This Christmas Night - Malcolm Williamson (b.1931)

Born in Sydney, Williamson received his earliest musical experiences in the Anglican church, where his father was a priest. He was educated at Barker College, in Hornsby, New South Wales. By the age of 12, he was studying at the Sydney Conservatorium under Sir Eugene Goossens. In addition to composition, he trained as a horn player, and became a highly proficient pianist.

In 1950, he travelled to London - and was impressed by what he found. The latest musical developments had not really penetrated Australia, and Williamson realised that, if he were to develop a serious career, he would have to settle in Europe.

He made London his permanent home in 1953, and pursued his musical studies with the splendid, if formidably uncompromising, Elisabeth Lutyens. Under her tuition, and that of Erwin Stein, he absorbed the intricacies of serial technique, blending it with a touch of personal modality. He also became fascinated with the music of Olivier Messiaen, so much so that he taught himself the organ in order to play the French master's magnificent, if fiendishly difficult, works.

On the occasion of his 50th birthday, it was claimed that he was "the most commissioned composer of his generation". A brief glance at his catalogue of works reveals an astonishingly fertile mind, with pieces covering seemingly every genre, including seven symphonies, a multitude of vocal and choral compositions, a respectable body of chamber music, items for educational purposes, stage works, and pieces for brass ensemble and organ. He was awarded the CBE in 1976, and made an officer of the Order of Australia in 1987 for his services to music and the mentally handicapped.

Part of an article by Tim McDonald of The Guardian, published on Tuesday March 4 2003