William Harris (British composer)

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Sir William Henry Harris KCVO (28 March 1883 - 6 September 1973) was an English organist and composer, affectionately nicknamed 'Doc H' by his choristers.

Harris was born in Fulham, London and died in Petersfield. He was a chorister of Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill. At the age of 14, he took up a "flexible" position as Assistant Organist at St David's Cathedral in Wales, followed at 16 by a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he was Professor of Organ and Harmony from 1921 to 1955. He was organist at St Augustine's Church, Edgbaston from 1911 to 1919 and concurrently of Assistant Organist at Lichfield Cathedral followed in 1919 by becoming Organist successively at New College and in 1929 Christ Church, Oxford, moving to St. George's Chapel, Windsor in 1933.

As Organist and Choirmaster at Windsor, Harris was at his most productive. He produced music for the Three Choirs Festival, was a conductor at both the 1937 and 1953 coronations, and had music premiered at the Proms, all of which led to being appointed KCVO in 1954.

Bruce Nightingale, who became senior chorister at Windsor during the wartime years, describes "Doc H" as having "a fat, usually jolly face with a few wisps of hair across an otherwise bald head." Although choir practice was normally conducted in a "benign atmosphere," Nightingale recounts that Harris would occasionally complain of a "batey practise" and, on the rare occasions he considered a performance mediocre, would scold the choirboys in a loud stage whisper from the organ loft. Harris was involved in the musical education of the teenage Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, who spent the wartime period at Windsor Castle. Every Monday he would direct madrigal practise in the Red Drawing Room at Windsor, where the two Princesses sang alongside four of the senior choristers with the lower voices augmented by Etonians, Grenadier Guards and members of the Windsor and Eton Choral Society. Jars of Argentinian honey, sent to Windsor by overseas subjects, were donated by the Princesses to the Choir School as a treat for the choristers.

Harris is best remembered for his Anglican church music, though his main achievements were as a choir-trainer. His most famous works are the anthems Faire is the heaven (1925) and to a lesser extent Bring us, O Lord God (1959), both for unaccompanied double choir, and Strengthen ye the weak hands (1949) for choir and organ. His very accessible Communion Service in F was frequently sung in a great many Anglican parish churches up until the 1970s. The canticles Harris in A and Harris in A minor are still sung at Evensong in a number of Anglican cathedrals. He also composed cantatas and organ pieces, as well as the hymn tune Alberta (often used for the words Lead, Kindly Light), and various Anglican psalm chants.

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Discography

Album

Year Title Artist RatingReleases
1991 Hail, gladdening Light The Cambridge Singers, John Rutter 1
1992 Great Cathedral Anthems - III Southwark Cathedral Choir 1
1992 Taverner to Tavener Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Stephen Darlington 1
1993 Favourite Motets From Westminster Cathedral (Westminster Cathedral Choir, James O'Donnell, feat. organ: Iain Simcock) Various Artists 1
1994 Oxford Church Anthems Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford 1
1994 In a Quiet Cathedral Todd Wilson 1
1996 The English Anthem, Volume 6 Various Artists 1
1996 Christmas with the Victoria Scholars Victoria Scholars 1
1999 Illumina Choir of Clare College, Cambridge 1
2000 Blessed Spirit Choir of Clare College, Cambridge 1
2003 Choirs Royal: 1937 Coronation & the Choir of the St. George's Chapel Windsor The Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor 1
2006 Allegri Miserere Tenebrae, Nigel Short 1
2007 The Road To Paradise Gabrieli Consort, Paul McCreesh 1
2009 England My England Choir of King’s College, Cambridge 2
2012 This Is the Day: Music on Royal Occasions The Cambridge Singers, John Rutter 2
2012 Pater Noster: A Choral Reflection on the Lord's Prayer The King’s Singers 1
2013 War & Peace: Music for Remembrance The Choir of Jesus College Cambridge, Mark Williams 1
2013 Great Choral Anthems The Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge 1
2016 The Evening Hour: British Choral Music from the 16th and 20th Centuries The Choir of Jesus College Cambridge, Mark Williams 1
Faire Is the Heaven Elora Festival Singers 1
Faire Is The Heaven The Cambridge Singers 1

Album + Compilation

Year Title Artist RatingReleases
1993 English Anthems Stephen Cleobury & Choir of King’s College, Cambridge 1
1995 Treasures of English Church Music The Cambridge Singers, John Rutter 1
1996 An English Chorister’s Songbook Salisbury Cathedral Choir 1
2003 Remembrance St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, John Scott 1
2010 English Town Hall Organ Philharmonie Duisburg Roland Maria Stangier 2
2016 Viri Galilaei Choir of Merton College, Oxford, Benjamin Nicholas, Peter Phillips 1
Choral Favourites From King's College Choir of King’s College, Cambridge 1

Other

Year Title Artist RatingReleases
Music for Christmas Various Artists 1
The Spirit of Christmas Various Artists 1

Unspecified type

Year Title Artist RatingReleases
1990 Choral Favourites Various Artists 1
1992 Great European Organs, Number 34 (St. Paul's Cathedral, London) John Scott 1

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