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Henry Walford Davies (1869 - 1941)

Sir Henry Walford Davies, KCVO, OBE was born in Oswestry on the Welsh border, seventh of nine children of John Whitridge Davies and Susan, née Gregory, and the youngest of four surviving sons. His middle name Walford was his maternal grandmother's maiden name; he later dropped his first name Henry, becoming generally known as Walford Davies.

 

John Whitridge Davies was a leading figure in the local musical scene, playing the flute and the cello and leading the choir at the Congregational church, Christ Church, where his brother was organist, and he brought up his family to make music together. Performances of oratorios by Handel and others by Henry Leslie's Oswestry choral society were reviewed warmly in the London Musical Times.

Walford's brothers Charlie and Harold were, successively, organists at Christ Church succeeding their uncle, Charlie from the age of eleven. Charlie died young after emigrating to Australia. Harold also emigrated to Australia, where he took the first musical doctorate from an Australian university and ultimately achieved considerable fame as Professor of Music at Adelaide University and Principal of the Elder Conservatorium. Tom, the eldest, followed a family tradition by entering the ministry.

Walford Davies grew up, like his siblings, playing any instrument he could lay his hands on, often in an informal band with his brothers, cousins and friends, but it was as a singer that he was first noticed and entered, against misgivings from his nonconformist family, for a choristership at St. George's, Windsor. In this he was successful, and from the age of twelve he was singing fourteen services a week as well as attending school. Here he came under the influence of Walter Parratt, a leader in the late Victorian organ renaissance, and Randall Davidson, as Dean of Windsor.

Davies studied under, and was assistant to, Parratt for five years before entering the Royal College of Music in 1890 where he studied under Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford. He remained at the College as a teacher of counterpoint from 1895, one of his pupils being Rutland Boughton. During this time he held a number of organist posts in London, culminating in his appointment in 1898 as organist of the Temple Church where he remained until 1917. In that year he was appointed the first director of music to the newly created Royal Air Force which led to him writing the RAF March Past.

 In 1919, Walford Davies was made professor of music at Aberystwyth. He subsequently did much to promote Welsh music, becoming chairman of the Welsh National Council of Music, a forerunner of the Welsh Music Guild. From 1927 he was organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

In 1924, Walford Davies became Professor of Music at Gresham College, London: a part-time position giving public lectures. From the 1920s, he also made a series of records of lectures, which led to him being employed by the BBC to give radio broadcasts on classical music under the title Music and the Ordinary Listener. These lasted from 1926 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and Davies became a well known and popular radio personality. His book The Pursuit of Music (1935) has a similar non-specialist tone.

Walford Davies was knighted in 1922 and, following the death of Sir Edward Elgar in 1934, was appointed Master of the King's Music. He died in 1941 in Bristol and is buried in the grounds of Bristol Cathedral.