Vol I No. 7

Healey Willan, Man & Musician part one. the early years.

Mark Dwyer

Most American Episcopalians will know the name of Healey Willan from the unison mass setting promulgated in the Hymnal 1940, the “Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena”. Many aficionados of Anglican choral music will also recognize Willan’s name from some of the minor choral works, “Rise up, my love” and “Hodie Christus natus est” being the most famous examples. A small number of musicians may know him because of the organ music: his famous masterwork “Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue” in addition to reams of more practical pieces. But very few people will know the chamber music and songs, the two symphonies, and the opera “Deirdre” which Willan himself considered his most important composition. There are over 800 works in Willan’s catalogue, and much more secular music than sacred. 

There are still many Canadian musicians who recall Willan as Professor of Music at the University of Toronto; some remember him as a guest lecturer, adjudicator, private teacher of organ, theory, composition, and music history. And at the same time, a few in academia may even recall him as administrator: as Vice Principal of the Toronto Conservatory. By now, few people probably think of Healey Willan as an organ recitalist and collaborative pianist. But he was a very fine keyboard player who played and accompanied many recitals over his long

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