British choral conductor, organist, and composer David Willcocks was born in Newquay, Cornwall on 30 December 1919. He trained as a chorister at Westminster Abbey before becoming a music scholar at Clifton College, Bristol, after which he was appointed the organ scholar at King's College, Cambridge. When World War II broke out, he interrupted his studies for active army service, and was awarded the Military Cross. Returning to Cambridge in 1945, he completed his studies, and in 1947 was elected a Fellow of King's College and appointed conductor of the Cambridge Philharmonic Society. Subsequent appointments included posts at Salisbury Cathedral and the Salisbury Musical Society, Worcester Cathedral (where he directed the Three Choirs Festivals in 1951, 1954 and 1957), the City of Birmingham Choir and the Bradford Festival Choral Society.
In 1957 Willcocks became the Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge, additionally serving as the university's organist, conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society and as a lecturer. Under his leadership, the college choir made numerous recordings and toured worldwide. In 1960 he became musical director of the Bach Choir in London and Oxford University Press appointed him joint editor, along with Reginald Jacques (his predecessor at the Bach Choir) of the first Carols for Choirs volume. He then co-edited the second, third and fourth volumes with John Rutter. The Carols for Choirs series, including 100 Carols for Choirs, has ensured that choral singing is now an integral part of the celebrating of Christmas. He also became General Editor of OUP's Oxford Anthems series, and throughout his life he composed and arranged a great many choral works, a large number of which have since entered the standard repertoire, thanks to his finely tuned musical instincts.
Famous for his energy, for exercising complete and decisive control over all aspects of his recordings, and for his boyish charm, he never lost sight of the fact that he was working with music and with people.
His connection with composers such as Britten and Vaughan Williams, his stature as a choir director, and his development of King's College Choir were an inspiration to choirs and choral directors everywhere.
David Willcocks died on 17 September 2015, aged ninety-five.
A selection of M&V articles about David Willcocks
Ensemble. Punchy Treatment - Derby Choral Union at Christmas, heard by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Joy and Wonder - Merton College Oxford's new Christmas CD, recommended by Gerald Fenech. 'The singing is not only exquisite but has that sense of magic and glory that instills in one's spirit a genuine feeling of hope for a true fraternal love among all men.'
CD Spotlight. Refreshingly Different - Ottawa's Stairwell Carollers, heard by Keith Bramich. '... clean ensemble singing.'
Ensemble. A Pleasant Change - Derby Choral Union's Christmas Concert, heard by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Widely Spread - Christmas music from Caius College Choir, recommended by Keith Bramich. '... high-quality singing with lovely rounded tone ...'
CD Spotlight. Meltingly Beautiful - Christmas music from the Vasari Singers, unstintingly recommended by Howard Smith. '... exemplary radiant style and élan ...'
Ensemble. Thoughtful Performance - Derby Bach Choir's Christmas concert, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Immaculate Blend - Christmas music from the Sitwell Singers, reviewed by Mike Wheeler