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© Brian Duff/Express Newspapers

William Mathias at 80 
'A Servant to Music'

It is hard to believe that, had he lived, William Mathias would have been eighty this month. Those who knew him will remember his 'tempo ritmico' personality, his real interest in people and his unashamed musical brilliance.

In the years following his untimely passing his music has been regularly performed. The organ, harp and chamber music has entered the general repertoire and much of the orchestral music is regularly performed and recorded - not to mention the choral music which has found its way to the choir stalls of churches all over the world (from Bangor quite literally to Bangalore!).

But it is also strange to think that there remain major works by him that are unrecorded. Think of the splendid Organ Concerto as well as his only opera The Servants based on the play The Servants and the Snow by his librettist Iris Murdoch. Commissioned by Welsh National Opera, the set and costume design root the opera around the year 1900 in a snowbound country house. The first performance in 

Cardiff's New Theatre on 15 September 1980 was an important landmark in Welsh music history and the opera includes some fine, typically incisive rhythmic Mathias writing (reminiscent in places of his Elegy for a Prince) and it leaves one wondering what might have happened had Mathias followed the lead of his contemporary Alun Hoddinott in composing more for the stage.

A comic opera by Mathias might well have been a revelation - a tantalising thought in this, of all years. At the very least, what we do have in his output is some of the most vital music composed in Britain since 1945, music which has transcended tastes and fashion and that is there to be enjoyed other than by those for whom music has become a dry, arid study.

© Lyn Davies 2014

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