Harold Darke

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Harold Darke
Harold Darke.jpg
Harold Edwin Darke

(1888-10-29)29 October 1888
London, England
Died28 November 1976(1976-11-28) (aged 88)
Cambridge, England
Occupation(s)Organist, composer
SpouseDora Garland

Harold Edwin Darke (29 October 1888 – 28 November 1976) was an English composer and organist. He is particularly known for his choral compositions, which are an established part of the respertoire of Anglican church music. Darke had a fifty-year association with the church of St Michael, Cornhill, in the City of London.

Early life[edit]

Darke was born in Highbury, London, the youngest son of Samuel Darke and Arundel Bourne. He and attended Dame Alice Owen's School in Islington, and studied organ with Walter Parratt in Oxford and composition with Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War I. During his RAF service he married Dora Garland, at St Michaels Church, Cornhill, on 25 July 1918. Dora was a violinist and was the first woman to lead the Queen's Hall Orchestra.[1]


Darke served for 50 years at St Michael's Church, Cornhill, London
Darke served as acting Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge during World War II

His first organist post was at Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead from 1906 to 1911. He became organist at St Michael Cornhill in 1916, and stayed there until 1966,[2] leaving only briefly in 1941 to deputise for Boris Ord as Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge during World War II.

It is widely accepted that the Cornhill Lunchtime Organ Recitals series begun by Darke in 1916 is the longest-running lunchtime organ concert series in the world. His midday recitals each Monday, playing Bach in the legato style of Schweitzer, made him a City institution.[3] The series has flourished under his successors Richard Popplewell 1966–1979 and the present organist, Jonathan Rennert, from 1979. Darke also served as professor for organ at the Royal College of Music from 1919 to 1969.[1]

Darke's work as Conductor of St Michael's Singers was crowned in 1956 (on the occasion of the Choir's 40th Anniversary) with first performances of a number of now well-established works composed especially for the occasion – notably An English Mass by Herbert Howells,[4] Hierusalem by George Dyson,[5] and A Vision of Aeroplanes by Ralph Vaughan Williams.[6]

Later life[edit]

Darke continued to be active in his later years. He recorded Elgar’s Organ Sonata in his early 70s and gave recitals at the Royal Festival Hall to mark his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays.[3] He died in Cambridge, UK, aged 88 on 28 November 1976.[1]


Darke's popular 1909 setting of In the Bleak Midwinter performed by the choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Indianapolis

His famous 1909 setting of Christina Rossetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter" is often sung at the service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge, and at similar services around the world. [7][8]

In a poll of choral experts and choirmasters that was published in BBC Music Magazine on 7 December 2008, "In the Bleak Midwinter" was voted the greatest Christmas carol of all time.[9] Comparing Darke's setting to another popular setting by Gustav Holst, Deputy Editor Jeremy Pound expressed the view that "While Gustav Holst's charming setting of 1909 is rightly loved by millions worldwide, it is the less well known but infinitely more stylish setting by Harold Darke from two years later that convincingly won the day in our poll."[10][11]

Most of Darke's other compositions that are still performed are settings of the Anglican liturgy, especially his three Communion Services in E minor, F, and A minor; and his Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in F.[7][12] The short cantata As the Leaves Fall, (1917), setting words by the soldier poet Joseph Courtney (1891-1973), has been recorded by the Guildford Cathedral Choir, along with a later cantata, The Kingdom of God (1921), setting Francis Thompson.[13]

  • Suite in D minor: Prelude, Pastorale, Toccata
  • Prelude and Fugue on "Heinlein"
  • Rhapsody in E, Op. 4
  • Prelude on "Windsor"
  • Prelude in Memory of Parry
  • Three Hymn Preludes, Op. 20: St. Peter, Darwall's 148th, On a Theme of Tallis
  • Fantasy in E, Op. 39
  • Meditation on Brother James' Air
  • Retrospection
  • Bridal Procession
  • As the Leaves Fall, Op. 26 (1917), soprano solo, SATB choir and orchestra
  • In the Bleak Midwinter
  • Communion Service in E minor
  • Communion Service in F
  • Communion Service in A minor
  • Evening Service in F
  • Harvest Cantata "The Sower" for Solo Quartet, Choir and Organ. Published (1929) by OUP
  • Jubilate for chorus & organ in F major
  • The Kingdom of God, Op. 31 (1921), soprano solo, SATB choir and orchestra
  • O Brother Man
  • O gladsome light, Op. 38 No 2 (1929)[14]
  • Psalm 10
  • Te Deum for chorus & organ in F major


  1. ^ a b c "Harold Darke (Composer, Arranger) - Short Biography". www.bach-cantatas.com. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
  2. ^ Rennert, Johnathan (October 2019), Cornhill Visions, Regent Records, REGCD550 (CD liner notes)
  3. ^ a b Webb, Stanley. 'Darke, Harold (Edwin)', in Grove Music Online (2001)
  4. ^ Notes to Hyperion CDA66488
  5. ^ Notes to Hyperion CDH55046
  6. ^ Notes to Hyperion CDA67503
  7. ^ a b Wright, David C. H. (2019). The Royal College of Music and its Contexts: An Artistic and Social History. Cambridge University Press. p. 351. ISBN 9781107163386.
  8. ^ Michael, Counsell (2015). The Canterbury Preacher's Companion 2016. Canterbury Press. p. 292. ISBN 9781848257504.
  9. ^ Leach, Ben (7 December 2008). "In the Bleak Midwinter voted greatest carol of all time". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 20 March 2017. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  10. ^ "BBC – Press Office – In The Bleak Midwinter hits top spot as greatest carol ever". BBC. Archived from the original on 4 October 2019. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  11. ^ "A Christmas special: 50 Greatest Carols". BBC Music Magazine. December 2008. Retrieved 4 October 2019.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ "Harold Darke Compositions". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  13. ^ As the Leaves Fall, Regent REGCD563 (2022), reviewed by MusicWeb International
  14. ^ Five Mystical Songs and other British Choral Anthems, Naxos CD 8.574416 (2022)

External links[edit]

Church of England titles
Preceded by Organist of St Michael, Cornhill
Succeeded by