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Dr Arthur Wills


Martin Cooke
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I was sorry to read this announcement on the Ely Cathedral website of Dr Wills' death this morning. It would be lovely to see some tributes, stories and reminiscences on this site. I had the pleasure of meeting him nearly 50 years ago whilst attending one of Dr Hopkins' Holiday Courses for Organists at the Royal Academy of Music. He gave some of us tutorials on our organ playing and I shall treasure all the more the fingering he wrote in my Novello Bach Book III... in biro. I have never played much of his music - really only the Fanfare in D which I very much enjoy, but this evening I have just played through the Elegy he wrote in memory of Marmaduke Conway, and I think I shall start using it. I remember an LP I had in the 80s of his Fenland Suite for brass band and organ which was very atmospheric and exciting. I have his autobiography, Full with Wills, which is an interesting and enjoyable read.

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I performed his Mass in Memory of Benjamin Britten in St. Chad's cathedral in Birmingham around about 1983. It wasn't easy, a good piece and I remember the choir, who had never attempted anything like that before, enjoyed it! And it worked in the resonance of the old St. Chad's cathedral. I also, at different times, used some of his descants and fanfares - all very well crafted!

Requiem Aeternum 

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Very sad to receive this news.   Arthur was a lovely man and a fine musician.  I commissioned him to write settings of Psalm 8 "O Lord our Governor" and Psalm 13 "How long wilt Thou forget me O Lord" for my wife, Prudence Lloyd (soprano) and me back in the early 1990's.   We gave their first performance at All Saints' Friern Barnet, London on 27th. June 1992 and also performed them in Germany on several occasions in 1994. They were subsequently published by Oecumuse in 1993.   They are very good settings and very worthwhile performing.  When I was organist at All Saint's (from 1976 - 1998) we used to sing his Missa Brevis for Unison voices as part of our repertoire of communion settings.

God bless you, Arthur and may you rest in peace.

David Patrick

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Other touchstones of mine with his music... I remember hearing his modern setting (Tell out my soul) of the Mag and Nunc at Truro once in the late 70s, I think. It was certainly a long time ago but I can still remember the very dynamic and convincing opening to the Magnificat. I think it's in a red RSCM book. And thinking of Oecumuse which I am sure a lot of us had dealings with in its heyday, I have a copy of the Arthur Wills Ely Organ Book. This a is a quirky volume with plainsong hymn accompaniments and a number of strident last verse settings of hymns including a harmonisation of the National Anthem. I can't say I have ever used any of them and I am not really familiar with many plainsong hymns except the very well known ones. It is signed by Arthur. His best known organ work must be the Carillon on Orientis partibus which is very exciting - I have it, but can't remember what album it's in. I also have a Scherzetto published by Cramer which is more accessible than many of his pieces - and quite lively and attractive. Probably the most straightforward of his organ works is Lullaby for a Prince, written to mark the birth of HRH The Duke of Cambridge.

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13 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

I have a copy of the Arthur Wills Ely Organ Book.

Martin. I think there are two of them. I seem to remember I have copies of both somewhere here!

 

13 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

And thinking of Oecumuse which I am sure a lot of us had dealings with in its heyday, 

Oecumuse - of blessed memory!!

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33 minutes ago, S_L said:

Martin. I think there are two of them. I seem to remember I have copies of both somewhere here!

Yes, that's right, S_L, I think the other one is probably the AW Ely Choir Book - I've not seen that but in his intro, Dr Wills refers to it as a companion volume.

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It was Sidney Campbell who originally brought Arthur Wills to Ely as his assistant—unceremoniously ousting the incumbent man to make way for him, if I remember correctly.

John Wellingham, who studied at Ely with Campbell, tells a tale to cherish. Ely were doing a broadcast Evensong on the Home Service. Campbell was going to conduct; Wills would accompany. The producer asked for a thirty-second organ improvisation in order to set a suitable atmosphere for the service. After the service was over, Campbell came up to John with his hands held limply quivering in front of his breasts in mock shock, saying in a quavering voice, “The producer asked for thirty seconds of improvisation and what did we get? Five minutes of diarrhoea all over the keyboard!”

In fact Campbell had the utmost respect for Wills. Campbell had done his Durham D.Mus. externally on the back of a correspondence course (!) with Dr Frederick Wood of Blackpool parish church and he advised Wills to do likewise—which Wills did. That Wills (a) took Campbell’s advice and (b) succeeded would have counted for a lot. In Campbell’s eyes a D.Mus. by examination made you one of the elite. It was proof that you were a ‘real’ musician. Arthur Wills was certainly that.

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