16. ^ Kennedy, p. 305
  17. ^ Craggs, Editor's note on p. 58
  18. ^ Lloyd, Appendix 4
  19. ^ Three Songs published by Oxford University Press - British Library Catalogue: http://explore.bl.uk/BLVU1:LSCOP-ALL:BLL01004728766 retrieved 21/01/2018
  20. ^ a b Kennedy, p. 300
  21. ^ Somm CD 0614 (2020)
  22. ^ Façade Suite for Orchestra No. 3. Oxford University Press. 27 February 1992. ISBN  978-0-19-368155-2.
  23. ^ a b Kennedy, p. 291


  • Craggs, Stewart R., ed. (1999). William Walton: Music and Literature. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN  1-85928-190-7.
  • Hoare, Philip (1995). Noël Coward. London: Sinclair Stevenson. ISBN  1-85619-265-2.
  • Kennedy, Michael (1989). Portrait of Walton. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN  0-19-816705-9.
  • Lloyd, Stephen (2001). William Walton: Muse of Fire. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. ISBN  0-85115-803-X.
  • Sitwell, Edith (1950). Façade and Other Poems, 1920–1935. London: Duckworth. OCLC  650091337.
  • Walton, William; Edith Sitwell (1951). Façade – An Entertainment – full score. Oxford: Oxford University Press. OCLC  503713.

External links