Walford Davies

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three musicians Walford Davies (left), Hugh Allen (centre) and Cyril Rootham (right)
Walford Davies (left) in about 1932 with fellow musicians Sir Hugh Allen (centre) and Cyril Rootham (right)

Sir Henry Walford Davies KCVO OBE (6 September 1869 – 11 March 1941) was a British composer, who held the title Master of the King's Musick from 1934 until 1941.

Early life and education[edit]

Henry Walford Davies was born in Oswestry on the Wales-England border, seventh of nine children of John Whitridge Davies and Susan, née Gregory, and the youngest of four surviving sons. His middle name Walford was his maternal grandmother's maiden name; he later dropped his first name Henry, becoming generally known as Walford Davies. John Whitridge Davies was a leading figure in the local musical scene, playing the flute and the cello, and leading the choir at the Congregational church, Christ Church, where his brother was organist. He brought up his children to make music together. Performances of oratorios by Handel and others by Henry Leslie's Oswestry choral society were reviewed warmly in the London Musical Times.

Walford's brothers Charlie and Harold were, successively, organists at Christ Church succeeding their uncle, Charlie from the age of eleven. Charlie died young after emigrating to Australia. Harold also emigrated to Australia, where he took the first musical doctorate from an Australian university and ultimately achieved considerable fame as Professor of Music at Adelaide University and Principal of the Elder Conservatorium. Tom, the eldest, followed a family tradition by entering the ministry.

Walford Davies grew up, like his siblings, playing any instrument he could lay his hands on, often in an informal band with his brothers, cousins and friends, but it was as a singer that he was first noticed and entered, against misgivings from his Nonconformist family, for a choristership at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. In this he was successful, and from the age of twelve he was singing fourteen services a week as well as attending school. Here he came under the influence of Walter Parratt, a leader in the late Victorian organ renaissance, and Randall Davidson, as Dean of Windsor.

Davies studied under, and was assistant to, Parratt for five years before entering the Royal College of Music in 1890 where he studied under Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford. Davies also studied for a short time at Cambridge University, where he was a member of Fitzwilliam Hall.[1]

Career[edit]

Davies remained at the Royal College of Music as a teacher of counterpoint from 1895, one of his pupils being Rutland Boughton and another Leopold Stokowski. During this time he held a number of organist posts in London including St Anne's Church, Soho (1890-1891), Christ Church, Hampstead (1891-1898), culminating in his appointment in 1898 as organist of the Temple Church, where Stokowski was also his assistant. Davies continued there until 1917. In 1918 he was appointed the first director of music to the newly created Royal Air Force, which led to him writing the march, "RAF March Past", still played by many marching bands today.

In 1919, Walford Davies was made professor of music at Aberystwyth. He subsequently did much to promote Welsh music, becoming chairman of the Welsh National Council of Music. From 1927 he was organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. One of his assistant organists was Malcolm Boyle.

In 1924, Davies became Professor of Music at Gresham College, London: a part-time position giving public lectures.

From the 1920s, he also made a series of records of lectures, which led to his being employed by the BBC. He made radio broadcasts on classical music under the title Music and the Ordinary Listener. These lasted from 1926 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and Davies became a well-known and popular radio personality. His book The Pursuit of Music (1935) has a similar non-specialist tone.

Walford Davies was knighted in 1922. Following the death of Sir Edward Elgar in 1934, he was appointed Master of the King's Music. He died in 1941, aged seventy-one, at Wrington, Somerset and his ashes are buried in the grounds of Bristol Cathedral.


