Music prof’s research uncovers long-hidden choral manuscripts

It’s a rare event that a renowned Canadian composer like Healey Willan would have a premiere 41 years after his death, but thanks to the research of Stephanie Martin, music professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Willan’s “latest” CD will be launched this Sunday, Nov. 15, at Toronto’s Church of St. Mary Magdalene, where Willan played from 1921 until his death in 1968.

Healey Willan 1918Right: Healey Willan at the organ in 1918

Until last year, Willan’s a cappella mass, Missa Brevis #12 in D major, included only three published portions of the work – the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei – and was missing the Gloria and Stephanie MartinCredo sections normally found in a full mass. Martin (left), who is also director of music at St. Mary Magdalene, found handwritten manuscripts for the missing sections and, along with the church’s Gallery Choir, has reunited these movements in a new recording of the work, which will be launched with a mini concert and party beginning at 2:30pm in the church, located at 477 Manning Ave. at Ulster Street.

Martin will also talk about the manuscripts at the Faculty of Fine Arts Research Month Celebration, Interstices in Identity: Surfaces of Memory, on Nov. 17 (see YFile, Nov. 11).

Martin found the missing sections during a search through files at Library & Archives Canada in Ottawa, where she was organizing the digitization of Willan’s papers as part of a project funded by the Social Science & Humanities Research Council of Canada. The work was written for Willan’s friend Francis Jackson, the organist at York Minster Cathedral in York, England. Jackson never performed the work and returned the manuscript to Willan, with comments.

Left: A page of Willan’s manuscript

Martin wrote to Jackson, now in his 90s, and found he didn’t actually like the music and told Willan so. “It was a bit tongue-in-cheek, younger man to older friend,” says Martin, “but Willan obviously took it to heart and boxed it up, never to see the light of day again.” Until now, that is.

Martin and the choir decided to turn the discovery into their latest recording project. Tickets to the CD launch are $25 and include admission to the concert, a copy of the CD and a sherry reception.

And what did Jackson think of Willan’s music after all these years? “He said he may have been too hasty in his judgment,” says Martin.

About Healey Willan

Healey Willan was a composer, organist, choir conductor and teacher, born in Balham, England, in 1880. He came to Toronto in 1913 and taught at the then Toronto Conservatory of Music (later the Royal Conservatory of Music) and the University of Toronto. Among his many works, he was commissioned to write the homage anthem O Lord, Our Governor for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, the first non-resident of Britain to be so honoured. In that year, he also acceded to the request of the Anglican bishop of Toronto to found and become music director of the Toronto Diocesan Choir School. In 1980, he was the first Canadian musician to be honoured on a postage stamp. He died in Toronto in 1968.

About Stephanie Martin

Professor Stephanie Martin joined York’s Department of Music in the Faculty of Fine Arts, in July 2004. She teaches harpsichord and organ, as well as courses in music history. In January 2007 Martin was appointed director of music at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, an historic Anglican church in downtown Toronto. She oversees a music program which includes Gregorian chant, the accomplished Gallery Choir, the SMM Singers, Schola Magdalena, a resident brass ensemble and a consort of viols.