Obituary: Professor William Mathias

Click to follow
The Independent Online
NO ONE growing up in Wales since the 1960s who had any aspiration to be a composer, or a passion for contemporary music, could overestimate the importance of William Mathias to the principality's musical culture, writes George Mowat-Brown (further to the obituary by Geraint Lewis, 31 July).

Through being a Welsh composer whose music was internationally played and appreciated, Mathias handed to the generations who followed him permission to extend their creative energies beyond that which would be of local appeal. Although its roots lie in the indigenous culture, Mathias's music is an exemplar of the best type of nationalism - an outward-looking celebration of the best a nation has to offer. I was not surprised to be told by a member of a Washington DC church choir that several household names from the US administration were enthusiasts of Mathias's choral music.

Most of the recent tributes to Mathias, both broadcast and printed, have stressed his energy and enthusiasm. Music was his life, so when he was not composing, listening, or teaching it, Mathias devoted his energies to supporting it through such work as his involvement with the Incorporated Society of Musicians, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, or his St Asaph Festival - an international festival that also provides a platform for the best of the principality's musical talent.

In contrast to his outgoing public role, Mathias enjoyed a private family life that was highly supportive, a comfort to him particularly towards the end of his life. William and 'his girls' - his wife Yvonne and daughter Rhiannon - functioned as a close family unit whose generosity resulted in much pleasure and appreciation in those fortunate enough to enjoy the family's hospitality at Y Graigwen.

With its spectacular views over the Menai Strait and the mountains beyond, it is easy to understand why Mathias thought of Y Graigwen as a special and stimulating place to live.

Once Mathias's terminal cancer was diagnosed, he faced the prospect of his remaining time with great bravery; to describe his reaction in this way, however, would be too much of a cliche and could create a misleading impression. Mathias's overwhelming attitude was his usual amazingly positive love of life, accompanied by a tremendous energy.

Not only did he make the final changes to the Violin Concerto, complete In Arcadia, and write a flute concerto for his friend William Bennett, but he attended all their premieres and even made the piano transcription of the orchestral part of the flute concerto.