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Williamson was born in Sydney and studied composition and horn at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. In 1950 he moved to London where he worked as an organist, a proofreader, and a nightclub pianist. From 1953 he studied with Elisabeth Lutyens. Williamson was a prolific composer at this time, receiving many commissions and often performed his own works, both on organ and piano.
In 1975, the death of Sir Arthur Bliss left the title of Master of the Queen's Music vacant. The selection of Williamson to fill this post was a surprise, Williamson was the first non-Briton to hold the post. He wrote a number of pieces connected to his royal post; however, controversy attended his tenure, notably his failure to complete the intended "Jubilee Symphony" for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. He became less prolific in "Royal" works during the last twenty years or so of his life, although he never completely ceased to take interest in writing music for the Royal. His overall compositional output slowed considerably due to a series of illnesses. He died in 2003 in Cambridge.
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