David Willcocks

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sir David Willcocks
David Willcocks in Belfast, September 2006 with "Melisma"
David Willcocks in Belfast, September 2006 with "Melisma"
Background information
Birth name David Valentine Willcocks
Born (1919-12-30) 30 December 1919 (age 95)
Occupation(s) conductor

Sir David Valentine Willcocks CBE, MC (born 30 December 1919) is a British choral conductor, organist, and composer. His son, Jonathan Willcocks, is also a composer.


Born in Newquay in Cornwall, he began his musical training as a chorister at Westminster Abbey from 1929 to 1934. From 1934 to 1938, he was a music scholar at Clifton College, Bristol, before his appointment as organ scholar at King's College, Cambridge where he first met David Briggs, King's Choral Scholar (bass) who later became his colleague for fifteen years when they worked together at King's as Organist and Master of the Choristers respectively.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, he interrupted his studies in music to serve in the British Army. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry on 15 February 1941,[1] and won the Military Cross as a temporary captain for his actions on the night of 10/11 July 1944, when he was serving with 5th Battalion DCLI as battalion intelligence officer. The battalion (part of 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division) was ordered to hold Hill 112 in Normandy, France. He carried out his duties outstandingly overnight, helping inflict severe casualties on the German forces by calling in artillery support to break up counter-attacks. The battalion suffered over 250 casualties during the night, including the commanding officer and one of the company commanders. This left Willcocks in command of the battalion headquarters, which by then was the furthest forward part of the battalion. He rallied the men, enabling the battalion to stand firm and reorganise.[2] The award was gazetted on 21 December 1944.[3] He was again involved some 10 weeks later in Operation Market Garden, when the 5th Battalion DCLI (still operating as part of 43rd (Wessex) Division) fought in support of the "Garden" armoured column sent to relieve the beleaguered "Market" 1st British Airborne Division across the Rhine at Oosterbeek, Holland. Memorably the DCLI tried to launch 3 amphibious DUKW vehicles, but failed as the DUKW's got stuck in the mud.

He returned to Cambridge in 1945 to complete his studies, and in 1947 was elected a Fellow of King's College and appointed Conductor of the Cambridge Philharmonic Society. In the same year, he became the organist at Salisbury Cathedral and the conductor of the Salisbury Musical Society. He moved to Worcester Cathedral in 1950 and remained until 1957, during which time he was organist of the Cathedral, principal conductor of the Three Choirs Festival in 1951, 1954, and 1957, and conductor of the City of Birmingham Choir. From 1956 to 1974 he was also conductor of the Bradford Festival Choral Society, whilst continuing as guest conductor for their carol concerts into the early 1990s.

From 1957 to 1974 he held the post for which he is probably best known, Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge. In addition, he served as the organist of Cambridge University, conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society, and as University Lecturer. He made numerous recordings with the college choir. (Among the most notable recordings was one of Thomas Tallis's Spem in alium, made in 1965.) The choir toured extensively, giving concerts worldwide, as well as garnering further acclaim internationally through television and radio appearances. Under the baton of Willcocks, CUMS performed Benjamin Britten's War Requiem in 1963 in (Perugia) Milan, La Scala, and in Venice. The choir subsequently performed the work in Japan, Hong Kong, Portugal, and the Netherlands. In 1960, he also became the musical director of The Bach Choir in London.

He held these positions at Cambridge until the 1970s when he accepted the post of Director of the Royal College of Music. In the 1971 Queen's Birthday Honours, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE),[4] and was created a Knight Bachelor in 1977 in the Queen's Silver Jubilee Honours.[5][6] He holds honorary degrees in England from the Universities of Bradford, Bristol, Exeter, Leicester, and Sussex, and from the Royal College of Music in London; in the USA from Luther College (Iowa), St. Olaf College (Minnesota), Rowan University and Westminster Choir College (New Jersey); and in Canada from the Universities of Trinity College, Toronto, and Victoria B.C. All in all, his honorary degrees number over fifty. He is President of the City of Bath Bach Choir and Exeter Festival Chorus.

On 15 May 2010, a celebration of his contribution to music took place at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where pieces selected by Willcocks were performed by singers who are part of The Really Big Chorus. Special guests included choristers from King's College Choir, Cambridge, who performed three pieces. A portrait of Sir David was auctioned off in aid of The British Heart Foundation.[citation needed]

Recordings and broadcasts[edit]

He has made recordings with the Bach Choir, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Jacques Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra as well as with the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. He also served as general editor of the Church Music series of the Oxford University Press. He is particularly known for his widely used choral arrangements of Christmas carols, most of which were originally written for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's or the Bach Choir's Christmas concerts. They are published in the five Carols for Choirs anthologies (1961–1987), edited by Willcocks with Reginald Jacques and John Rutter. The descant arrangements in particular are among the most famous and well-loved musical components.[7] He is currently Music Director Emeritus of King's College Choir, and an Honorary Fellow of King's College, Cambridge.

A notable broadcast took place on BBC Radio 4 on 21 September 2010 in a series called Soul Music, when Willcocks profiled Fauré's Requiem. The programme included his memories of the fighting at Hill 112. The profile also featured Christina, widow of Olaf Schmid. Willcocks questioned the morality of war.[8]


  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35089. pp. 1201–1203. 25 February 1941. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
  2. ^ "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—Willcocks, David Valentine" (Fee may be required to view pdf of full original recommendation). Documents Online. The National Archives. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36850. pp. 5854–5856. 19 December 1944. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 45384. p. 5965. 4 June 1971. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 47234. pp. 7080–7081. 10 June 1977. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 47415. p. 16073. 23 December 1977. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
  7. ^ Ross, Daniel (19 December 2014). "These are factually the greatest Christmas carol descants of all time". ClassicFM. Retrieved 26 December 2014. 
  8. ^ Soul Music (Series 10), "Faure Requiem", BBC Radio 4, 21 September 2010. Retrieved on 22 September 2010.

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Walter Galpin Alcock
Organist and Master of the Choristers of Salisbury Cathedral
Succeeded by
Douglas Albert Guest
Preceded by
Ivor Atkins
Organist and Master of the Choristers of Worcester Cathedral
Succeeded by
Douglas Albert Guest
Preceded by
Boris Ord
Director of Music, King's College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Sir Philip Ledger