Sunday, October 12, 2008

Healey Willan

The "dean of Canadian composers," Healey Willan (October 12, 1880 - February 16, 1968) was born in England and moved to Canada in 1913 to become head of the theory departent at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. In 1922 he started a long career as director of music at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Though he wrote two symphonies, an opera, a piano concerto, solo piano works and at least a hundred songs, more than half of his 800 compositions were sacred choral works, most written for the choir at the church.

His anthems and service music were extremely popular and influenced many later composers in Canada, England, and the US. His conducting and leadership of the choirs at St. Mary Magdalene was no less influential. His high standards helped to revitalize church music throughtout North America, as many people came to hear his choirs and went back to their churches with ideas. He was the recipient of many honors, and one of his anthems (O Lord, our Governor) was written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Willan's copyrights are closely guarded by his heirs, so none of his several hymn tunes are available for us to hear here. (My own favorite is ST. OSMUND, written for Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor, which appears on two CD complilations of Willan's church music.) There are a few performances of Willan's works posted at YouTube, including the anthem How they so softly rest.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

"O Lord, our Governor" sounds like a mild oath spoken by a member of the other party in a statehouse, when interrupted during a backroom deal.

My recollection is that St. Osmund is indeed a good hymn tune. It's not in my index, but I think I've seen something set to it in one of the Esperanto hymnals.

Leland aka Haruo

AuntE said...

My favourite Willan tune is the one used for "Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning". I think the tune name is STELLA ORIENTIS, but my hymnal is not in front of me at the moment.

AuntE said...

Sorry! My mistake: should be "Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning".