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Healey Willan

Healey Willan: Life and Music

Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Healey Willan
    Book Description:

    As a teacher and organist-choirmaster Healey Willan inspired generations of singers, musicians, and composers. As a composer he created some 800 works, including operas and symphonies as well as organ, piano, chamber, vocal, and band music.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7564-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Godfrey Ridout

    The first time I met Healey Willan was in 1933. It really was not a meeting, rather it was an encounter. As a young music student, I was attending a class in musical history in the old Toronto Conservatory of Music on College Street. I had been sent by the instructor to the principal′s office to fetch the key for the gramophone from the secretary. She wasn′t there, but the vice-principal, Dr Willan himself, came out of his office at my knock and, after he had learned why I was there, promptly and with good-natured impatience ransacked Miss Hebden′s desk...

  4. Preface
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Preface to the 1997 Reprint
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    F.R.C. Clarke

    • 1 The years in England 1880-1913
      (pp. 3-15)

      The Willan family can be traced back for many generations and boasted merchants, clergymen, poets and authors, doctors, and schoolmasters. The Reverend Robert Willan, DD, was chaplain to Charles I. Leonard Willan, an Irish poet and playwright, flourished briefly after the mid-seventeenth century. Robert Willan, MD (the elder), and Robert Willan, MD (the younger), were both distinguished medical men of the eighteenth century; the classifications of the latter in dermatology are still used today.

      In later life Healey Willan used to make much of his Irish extraction, especially when he was working on his operaDeirdre. Journalists wrote on occasion...

    • 2 The conservatory years 1913-1936
      (pp. 16-31)

      Musical Opinionhad high hopes for Willan′s success in his new land: ′We are confident that he will prove himself a worthy inheritor of the fine traditions of the Toronto Conservatoire. To foster the growing sense of Canadian nationality in music is no light thing to undertake, but the placing of such a task in the hands of a fertile and versatile Irishman[!] is a wise move on the part of the Toronto authorities and a high compliment to us on this side.′ At the end of his long life Willan would be affectionately termed the ′dean of Canadian composers′;...

    • 3 The university years 1937-1950
      (pp. 32-45)

      Willan′s years as vice-principal of the Toronto Conservatory of Music had ended in August 1936, but he remained on salary with a leave of absence until the summer of 1937 when, as we shall see, he joined the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto. But in the mean time he was free to work on several projects close to his heart. The coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth was to take place in 1937 and inspired him to compose several works, includingMarche solennelle (Coronation March)for orchestra andCoronation Te Deumfor chorus and orchestra....

    • 4 Retirement 1950-1968
      (pp. 46-68)

      At the time of his retirement Willan wrote to a friend, ′I have never been so busy.′ Many things demanded his attention, including a number of requests for compositions. In contrast to the symphonic and operatic emphasis of the late 1930s and the 1940s, the major thrust now would be in church anthems and organ pieces. (There were exceptions of course: notably revisions toDeirdreand some orchestral marches.) This would be a period of ′music to order′; Willan was now ′on pension′ and in need of all the extra money he could earn.

      Willan had an ′order′ from Concordia...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 5 Musician and teacher
      (pp. 69-81)

      Willan started his study of the organ at St Saviour′s Choir School, East-bourne, with Walter Hay Sangster, in 1889. Within a year or two he had progressed sufficiently to play services for the school, though he was only eleven years of age. When sixteen he became an associate of the Royal College of Organists and at eighteen he became a fellow - the highest professional diploma an organist could attain. About this time Willan began advanced studies with William Stevenson Hoyte, organist of All Saints′, Margaret Street, London. Throughout his life Willan held both his organ teachers in high regard....

    • 6 The man′s character
      (pp. 82-88)

      Willan displayed even as a child those warm and attractive qualities of personality that were to distinguish him in later life. His sister, Mary, described him: ′He was always an even-tempered, contented boy, popular with his friends and acquaintances... His was a tolerant and kind nature, full of generosity for the members of his family and for his friends.′ She added: ′Healey was a very quiet, modest and perhaps even a shy boy ... He hated being pushed to the fore.′

      In his days at the conservatory and the university in Toronto he was known to be genuinely interested in...


    • 7 Symphonies and concerto
      (pp. 91-106)

      In this chapter I shall examine Willan′sSymphony No. 1 in D Minor(1936), hisSymphony No. 2 in C Minor(1948), and hisPiano Concerto in C Minor(1944).

      In some works, such asPiano Concerto in C MinorandPoemfor string orchestra, Willan′s borrowing of early material turned out well. WithSymphony No. 1 in D Minor(1936), however, this procedure has been less successful, particularly in the finale, where the Mendelssohn-like second subject, borrowed from his 1909Epiloguefor organ and orchestra, sits uncomfortably in its Straussian surroundings. Willan took a considerable quantity of material from...

    • 8 Other works for orchestra and band
      (pp. 107-114)

      In the first decade of this century Willan was much occupied with ideas of orchestral composition and left a number of unfinished symphonic poems, rhapsodies, overtures, and so on. Three works were completed, though he orchestrated only two of them. The first,Allegro marcato, was composed in 1904 and scored for small orchestra. Though only nine bars long the piece is complete and is Willan′s first surviving orchestral effort. It is a rather ingenious 12-in-l canon in C minor, the tune being four bars of 3/4 time and the entries being separated by only one beat. Willan sketched the theme...

    • 9 Dramatic cantata and operas
      (pp. 115-134)

      Willan completed a dramatic cantata,Cleopatra(1907), and two radio operas,Transit through Fire(1942) andDeirdre of the Sorrows(1944; later staged asDeirdrein 1965 and, revised again, in 1966).

      Willan′s cantataCleopatrafor SSAB soli, mixed choir, and large orchestra (2333/4331/percussion, harp/strings), written in 1907, was his first completed large-scale work in any genre.¹ Willan had already mastered the complex chromatic Wagnerian and post-Wagner harmonic style which remained the basis for his large dramatic and symphonic works up to the final revisions ofDeirdrein 1965. Opposite the opening page of music in the piano-vocal score the...

    • 10 Works for choir and orchestra
      (pp. 135-146)

      Most of the dozen or so works Willan wrote for choir and orchestra were inspired by patriotic themes: the sacrifice of war, a coronation, his adopted land, or his mother country. The others include a setting for a poem, a hymn to the sun, a Christmas cantata, and a choral march for his Arts and Letters Club to use at Christmas.

      Willan′s first completed work for choir and orchestra was probably a setting of Robert Browning′sProspice.¹ The appearance of the full-score manuscript and the style of the music suggest it was composed ca 1905-10. No sketches or short score...

    • 11 Music for plays
      (pp. 147-153)

      An important part of Willan′s work as a composer was the writing of incidental music for various dramatic works. During more than half a century he composed and/or arranged music for about thirty such works. His incidental music falls roughly into three genres and periods: music for plays (most between 1919 and 1925), ballad operas (1927 to the early 1930s), and radio plays and pageants (1940 to 1964); in chapters 12 and 13 I will examine the last two periods and in this chapter the music for plays. Willan composed or arranged music for fourteen productions at the Hart House...

    • 12 Ballad operas
      (pp. 154-156)

      In the late 1920s and early 1930s Willan composed and/or arranged music for six ballad operas:The Beggar′s Opera, L′Ordre de Bon Temps, Prince Charlie and Flora, The Ayrshire Ploughman, Maureen,andIndian Christmas Play(the last two now lost). J. Murray Gibbon provided librettos (translation or original) for four of these works.

      Willan′s version of John Gay′sThe Beggar′s Operaappeared in 1927. From its first performance in 1728 till the 1880sThe Beggar′s Operawas a popular national classic in England. Following what Edward Dent calls ′a certain eclipse after 1886,′ the opera was revived in 1920. A...

    • 13 Radio plays and pageants
      (pp. 157-164)

      In Willan′s third and final period of dramatic work (1940-64) he returned to writing original scores. This period saw the composition not only of his two operas (see chapter 9) but also of the large-scaleBrébeufpageant, a number of radio plays, and several other pageants. (The unfinishedPageant of Our Ladywas begun in the 1920s and Willan′s latest work on it probably took place in 1936; a similar work,The Play of Our Lady, started in the mid-1960s, was left unfinished at the time of his death. Both are discussed at the end of this chapter.)

      Nativity Play...

    • 14 Chamber music
      (pp. 165-176)

      Sketches of chamber music by Willan are dated as early as 1903; his early (and relatively brief) interest in writing chamber music may well have been stimulated by his admiration for the music of Brahms and by his studies with Evlyn Howard-Jones, an authority on Brahms′s piano music. Willan′s two major original chamber works -Trio in B Minorfor violin, cello, and piano andSonata No. 1 in E Minorfor violin and piano - were composed by 1916. After 1916 he wrote only the Baroque-styleSonata No. 2 in E Major(1923), the unfinishedSonata No. 3, Poem...

    • 15 Organ music 1906-1933
      (pp. 177-185)

      Willan′s organ music is justly famous. A handful of major works rank with the masterpieces of the recital literature for the instrument. His reputation was established by works written between 1906 and 1918 - includingEpilogue in D Minor(1908) and, most notably,Prelude and Fugue in C Minor(1908) and the awesomeIntroduction, Passacaglia and Fugue(1916). In the late 1920s and early 1930s he wrote several new works and some arrangements - a minor interlude between the towering early accomplishments and the more numerous and occasionally brilliant organ works of his later years, examined in the next chapter....

