Dr. Alan Walker


Dr. Alan Walker was born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. He received an LGSM certificate in 1949, ARCM in 1950, a Bachelor of Music from University of Durham in 1956, and a Doctor of Music in 1965. Between 1957 and 1960 he studied privately with Hans Keller, an association which he has always acknowledged as formative. These lessons were resumed, albeit irregularly, once Mr. Walker joined Mr. Keller at the BBC in 1961.

From 1958 to 1961 Mr. Walker lectured at the Guildhall School of Music, having studied piano there with Alfred Nieman, noted for teaching improvisational techniques. He also taught at the University of London from 1954 to 1960. Mr. Walker worked at the BBC Radio Music Division as a producer between 1961 and 1971. Seeking to return to his “first love,” teaching, he gave up radio production and took an appointment as Professor of Music at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where he chaired the Department of Music from 1971 to 1980, and from 1989 to 1995. In 1981, he was responsible for the establishment at McMaster of the first graduate program in music criticism in Canada. Since 1995, he has been Professor Emeritus at McMaster. From 1984 to 1987, he was a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Music at City University in London. His three-volume biography of Franz Liszt, which took him 25 years to complete, has been very influential.

Common adjectives attached to the work include “monumental” and “magisterial,” and it is said to have “unearthed much new material and provided a strong stimulus for further research.” Mr. Walker himself says that when he found, as a BBC producer compiling notes for program announcers, that “there wasn’t a decent book in English on Liszt,” he eventually decided to write one himself, but was determined “not to make a major statement that couldn’t be supported by documents … and because Liszt himself was a traveller the archives were everywhere.” The first volume won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in biography for 1983 and best book on music from the Yorkshire Post Newspapers in 1984. The three-book series was given the Royal Philharmonic Society Book Award in 1998.

Time magazine praised the biography as “a textured portrait of Liszt and his times without rival,” saying that Mr. Walker’s work was “equally strong on the music and the life,” and discussed Liszt’s corpus “with greater understanding and clarity than any previous biographer.” The New York Times, reviewing the second volume, said of Mr. Walker’s passion for his subject, “Mr. Walker can see only the good, and will stand for no criticism of his hero,” but still called his extensive research “incredible…. Mr. Walker seems to know everything about Liszt, and anything connected with Liszt, during every single day of the long life of that genius.” The Washington Post critic Tim Page, including the third volume in his best books of the year list, called it “unquestionably a landmark” and “meticulously detailed, passionately argued and sometimes wrenchingly moving.”

Mr. Walker has also written substantially about Robert Schumann and Frédéric Chopin, and continues to lecture in Canada, the US, and UK on all three musicians. In October 2018 he brought to completion a large-scale biography of Fryderyk Chopin, a book on which he worked for ten years. It has been described as “a biographical masterpiece”, and was named Classical Music Book of the Year by the Sunday Times of London. James Penrose in
The New Criterion wrote: “With Liszt, and now Fryderyk Chopin so well cared for, one can but hope that Walker will try for the hat trick.”

Mr. Walker lives in Ancaster, Ontario. He is director of “The Great Romantics,” an annual festival in Hamilton, Ontario.

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