Malcolm Williamson was born in Australia on November 21st 1931, his Father was a Minister and his Mother acted for a living. The composer took an interest in films from an early age and also began to focus upon music during his pre-teen years, studying French horn, Piano and Violin at the Sydney Conservatory. The composer later studied composition with sir Eugene Gossans. Whilst a teenager and growing up in Australia Williamson worked on a handful of documentaries, scoring them with music that was largely atmospheric and atonal as opposed to being melodic with developed thematic properties. In 1950 Williamson traveled to London where he continued to study music under the tutelage of Elizabeth Lutyens and Erwin Stein. In 1952 the composer settled in England and was already at this time in his early twenties considered by many to be a performer of note,with the assistance of Benjamin Britten and also Sir Adrian Boult Williamson had his first works published. Williamson has probably contributed to almost all genres of music contributing many works for concert hall performance as well as writing operas and ballets. He was introduced to Hammer films musical director John Hollingsworth in 1960 and it was Hollingsworth who suggested that Williamson should write the score to the studios production THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, this was the second movie in Hammers Dracula cycle but was not as successful as it predecessor which starred Christopher Lee as the infamous blood sucking Count. The role of Dracula this time being played by actor David Peel. In many ways Peel suited the role better he had a persona of refinement and sophistication about him that was tinged with virulence which for me personally seemed to be closer to the Bram Stoker character.
The score was a success for Williamson and is now looked upon as one of Hammers finest soundtracks, it contained organ music which the composer had studied but he did not perform on this particular score. After working on BRIDES OF DRACULA the composer worked on numerous documentaries and concentrated more on writing symphonic works such as ballets and operas. Hammer contacted the composer on numerous occasions to work on feature films that they had produced but he was too busy to break away from his writing for the concert hall. It was not until 1969 when Hammers new musical director Phil Martell contacted him offering him CRESCENDO that Williamson agreed to take the assignment. “ I was actually in that movie as well” recalled the composer “I was asked to play the piano in certain scenes so that they could film my hands, this was for authenticity apparently, I even wore James Olsen’s ring on my little finger, I remember my hands were far more hairy than the actors so I had to be shaved before the filming could begin, but I was paid rather handsomely for this”. The assignment went well for Williamson and the score for CRESCENDO is probably one of the studios most melodic and romantic sounding. His next foray into horror territory came with THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN.
In interview the composer recalled that this was not such a pleasing experience for him. “ I had specific ideas about the sound that I wanted to create for the film, I planned to use clarinets which would start with piccolo clarinet to double bass clarinet there would be eight in total which would be supported or underlined by strings and percussion, but things did not go entirely to plan and I was asked to add flutes and also oboe which I did reluctantly, this resulted in the sound becoming more of a conventional woodwind sound which for me completely defeated the object and diluted the sound that I was attempting to create. I also used the tuba to accompany the monster in the film, which was a mistake on my part it did not really work that well and made the character seem clumsy and awkward, or so I thought at the time, but seeing it in later years maybe it was not that awful, maybe I just did not understand what the studio was trying to achieve, but I was not the only one, Ralph Bates who I knew personally was the leading actor in the movie and he too was not pleased with the film was going. It was an attempt to combine Hammer horror with comedy or satire, which just did not work”.
In 1973 Williamson composed the score for NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT which was a Charlemange production, the company had been set up by actor Christopher Lee and Anthony Keys and NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT was their first release. In 1975 Williamson was appointed THE MASTER OF THE QUEENS MUSIC and was the first non-Briton to take up the position writing music for Royal Occasions etc.in 1976 he was awarded the CBE. In 1984 Williamson scored his fifth and final film score which was for THE MASKS OF DEATH the soundtrack included a lavish sounding waltz and a wonderful British sounding military march. Malcolm Williamson passed away in Cambridge on March 2nd 2003.