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Choral mass: Healey Willan

posted Feb 14, 2014, 3:57 PM by Rochester Ordinariate   [ updated Feb 14, 2014, 4:02 PM ]
This Sunday, the Ordinary of the mass will be sung to Healey "Patrimony" Willan's mass, Missa brevis No. 2 in F minor.

This is a mass for choral quartet (A Capella, SATB), happily organized by our music director, Aaron James (a fellow Toronto organist).

Willan's religious compositions occupy an important role in Anglican liturgy, and the St. Alban fellowship's usual congregational settings are mostly Willan.  The high quality of the compositions represent some of the best aspects of Anglican patrimony to be imported into the Catholic Church.  Just as our Byrd mass was an excellent example of historic English Catholic liturgy we wish to embody, this is an excellent example of how parts of the historical Anglican musical tradition can enrich the larger Catholic world through the Ordinariate.

From his biography:

Healey Willan, C.C. (b. Balham, England, Oct. 12,1880; d. Toronto, Feb.16,1968) composer, organist and teacher. Admitted as an Associate of the Royal College of Organists, 1897 and Fellow, 1899, from 1903–13 he was organist and choirmaster at St John the Baptist Kensington. He moved to Toronto in 1913 as Head of the Theory Department of the Toronto Conservatory of Music (Vice-Principal 1920–36). From 1921 till his death he was Precentor of the church of St Mary Magdalene, Toronto, which became a mecca for church musicians. He was appointed Lecturer and Examiner for the University of Toronto (U of T) in 1914. In 1934 he founded the Tudor Singers, which he conducted until 1939. In 1937 he was appointed Professor of Music at U of T, a position he held until his retirement in 1950. An influential teacher, Willan was also active as the University Organist. In 1953 he was commissioned to write an anthem for the coronation of Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey (O Lord Our Governour) and in 1956 he received the Lambeth Doctorate, Mus. D Cantaur from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

More than half of his output of 800 compositions was sacred works for choir which include many anthems, hymn anthems and mass settings. His secular music includes over 50 choral works, over 100 songs and song arrangements for voice and piano, many works for piano, for voice and instrumental ensemble, for voice and orchestra, two symphonies, a piano concerto, chamber works, incidental music for stage works, ballad operas and the opera Deirdre.

Willan was a staunch conservative, grounded in counterpoint and fugue. Interested in new trends, he saw no reason to abandon his roots, and in Deirdre, which he regarded as one of his finest works, he centred on a post-Wagnerian idiom. His choral music composed for St Mary Magdalene has had a significant influence on composers of all denominations. His major works signalled the acceptance in Canada of large scale composition. Frequently known as the "Dean of Canadian Composers", he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada at its inception in 1967.

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