2016-10-02 Notes from the Bench

“Behold the Tabernacle of God” by William H. Harris

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



Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,
and the Spirit of God dwelleth within you.
For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
For the love of whom ye do this day celebrate the joys of the temple
with a season of festivity. Alleluia.
— Sarum Rite Antiphon



William Henry Harris (1883-1973) was an English organist and composer best remembered for his Anglican church music. Harris was born in Fulham, London into a musical family. Harris sang as a chorister at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Tulse Hill, a district in south London. At the age of 14, Harris’s musical abilities attracted attention and he was sent to South Wales to take the position of Assistant Organist for St. David’s Cathedral. In 1899, at the age of 16, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music where he later became a Professor of organ and harmony, which he taught there from 1921 to 1955. As a student at the Royal College of Music, Harris studied with Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, Charles Wood, and Walford Davies, all significant figures within the Anglican church music tradition at the turn of the century.

During his early adult career, Harris served as organist for a number of churches including St. Augustine’s Church in Edgbaston, Lichfield Cathedral, New College and Christ Church at Oxford. In 1933, Harris became the organist and choirmaster for St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, a position he held until 1961. Harris was particularly skilled with training choristers; the choristers at Windsor affectionately nicknamed him “Doc. H.” Harris’s tenure at Windsor were his most productive years, a significant number of his works were composed during this time; he produced music for the Three Choirs Festival (an annual music festival originally featuring the choirs of Hereford, Gloucester, and Worcester Cathedrals), and conducted the music for two coronations. Two of his orchestral works were premiered at “The Proms,” an eight-week annual summer music festival held primarily at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Harris was also the music teacher of Queen Elizabeth II as a teenaged princess and her sister, Margaret Rose.

Harris retired in 1961 and moved to Petersfield where he died twelve years later at the age of 90.



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