Death of an English composer, 94

Death of an English composer, 94


norman lebrecht

October 30, 2020

Ely Cathedral has reported the death this morning of Dr Arthur Wills OBE, its director of music from 1958 to 1990.

The incumbent, Edmund Aldhouse, writes: ‘Arthur Wills was a towering figure in English Cathedral music, and far beyond, for much of the twentieth century and to this day. As well as his daily work in Ely, he held a professorship for many years at the Royal Academy of Music. In both posts he taught and inspired countless musicians, young and adult, who went on to enrich this country’s musical life. Arthur was also a virtuoso organist and a composer of distinction, with an instantly recognisable musical language, and a talent for capturing the mystery and beauty of the written word in music.’

He wrote a book, The Organ, for the Menuhin Music Guide Series.

There are some wonderfully old-fashioned views in this video on sexual inequality. One little chap says ‘I want to be a music critic later on.’


  • Anthony Sayer says:

    We used to sing his Missa Brevis in church and I played some of his organ works. RIP, Doctor; some of your harmonies shocked certain older members of the congregation (or maybe it was just the way I played them).

  • Anon says:

    Wonderfully old-fashioned? I think just ‘correct’…

  • Papageno says:

    J.S. Bach is still better.

    • Garech de Brun says:

      We are in Ely Cathedral, so Henry Purcell, John Blow, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis would be more suitable. Bach is for Leipzig, we are British not German.

      Here is William Byrd’s Civitas sancti tui

      Ely Cathedral Choir sing Civitas sancti tui est deserta: Sion deserta facta est: Jerusalem desolata est. in Ely Cathedral’s Famous Lady Chapel.

      The city of thy sanctuary is become a desert: Sion is become a desert: Jerusalem is desolate.

      Words: Isaiah 64, Cantiones Sacrae, Book 2, 1591

  • Armchair Bard says:

    Wills’s organ-playing can be heard to advantage in his 1967 contribution to EMI’s Great Cathedral Organ Series (which as it happens I got to co-produce for CD reissue in 2011). Further, he had devised for it a (then) enterprising programme that took in works by Gigout, Messiaen and Vierne as well as his own Introduction & Allegro.

    Like Mr Sayer, I too have fond – if in my case somewhat hazy – recollections of the Missa Brevis (1960/rev. 1964), whose vigorous and memorable writing for unison voices & organ makes it ideal for choirs of limited resources.

    I’m afraid that also made it ideal for midnight Christmas Mass during my time at K——— Parish Church; the choir’s resources in this case being limited by the fact that the men had come straight from their annual beano at the local hostelry. Autre fois… But hey: it worked.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Henry Purcell, Funeral sentence, Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts.

    Stephen Cleobury, King’s College, Choir.