2013-10-27 Notes from the Bench

“Communion Service in F” by Sir William Henry Harris

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

Sir William Henry Harris (1883-1973) was an English composer, organist, and a highly regarded choirmaster. Due to Harris’s good-natured character and excellent rapport he established with his singers, the choristers who served under him affectionately nicknamed him, “Doc. H.”

Harris wrote compositions for the organ, numerous choral anthems, Anglican psalm chants, hymn tunes, and canticles for evensong; his Communion Service in F, sung by our chamber choir during our 11:00 am Choral Eucharist this weekend, is accessible and frequently sung in many Anglican churches. His well-crafted and conservative sacred works are gentle, intimate, and devotional in character, well-suited to Anglican worship services.

Harris was born in London. He demonstrated exceptional talent and pursued his interest in music at an early age, singing as a chorister and serving as an organist at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Tulse Hill. At the age of 14, Harris was appointed the Assistant Organist at St. David’s Cathedral in Wales, a position he held for two years. In 1899, Harris was awarded a scholarship at the Royal College of Music where he studied organ and composition. Sill in his early teens, Harris was awarded the prestigious rank of Fellow of the Royal College of Organists.

Harris held a number of organist positions from 1900-1933, including London’s Temple Church, St. Augustine’s Church, Edgbaston, Lichfield Cathedral, New College, and Christ Church in Oxford. From 1933 until his retirement in 1961, Harris served the British royalty as organist of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. In addition to his playing responsibilities, Harris composed a significant amount of choral and organ music and during the various services held there.

From 1921 until 1955, Harris was a professor at the Royal College of Music where he taught organ and harmony. He was the president of the Royal College of Organists from 1946 until 1948, and director of music studies at the Royal School of Church music from 1956 until 1961. Today, Harris is best remembered for his Anglican church music, and is considered among the most important composers of English Church music during the twentieth century.

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