Healey Willan, CC (12 October 1880 – 16 February 1968) was an Anglo-Canadian organist and composer. He composed more than 800 works including operas, symphonies, chamber music, a concerto, and pieces for band, orchestra, organ, and piano. He was born in England, and began musical training at age eight, later becoming organist of St. John the Baptist Church on Holland Road in London. In 1913 he emigrated to Canada, and became organist of Toronto's largest church, St. Paul's, Bloor Street. It was at the much smaller Anglo-Catholic parish of St. Mary Magdalene that he made his fame, and composed much music for use there.
Many of his works are relatively small, liturgical items, but some of his pieces, are grand, highly romantic works. His "Introduction and Passacaglia" remain one of the finest and most challenging of all organ works.
"Prelude on 'This endris nyght'" was published by C. F. Peeters in 1957, and shows Willan at his best "chorale prelude style." The tune is a 16th century English carol that was certainly written for the feast of the Epiphany, as it refers to the "bright star" and the "three Kings."
Willan's setting is a flowing one beginning with a rather long "introduction" before the tune is stated in the tenor, and played on the soft 8' stops of the Great. The accompaniment uses the melody for its own material, and the effective is refined with everything in the right place.
Willan's music represents a unique and beautiful combination of styles: both an homage to the sacred music of five centuries ago and a reflection of the innovations of the Romantic/post-Romantic period in which he lived.
He described himself in this famous phrase: English by birth; Canadian by adoption; Irish by extraction; Scotch by absorption." ;-)
Two photos of Healey Willan are attached below, as well a picture of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto, and of the organ that Willan played, which is still there today.
First verse text in the First Comment.