Just today came the sad news that Sir David Willcocks, the Director of Music of King’s College, Cambridge for 17 years (1957-1973), died today at age 95. You can find several tributes to him online:
Gramophone “One of the most respected and loved figures of British 20th century choral life.”
BBC News “He described his retirement from the choir in 1998 as “like the end of an affair”.
Classical Music “The world has lost one of its church music legends.”
According to Wikipedia, Willcocks was known not only for conducting the famous King’s College Choir and his recordings and radio broadcasts with them, but also was an organist and a composer.
Sir David Willcocks was best known for his Christmas carol arrangements and descants, all of which are sung all over the world every Christmas and are much beloved. I remember hearing an anecdote about the King’s College choristers resisting other descants after Willcocks retired and referring to Willcocks’ arrangements and descants as “the real ones.” Of course we sung many of Willcocks’ descants at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu.
As you can tell by the photo above, he even came to Hawaii — twice since I’ve lived here.The first time he came to Hawaii (since I’ve lived here), he conducted an all-Mozart concert with a select group of singers which Carl Crosier had worked with and prepared for Willcock’s visit. I was absolutely amazed at his energy when he conducted, for I believe he was already in his 80s when he was here.
I’ll never forget the story he told during the warmup rehearsal before the concert. It seems that he was a guest conductor (I don’t know where) and there was a rather tall alto who was blocking the vision of a shorter woman. The taller one asked if she should move so as to give the other lady a better view of Willcocks. The shorter woman replied, “Oh, it’s all right. I saw him last year!”
Rest in peace, David Willcocks.