Compositions (selective list)[edit]

Orchestral[edit]

  • A Dedication Overture (1893)
  • Overture in G major (1893)
  • Symphony in D major (1894)
  • Overture, A Welshman in London (1899)
  • Overture to Everyman, Op. 17 (1905)
  • Suite, Holiday Tunes, Op. 21 (1907)
  • Prelude, Solemn Melody for organ and orchestra (1908)
  • Festal Overture, Op. 31 (1909)
  • Symphony [No. 2] in G, Op. 32 (1911)
  • Suite, Parthenia, Op. 34 (1911)
  • Suite in C after Wordsworth, Op. 37 (1912)
  • Conversations for piano and orchestra, Op. 43 (1914)
  • Royal Air Force March Past (1918, jointly with George Dyson)
  • Memorial Melody (1919)
  • A Memorial Suite, Op. 50 (1923)
  • A Children's Symphony, for small orchestra, Op. 53 (1927)
  • Memorial Melody in C (1936)
  • Big Ben Looks On, orchestral fantasy (1937)

Choral and vocal[edit]

  • The Future, for chorus and orchestra (1889)
  • Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1891–92)
  • Music: An Ode, for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1892–93)
  • Herve Riel, for chorus and orchestra, Op. 2 (1894)
  • Prospice, for baritone and string quartet, Op. 6 (1894)
  • Days of Man, oratorio for chorus and orchestra (1897)
  • Six Pastorals, for vocal quartet, string quartet and piano, Op. 15 (1897)
  • God created man for incorruption, motet for soloists, double choir and orchestra, Op. 9 (1897-1905)
  • Three Jovial Huntsmen, cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Op. 11 (1902)
  • The Temple, oratorio, Op. 14 (1902)
  • Everyman, morality [cantata], Op. 17 (1904, revised 1934)
  • Lift Up Your Hearts, sacred symphony for baritone, chorus and orchestra, Op. 20 (1906)
  • Songs of a Day, for soloists, chorus and chamber orchestra, Op. 24a (1908)
  • Songs of Nature, for soloists, chorus and small orchestra, Op. 24b (1908)
  • The Long Journey, song-cycle for bass and orchestra, Op. 25 (1908–10)
  • Grace to you, and peace, motet for chorus, strings, brass, timpani and organ, Op. 26 (1908)
  • Ode on Time, for baritone, chorus and orchestra, Op. 27 (1908)
  • Noble Numbers, cantata for soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, bass, chorus and orchestra, Op. 28 (1909)
  • Five Sayings of Jesus, for tenor, chorus and orchestra, Op. 35 (1911)
  • Song of St. Francis, cantata for soprano, contralto, tenor, bass, chorus and orchestra, Op. 36 (1912)
  • A Fantasy (from Dante’s Divine Comedy), for tenor, chorus and orchestra, Op. 42 (1914)
  • A Short Requiem, for choir and organ, Op. 44a (1915)
  • Heaven’s Gate, for mezzo-soprano, chorus and small orchestra, Op. 47 (1916)
  • Men and Angels, for chorus and orchestra, Op. 51 (1925)
  • High Heaven’s King, for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra, Op. 52 (1926)
  • Christ in the Universe, for tenor, bass, chorus, piano and orchestra, Op. 55 (1929)
  • Te Deum, for double choir and orchestra, Op. 56 (1930)
  • London Calling the Schools, for voice, piano, orchestra and announcer (1932)

Chamber music[edit]

  • String Quartet No. 1 in D minor (1891–92)
  • Piano Quartet No. 1 in E flat (1892)
  • Piano Quartet No. 2 in D minor (1893)
  • Violin Sonata No. 1 in E flat major (1893–95)
  • Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major (1893–95)
  • Violin Sonata No. 3 in E minor, Op. 5 (1894) [published as No.1]
  • Piano Quartet No. 3 in C major (1895–96)
  • String Quartet No. 2 in C minor (1895–97)
  • Violin Sonata No. 4 in D minor, Op. 7 (1896) [published as No.2]
  • Piano Trio in C major (1897)
  • Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major (1899)
  • Peter Pan, miniature suite for string quartet, Op. 30 (1909)
  • Piano Quintet in G major, Op. 54 (1927, revised 1940)


Sources[edit]

  • Colles, H. C., Walford Davies, 1942
  • New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1980, rep 1994

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Fitzwilliam College Music". Fitzwilliam College. 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
Court offices
Preceded by
Sir Edward Elgar
Master of the King's Musick
1934–1941
Succeeded by
Sir Arnold Bax