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John Gerard Williams (Composer, Arranger)

Born: December 10, 1888 - London, England
Died: March 7, 1947 - Surrey, England

The English composer and arranger, John Gerard [Gerrard] Williams, originally followed the profession of an architect, but devoted his spare time to music, joining choral societies and playing in orchestras as opportunities arose. When he first took to composition in 1911 he had had no other training than this, and that which he acquired from constantly reading music, but two years later he received some guidance from R. H. Walthew. In all essentials, however, he is a self-taught musician.

John Gerard Williams came relatively late to music, but he embraced it wholeheartedly and contributed much. Although he did not begin until 1911, he was a fruitful composer and arranger and the length and subject matter of many of his works justify us in reckoning him a "light music" composer. Most of music is in the smaller forms and of an intimate character, with something of the art of the miniaturist. Much of his best work is m his numerous songs, which have great lyrical charm. In March 1922 he gave a first recital of his own works at the Aeolian Hall, London, comprising songs, piano pieces and the 2nd String Quartet.


For orchestra John Gerard Williams composed a ballet, The Wings of Horus (1928), an Elegiac Rhapsody, a suite Ring Up the Curtain, originally for piano, Three Miniatures after Shelley, a little cycle of eight fragments, mostly only about a minute long, entitled Pot-Pourri, each fragment given the title of a flower (also originally for piano), Cortege on a Ground Bass, Fantasy on Kalyani (an old Indian Song), for flute, oboe, clarinet and strings, Facets: Aspects of an Original Theme and music for sundry radio features, like the Three Fanfares used in the programme Italian Surrender. He had two string quartets to his credit, the second, composed in about 1923, being published. It reflects French influence, especially that of Debussy with perhaps a whiff of Delius and Cobbett praises its winsomeness and grace - its lively finale is alternately in 5/4 and 7/4 time. In February 1923 The Times reckoned it a first-rate addition to British Chamber music, "a work full of fine thought". For piano he published Three Preludes entitled By Haworth Falls, Solitude and Autumn, and Four Traditional Irish Tunes. His piano music has been compared to Ravel's. His many solo songs included several for children, like the set collectively entitled Playbox, plus Dusk, Idyll, Moon, Mid-winter Madness, Reflections, Rondel and An Inconsequent Ballad. The Times critic described him as a songwriter as having "the power of writing a melody which sounds easy without being obvious". The colour of his accompaniments was also praised. Some of Williams' stage works were for children, such as Sweet Winter and The Tale of the Shoe; we may also note the comic operetta The Story of the Willow Pattern Plate and ballad-opera Kate, the Cabin Boy, based on traditional tunes, inspired by the phenomenal renewed success of the Beggar's Opera in the 1920's and produced at the Kingsway Theatre, London in 1924. His choral music was mainly brief in format, even the "choral suite", A Cycle of the Sea, for eight-part voices which was twice sung in Doncaster between the wars, takes only about seven minutes to perform, but his output embraced songs for mixed voices (e.g. Diaphenia, Sweet Kate, Fair, Sweet, Cruel, Charming Chloe, Three Sleeps, When Laura Smiles, Whither Runneth My Sweet Heart? and the wordless Tragic Fragment), women's voices (The Hawthorne Tree), four-part men's voices (e.g. Old Farmer Buck, Thou Sent'st to Me a Heart and Scizzars are Pumpy) and two part children's voices (e.g. Welcome Sweet Pleasure, I Loved a Lass and Foreign Craft).

John Gerard Williams arranged vast quantities of music by seemingly everyone for almost every medium. The BBC Orchestral Catalogue alone lists hundreds of arrangements of folk-songs, folk dance tunes, popular melodies, J.S. Bach and so on. He has arranged and orchestrated a ballet from a L.v. Beethoven sonata for Mme. Lopokova. His arrangements for the BBC Military Band were similarly legion. Besides these he arranged many folk tunes for various vocal combinations.


Source: Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition; Author: Edwin Evans); MusicWeb (Author: Philip L. Scowcroft)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2007, October 2009)

John Gerard Williams: Short Biography | PT: Works | Recordings | Orchestral Arrangements: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

British Composer Dictionary (MusicWeb)

A Third Garland of British Light Music (MusicWeb)



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