Sir William Walton was born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1902, the son of a choirmaster and a singing-teacher. He became a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and then an undergraduate at the University. However, he had little formal compositional tuition at this or any other time, and though he later received advice from Ernest Ansermet and Eugene Goossens in conducting, he may be considered essentially self-taught. His first composition to attract attention was a piano quartet written at the age of sixteen. Two early ‘avant-garde’ pieces have recently been rehabilitated to great acclaim: the 1922 String Quartet and 1923 Toccata for Violin and Piano. From 1922 to 1927 Walton began to spend an increasing amount of time abroad, notably in Switzerland and Italy. These were the years of the Viola Concerto, Belshazzar’s Feast, and the First Symphony.In 1938 Jascha Heifetz asked him for a violin concerto and this was first performed by Heifetz in December 1939. In 1941 he wrote the overture Scapino for the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The war years were devoted mainly to writing film and ballet scores. Films included the memorable First of the Few from which Walton extracted the ‘Spitfire’ Prelude and Fugue, and the ballets were The Wise Virgins (1940) and The Quest (1943), both for the Sadler's Wells Ballet. In 1944 came the music for the first of Laurence Olivier’s major Shakespearean films, Henry V. Hamlet followed in 1948 and Richard III in 1955. These established Walton among the greatest composers for the screen.