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M. Williamson, 71; Composer, Master of the Queen's Music

March 04, 2003|From Associated Press

Malcolm Williamson, an Australian composer who was master of the queen's music, has died. He was 71.

Williamson died Sunday at a hospital in Cambridge, England, after a long illness, according to the British news agency Press Assn.

He was the first non-Briton to be appointed master of the queen's music. The post is the musical equivalent of poet laureate, and the incumbent is expected to write fanfares and other works for royal or state occasions.

Born in Sydney, Williamson studied at the Sydney Conservatory from age 11.

He moved to London in 1950, working as a proofreader, parish church organist and nightclub pianist. Williamson converted to Roman Catholicism in 1952 and immersed himself in the compositions of the French organist Olivier Messiaen.

He composed four Masses, numerous choral and orchestral pieces, and 11 operas, including "Our Man in Havana," "Julius Caesar Jones" and "The Death of Cuchulain."

Williamson also composed cassations -- miniature operas for audience participation, which were initially inspired by a desire to teach his own children.

One cassation, "The Valley and the Hill," was written in 1977 and performed for the jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in Liverpool with a cast of 18,000 children.

In 1970-71, he was composer-in-residence at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J.

In 1975, Williamson received the appointment as master of the queen's music.

He is survived by his wife, Dolly; a son; and two daughters.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

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