Henry Harris was born into musical family in 1883. He entered
the Royal College of Music at the age of sixteen, by which time
he had already obtained his FRCO. He studied the organ under
Sir Walter Parratt, the organist of St George’s Chapel,
Windsor, and was encouraged to compose by Stanford, Charles
Wood and Walford Davies. After doing some occasional teaching
at Birmingham thanks
to Bantock, he was appointed to New College, Oxford, and later moved to Christ Church. He held
his subsequent position at St
George’s Chapel for nearly
three decades, whilst retaining a Professorship of Organ and
Harmony at the Royal College of Music. He composed primarily
choir and organ music, although he wrote some larger pieces
for Three Choirs Festival and also had a couple of premieres
at the BBC Proms.
was interested in Tudor music, like his friend Vaughan Williams,
and also in poets of that period – he therefore set John Donne,
Edmund Spenser, George Herbert and Sir William Browne, represented
here by Bring us, O Lord God, Faire is the heav’n,
King of Glory and The Night is Come respectively.
He was a composer who valued the communication of his carefully
chosen texts very highly and took pains to ensure that the music
illuminated, and never obscured, the words.
disc opens with the Offertorium O hearken thou, which
was composed as the opening piece for the Communion Service
of the Coronation of George VI. It is followed by the glorious
Strengthen ye the weak hands, an extended and
accompanied anthem, with texts from three different sources
– Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah and the Book of Common Prayer. It was
composed for the Commemoration of the Science and Art of Healing
and first performed at the Canterbury Festival in 1949.
works on the disc include the ensuing Faire is the heav'n
- one of Harris’s best known works, written in 1925 and dedicated
to Sir Hugh Allen, Harris’s predecessor at New College; the
beautiful and revelatory hymn King of glory; the wonderfully
serene carol The shepherd-men, and the motet Love
of love. The latter sets words by the poet Robert Bridges,
who had died five years previously. It was composed in his memory
and dedicated to Bridge’s wife. The evening hymn O joyful
light is also worth a listen - the words are drawn from
an anonymous seventh-century Greek text, and the work opens
with a plainchant effect. The influence of Eastern Orthodox
Church music is a pleasing, but never dominating, element in
this powerful piece.
works on this disc are all exquisitely crafted, passionate and
innovative. They include some gorgeous harmonies and, whilst the
overall effect is fairly traditional English church music, some
intensifying discordances (as in From a heart made whole)
add to the interest of the music. Not surprisingly, the Choir
of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle – Harris’s own chapel –
pull out all the stops to make the performances of high quality,
and the singing and playing from organist Roger Judd are excellent.
A wonderful disc.
See also Reviews
by William Kreindler and Robert