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(contributed by Sandy [Willan] Cowles-Bradford <firstname.lastname@example.org>)
Comments on An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts - Music of Healey Willan
At 33, Healey Willan was already an accomplished organist, choral conductor and composer when he took a chance. Just before the First World War, he left his promising musical career in Britain behind, to head the Theory Department of the Toronto Conservatory of Music (later the Royal Conservatory of Music) in faraway Canada. Superstitious, he said it was a combination of auspicious numbers that led him to embark on such an adventure. Whatever the real reasons, he remained here for the rest of his life, becoming one of our country’s most prolific and well-known composers, especially gifted in writing plainchant and sacred music.
Mary Willan Mason, Willan’s daughter, remembers a father so busy with music that he needed to set aside one day a week especially for the family. Leader of the Vancouver Chamber Choir Jon Washburn explains some of the enduring qualities of Willan’s deeply personal choral music. And Dr. Robert Bell, current organist and choirmaster for St. Mary Magdelene Church, Anglican, the position Willan himself occupied for many years, describes his own sense of awe at Willan’s accomplishments.
Some graduates of the Conservatory will still remember the genial, joking teacher who could as easily shout angrily as listen compassionately. Black-and-white film footage shows a merry pipe-smoker with twinkling eyes, clearly enjoying jokes of a quite secular nature.
But there is no jest in Willan’s richly satisfying harmonies written for the most personal of musical instruments, the human voice. They are the work of a man communicating with his God, simply, directly, and with solemn love.
This album contains the sacred music of Healey Willan, who although English born, spent the last fifty-four of his eighty-seven years in Toronto Canada. The last forty-seven of those years were spent directing music at the modest but very high Anglican Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in that city. The music has been chosen from a wide range of Willan’s sacred music. It veers in time from the very early Victorian symbolist anthem "I looked and behold a white cloud" (1907) to the robust, very late eclectic one "O praise the Lord (1963) with its back-reaching survey of Stanford, Holst and Handel. It veers in style from the magnificent a cappella sacred concert piece "An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts" (1921) to the seven profound plainsong-ritualistic "Great O Antiphones of Advent" (1958). This disc offers a bird’s eye view of Willan’s sacred styles excepting only the masses and the carols. (Taken from comments of Kenneth Winters in the album booklet). My favorite piece on this album is "An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts" which I had the great fortune to perform when I was a college student at Cal State Long Beach back in the mid 60’s, under the direction of Frank Pooler. What a wonderful piece this is to listen to as well as perform. Enjoy!
‘Apostrophe’ is often considered Willan’s masterpiece, but its Victorian-Edwardian style is not typical of his best work. The Vancouver Chamber Choir was asked to stay away from the liturgical works written for his own church for this disc, hence a fairly eclectic and unusual selection of his works. For another album of his more typical works, try the first album in Virgin Classics’ Willan series: Healey Willan: Masses and motets VC 5 45109 2 (in the USA, CDC 451092). The artists are Willan’s own choirs (he died 28 years ago, but his church choirs still function and sing his music) Church of St Mary Magdalene, Toronto Robert Hunter Bell, choirmaster Virgin Classics will release a third Willan choral disc, with Bell and the St Mary Magdalene choirs, this February. Healey Willan: Tenebrae responsaries and masses VC 5 45260 2 (again, in the USA the prefix will be CDC). The SMM choirs have a much lighter, purer sound than the VCC (they’re generally younger and amateur) The VCC is a much richer sound, especially the womens voices. The choice is a matter of taste - they’re two of Canada’s finest choirs.
(Contribution by Dennis Drud <Den-Drum@sol.dk>.)
- 2 Symphonies
- Deidré - Opera
- Piano Concerto
- Coronation suite - for orchestra & Chorus
- two preludes & fuges for Organ
- three Fanfares - For Timp. & 4 tpt. & 4 trb.
- Royce Hall suite for concert band
- An Apostrophe to the Heavenly hosts - for chorus
- overture to an Unwritten Comedy
- over 100 original songs
(Contribution by Dennis Drud <Den-Drum@sol.dk>.)
Willan was born in London, but imigrated to Canada in 1913. He was offered the
leading post for the theory department at the Toronto Conservatory of Music.
He was also appointed the organ post at St. Pauls
Church. He is mostly known for his organ & chorus music. His most famous
composition is the organ piece "Introdution and Passacaglia and Fugue" of
1916. He wrote music spanning from very occasional to more mysticism in style.
He lived most of his life in Toronto, and died there in 1968.