William Henry Harris


Born: March 28, 1883 Died: September 6, 1973
William Henry Harris was better known in his lifetime as an organist and choirmaster than composer. Not that he didn't achieve success in the latter endeavor: in the realm of Anglican Church music, Harris wrote a number of popular, well-crafted works. Among them was the motet Faire is the Heaven, for unaccompanied double choir, and Communion Service in F. His massive The Hound of Heaven, for baritone soloist, chorus, and orchestra, is one of his finest large works. But he also wrote a number of high-quality compositions for solo organ, among them the masterly Four Short Pieces (1938). It says much of his good-natured character that he was known as "Doc H" to the choristers serving under him. Harris lived 90 years and at his death was rightly considered one of the most important figures in English Church music of the twentieth century.

Harris was born in London on March 28, 1883. He showed extraordinary talent early on, serving as a chorister and organist in his youth and earning the prestigious rank of Fellow of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO) by his early teens. From 1897-1899 he held an organist post at St. David's Cathedral in Wales.

From 1899 he studied at the Royal College of Music, where his teachers included Walter Parratt (organ) and Walford Davies and Charles Wood (both composition).

Harris held several assistant organist posts in the early 1900s, including at London's Temple Church and, beginning in 1911, at the Litchfield Cathedral. From 1919-1921 he was organist at New College, Oxford. It was around this time that Harris began turning out his most important compositions, beginning with the aforementioned choral work The Hound of Heaven in 1919 and his ever-popular Faire is the Heaven (1925).

In 1921 Harris joined the faculty at the Royal College of Music, where he taught organ and harmony. The busy composer then branched out, conducting the Bach Choir from 1926-1933. Other organ posts ensued: Christ (Catholic) Church, Oxford (1929-1933), and St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (1933-1961).

In his later years Harris served in two administrative posts: from 1946-1948 at the Royal College of Organists (president) and from 1956-1961 at the Royal School of Church Music (director of music studies). Among Harris' most important late works is Bring Us, O Lord God (1959), for unaccompanied double choir. Harris died in Petersfield on September 6, 1973.

There are 55 William Henry Harris recordings available.

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