    • 16 Organ music 1948-1967
      (pp. 186-197)

      In the last three decades of his life Willan was a prolific composer for organ. He wrote about 100 chorale preludes and hymn preludes, a number of smaller pieces, and several works of recital proportions - including one in his eighty-fifth year. And over this vast array of organ music - most good, some inspired - standsPassacaglia and fugue No. 2(1959), perhaps rivalling hisPrelude and Fugue in C Minor(1908) and hisIntroduction, Passacaglia and Fugue(1916).

      Epithalamium(1948) ushered in Willan′s final period of composition for the organ. Willan composed it for the wedding of Joan,...

    • 17 Piano music
      (pp. 198-202)

      Willan studied piano at St Saviour′s School and pursued advanced studies ca 1900 with Evlyn Howard-Jones. At the age of twenty he had ambitions to be a concert pianist, particularly for the music of Brahms. An arm injury in childhood eventually limited his progress as a pianist; nevertheless he remained a fine and sensitive player throughout his life. He held the instrument in high regard, but wrote comparatively little for it, and that chiefly for young pianists. At least some of Willan′s children′s pieces can stand on the same level as their counterparts written by, say, Kabalevsky. There is only...

    • 18 Solo songs
      (pp. 203-213)

      Willan was prolific in song-writing. He wrote or arranged more than 200 secular songs, of which about 110 are original works and 70 are settings of traditional songs. (To this could be added the songs - original or arranged - in his ballad operas and incidental scores.) Unfortunately this area of Willan′s work is comparatively little known or appreciated. It was a source of some disappointment to the composer in his later years that his many art-songs for voice and piano had not made a greater mark; only about 30 of the 110 original songs were ever published. A small...

    • 19 Partsongs
      (pp. 214-219)

      Willan wrote fifty short secular works for choir with - or without - piano accompaniment. Thirty-three are original pieces - thirty were published in his lifetime and two in 1979. Seventeen are arrangements - fourteen published. He also composed or arranged music of this type for use in larger works and left four unfinished pieces.

      Willan wrote nine partsongs between 1906 and 1912. Eight were published at the time. The beginning of this activity coincides with the decline in the number of solo songs Willan was composing and his increased activity in other fields.

      Two partsongs were written in 1906:...

    • 20 Music for the liturgy
      (pp. 220-233)

      Willan composed seven settings for the complete communion service and three settings for parts of the service; a series of missae breves for St Mary Magdalene′s; four other masses, including two to Latin texts; and more than fifty canticle settings, both plainsong with faux-bourdons (to be considered generically) and full-anthem type.

      The Anglican communion service is virtually a setting for choir and organ of an English translation of the ordinary of the mass in the Catholic church - Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), gloria in excelsis (Glory be to God on high), credo (I believe in one God), sanctus (Holy,...

    • 21 Motets and anthems
      (pp. 234-248)

      Willan composed thirty-three motets, thirty-eight anthems, and thirty-two hymn anthems - a total of more than one hundred works - between 1898 and 1967. In addition there are seven unfinished works and eight arrangements in these categories. As a group the motets and anthems are probably Willan′s most frequently performed and widely known works, and I shall examine them in considerable detail; for the hymn anthems I shall look at the general nature of Willan′s treatment of the genre.

      For Willan a motet was a relatively short piece of part-music for unaccompanied choir on a sacred text. Willan′s motet style...

    • 22 Other sacred music
      (pp. 249-258)

      In this chapter I shall examine some of Willan′s carols,An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts(1921), and, briefly, his other sacred works, including his sacred songs, his hymn-tunes, his music for children and for junior choir, and his work as editor, arranger, and/or composer for various collections of sacred music.

      Willan wrote thirteen original carols and about one hundred arrangements. Of the original pieces, ten are published separately while two are found in the two-volumeWe Praise Thee, one of Willan′s junior choir books. Of the arrangements, seventeen are separate pieces while the others are found in various collections...

    • 23 Conclusion
      (pp. 259-284)

      Willan employed somewhat different musical styles for his instrumental and dramatic works on the one hand, and for his sacred choral music on the other. This difference is not as apparent in the early works, but by the time one arrives at the period of the symphonies and operas and compares the musical style of these with the motets and missae breves of the same time, the cleavage becomes much more obvious.

      In this chapter we shall consider Willan′s secular musical style, his sacred musical style, and some final reflections - by Willan and about him.

      Parry, Stanford, Rheinberger, Tschaikowsky,...

  8. A note on the musical examples
    (pp. 285-286)
    (pp. None)
  10. A note on sources
    (pp. 287-288)
  11. Index
    (pp. 289-300)