The Bear is an extravaganza in one act for three soloists and orchestra, commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation in 1965 and first performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1967. It is based on a short story of Chekhov, with a libretto by Paul Dehn.
The action takes place in the drawing room of Madam Popova's house in the country in 1888. Popova, a pretty widow affectedly faithful to the memory of her late and, alas, promiscuous, husband is confronted by Smirnov, one of her husband's more boorish creditors. They quarrel to a point at which each aims a loaded pistol at the other, but neither can fire. They have both fallen helplessly in love.
This new edition is based on a full assessment of all extant sources and takes account of Walton's various revisions. A new vocal score is also published on sale, and new orchestral material fully compatible with this score is available for hire.
Sir William Walton was born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1902, the son of a choirmaster and a singing-teacher. He became a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and then an undergraduate at the University. His first composition to attract attention was a piano quartet written at the age of sixteen. At Oxford he made the acquaintance of the Sitwells who gave him friendship, moral and financial support, and in 1922 he collaborated with Edith in devising the entertainment Facade. Less than ten years later, Osbert prepared the text of another masterwork, Belshazzar's Feast. From 1922 to 1927 Walton began to spend an increasing amount of time abroad, notably in Switzerland and Italy. The war years were devoted mainly to writing film and ballet scores and he became established as amongst the greatest composers for the screen.