Jump to content
Mander Organs
Bruce Buchanan

Henry Willis 4

Recommended Posts

Thank you Bruce for telling us about this.  I was very sad to read of it.  I hope it will not be too long before his life and work is set against a fairer background and perspective than was sometimes the case during his lifetime.  For reasons I've never quite been able to understand, he seemed to attract criticism that was sometimes so vicious that I should have thought it was actionable.  Whatever else he might have done or not done, he kept the magic name alive during a period considerably less attractive for organ building in commercial terms than that which obtained in the halcyon days of his illustrious predecessors.  If I had succeeded in putting a roof over the heads of so many families and keeping their children fed as he did, I should have been a happy man just for that reason alone.

CEP

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree - Colin is quite right in a need for a re-assessment of Willis’ 4 work.

Further as I have mentioned on this forum before,perhaps it is time to include Willis III in this revisit while the living can counter some of the colourful anecdotal activity by introducing a more balanced understanding of both Willis’ work.

 

philipmgwright

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

May an American join those mourning the death of HWIV ?  He was known to many US builders as well as organists and was respected for his generosity and for the warm welcome given at the Willis works.  Over here, one is perplexed by the invariable British condemnation of all things Willis and the exaltation of even the most humble H&H production.  Was this always so or did it come about as a reaction to the well-known personalities of III & IV ?   I've heard and played several extraordinary Willis organs, of all periods, and find them rewarding, to say the least.  Conversely, there is more than one H&H job in the US that is extraordinarily coarse,  challenging their fabled reputation for impeccable tonal finishing.  

Can anyone shed light on this question or is this an inappropriate moment to ask ?

Karl Watson, Staten Island, NY.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 25/06/2018 at 15:39, emsgdh said:

May an American join those mourning the death of HWIV ?  He was known to many US builders as well as organists and was respected for his generosity and for the warm welcome given at the Willis works.  Over here, one is perplexed by the invariable British condemnation of all things Willis and the exaltation of even the most humble H&H production.  Was this always so or did it come about as a reaction to the well-known personalities of III & IV ?   I've heard and played several extraordinary Willis organs, of all periods, and find them rewarding, to say the least.  Conversely, there is more than one H&H job in the US that is extraordinarily coarse,  challenging their fabled reputation for impeccable tonal finishing.

I wasn't aware of this.  I have heard several Willis organs and can honestly say that they have all sounded excellent to me.  In what way has Willis been open to condemnation, because I'm afraid I don't understand?

Having said that, the Harrison ones are good too!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 24/06/2018 at 15:27, philipmgwright said:

I agree - Colin is quite right in a need for a re-assessment of Willis’ 4 work.

Further as I have mentioned on this forum before,perhaps it is time to include Willis III in this revisit while the living can counter some of the colourful anecdotal activity by introducing a more balanced understanding of both Willis’ work.

 

philipmgwright

I believe Willis 4 shared some reminiscences with John-Paul Buzard in The Diapason over two months in 1997 

Has anyone on this forum read these?

 

philipmgwright

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Friends:

Yes, I've read 4's remarks.  They're both amusing and informative.

Karl Watson,  Staten Island, NY

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The first time I met Henry 4 was while I was a student at Bristol University, c.1977, when I drove the Union minibus to Petersfield with half a dozen other music students and he gave us a tour of the organ works.  (I had previously visited the old Willis works in the Old Kent Road as a young child with the Friends of the Colchester Museums - my father was the secretary - and I think, but I'm not sure, that we were shown round by Henry III.) He gave up a whole afternoon to us and the whole visit was very instructive.  I remember seeing an old Father Willis Scudamore organ and a rebuild of a Junior Development Plan organ (remember those?) which had been expanded to two manuals, the lower of which consisted of extensions of the gedeckt rank.  Because of the manual extension (and the cheaper pattern console without refinements such as toggle touch and the Willis pattern stop-tablets), the organ was not officially classed as a Willis and had a Peter Conacher plate (Willis had taken over Conacher some years previously and the firm was later run independently by Henry 4's son John).  As might be expected, Henry 4's quirky and piquant brand of humour was very memorable.

A few years later, as organist of St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, I had Henry 4's "restoration and partial rebuild" (as he insisted it was) of his father's 1925 organ in my charge.  I always found it to be a fine instrument (and it was there that I found a preference for the Willis style of a full set of couplers controlled by tilting tablets - borrowed from Ernest Skinner - which I have had ever since), but more recently it has had some work done by the present Willis firm, including tuning to the "Willis Scale" (David Wyld tells me) and it sounds noticeably better than it did before.  I played it virtually every day for nine years, so I'm quite sure about this.  Henry 4 paid us a visit and did some regulation during my time and I spent a good deal of time in his company, being regaled by many yarns, some organ-related and others downright risqué but very interesting all the same.  A larger-than-life character in his bow tie (a proper one, not a made-up effort) and, while at work, maroon overalls.  As at Petersfield, his sheer joy in the craft of organ-building was most memorable.  At the time, he had just got back from Norfolk Island in the Pacific, where he had been restoring at least one organ.

Talking, over the years, to people who knew him better than I did, I was struck by the references to his kindness and concern for members of the trade who had perhaps fallen on hard times (I remember a little chamber organ at Petersfield by a builder with whose ideas Henry 4 would certainly not have been in agreement, and I found out later that he had quietly been of great assistance when things were not going so well).  As is well known, he shouldered a large personal expense in saving the Alexandra Palace organ and I believe that the criticism he received over subsequent events in its re-instatement was not deserved, and indeed was largely malicious gossip.

The YouTube video below shows Henry 4 at St. George's Hall, Liverpool and typifies the unique Willis humour.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
40 minutes ago, David Drinkell said:

 

The YouTube video below shows Henry 4 at St. George's Hall, Liverpool and typifies the unique Willis brand of humour.

 

 

Yes, I have a copy of that video.  The 'Willis brand of humour' to which you refer begins a bit earlier, at 6:30.  I, too, found that very funny.

Then there's the bit about the church organ 'which does not appear on their books', with the explanation of why!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Post from Tony Newnham on the Organ Matters board, June 24th 2018 :

From Facebook this morning:-

"It is with tremendous sadness that Henry Willis & Sons Ltd. has reported the death of Henry Willis 4 b. 19th Jan 1927 - d. 23rd June 2018
Mr. Willis was the last member of the Willis dynasty to be materially involved in the family firm from which he stood down as Managing Director on his birthday in 1997, later appointing David Wyld to the position: he continued as the Majority Shareholder until the 28th November 1998.
An obituary has been written by Bruce Buchanan and will appear in The Times tomorrow."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, David Drinkell said:
1 hour ago, David Drinkell said:

Post from Tony Newnham on the Organ Matters board, June 24th 2018 :

From Facebook this morning:-

"It is with tremendous sadness that Henry Willis & Sons Ltd. has reported the death of Henry Willis 4 b. 19th Jan 1927 - d. 23rd June 2018
Mr. Willis was the last member of the Willis dynasty to be materially involved in the family firm from which he stood down as Managing Director on his birthday in 1997, later appointing David Wyld to the position: he continued as the Majority Shareholder until the 28th November 1998.
An obituary has been written by Bruce Buchanan and will appear in The Times tomorrow."

 

I have not written an obituary of HW4 for The Times. I have submitted one to the IBO Newsletter and another (by request) to the Journal of the AIO.

Bruce Buchanan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×