This week one of the giants of choral conducting died. Sir David Willcocks, an English composer, organist, and choirmaster, was well-known in the circles of both amateur and professional choirs around the globe. Although best known for his work with the King’s College Choir, Cambridge (which he led from 1957 to 1974), Willcocks spent the majority of his retirement travelling to choir workshops and festivals, dispensing his dry British humour and his coveted encouragement throughout the choral community.
He will definitely be remembered for his composition of beautifully lyric, soaring descants to everyone’s favourite English Hymns and Christmas Carols. This week, The Guardian recognized him for “a whole armoury of descants that breathed new life into the hymnal.” But his own favourite activity was participating in the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” that has become a mainstay of Christmas Eve celebrations. The service from the chapel of King’s College is broadcast around the world: on over 300 radio station in the United States alone!
Sir David’s choral techniques and his attention to clarity make his recordings classics. The Choir of King’s College weekly webcast this week highlights a recording he made in 1967 which is still one of the “plumbline” performances of this choral masterpiece. I’ve offered you the link below.
Because of his commitment to amateur choirs, and especially to boys’ choirs, Sir David Willcocks will be remembered and celebrated for another generation of those who love choral music.
Requiescant in pace Sir David.
Sir David Willcocks and The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Sussex Carol arr. by David Willcocks
God Save the Queen arr. David Willcocks (with the soaring descant)
(since Queen Elizabeth became the longest reigning British monarch last week!)