Friday, March 23, 2007

Healy Willan

From a brief bio:
b. 1880, Balham, London; d. 1968, Toronto

Healey Willan began his musical training at age eight, with studies at St. Saviour's Choir School, Eastbourne. After leaving the school in 1895, he began working as an organist and choirmaster in and around London, including at St. John the Baptist, Holland Road, in 1903. Willan became a member of the London Gregorian Association—a society committed to the preservation and revival of Gregorian Plainchant—in 1910.

Although his formative years were spent in England, Willan spent most of his life in Canada and is best known as a Canadian composer and professor. In 1913 he began teaching at the Toronto Conservatory as head of the theory department, and the next year he was appointed a lecturer in music at the University of Toronto. He later became vice-principal of the conservatory, as well as university organist, music director of the Hart House Theatre, and precentor at St. Mary Magdalene. In 1934, Willan founded the Tudor Singers, a Canadian vocal group he conducted until it disbanded in 1939.

Willan’s considerable output includes orchestral, choral, organ and piano, and chamber works, as well as music for plays and one opera. He is best known for his organ and sacred works, which show evidence of his love for plainsong and Renaissance music. For example, many of his liturgical compositions are based on church modes that date back 500 years. Also, his vocal lines are more melismatic and his style more contrapuntal and rhythmically free than those of his contemporaries. Willan’s larger choral works, however, were very Romantic in nature. His rich harmonic palette and luxuriant, soaring melodies stand as testament to his admiration of both Brahms and Wagner. His music represents a unique and beautiful combination of styles: both an homage to the sacred music of five centuries ago and a reflection of the innovations of the Romantic/post-Romantic period in which he lived.

No comments: