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Walford Davies and the Royal Air Force March


Henry Walford Davies (September 6, 1869 – March 11, 1941) was an English composer, conductor, and educator who held the title Master of the King’s Music from 1934 until 1941.  Davies was born on September 6, 1869, in the Shropshire town of Oswestry close to the border with Wales. He was the seventh of nine children of John Whitridge and Susan, née Gregory, Davies and the youngest of four surviving sons.  It was a musical family.  Davies senior, an accountant by profession was a keen amateur musician, who founded and conducted a choral society at Oswestry and was choirmaster of the local Congregational church. Two of his other sons, Charlie and Harold, later held the post of organist at the church; the latter was professor of music at the University of Adelaide from 1919 to 1947. In 1882 Walford was accepted as a chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, by the organist, Sir George Elvey.

When his voice broke in 1885 Davies left the choir. Later that year he was appointed organist of the royal chapel of All Saints, Windsor Great Park and was secretary to Elvey’s successor, Walter Parratt, and Dean (later Archbishop) Randall Davidson.  At this time British universities, including Cambridge, awarded “non-collegiate” music degrees to any applicant who could pass the necessary examinations. Davies entered for the Cambridge bachelor of music examinations in 1889, but his exercise, a cantata, The Future, to words by Matthew Arnold, failed.  With the encouragement of Charles Villiers Stanford, professor of music at Cambridge, Davies made a second attempt; it was successful, and he graduated in 1891.

In 1890 Davies was awarded a scholarship in composition at the Royal College of Music (RCM), London, where he was a student until 1894.  His teachers there were Hubert Parry and (for a single term) Stanford for composition, and W. S. Rockstro (counterpoint), Herbert Sharpe (piano) and Haydn Inwards (violin). While still at the RCM he was organist of St George’s Church, Campden Hill, for three months, and St Anne’s Church, Soho for a year until 1891, when he resigned for health reasons.  In the following year was appointed organist of Christ Church, Hampstead; he remained there until 1897, holding the post in tandem for the last two years with an appointment from 1895 as teacher of counterpoint at the RCM in succession to Rockstro, a post that he held until 1903.  He considered resigning the post in 1896, when he failed the counterpoint paper in the Cambridge examinations for the degree of doctor of music; he was successful at his second attempt, and the doctorate was conferred in March 1898.

In May 1898 Davies was appointed organist and director of the choir at the Temple Church in the City of London, a post he retained until 1923. As an organist he became well known both as a soloist and as a teacher – the most celebrated of his pupils being Leopold Stokowski. As a conductor he directed the London Church Choir Association (1901–13) and succeeded Stanford at the Bach Choir (1902–07).  As a composer Davies achieved his most substantial success in 1904, with his cantata Everyman, based on the 15th century morality play of the same name.   During the First World War Davies joined the Committee for Music in War Time under Parry’s chairmanship, organized concerts for the troops in France and musical events for the Fight for Right movement.  In 1918 he was appointed director of music of the Royal Air Force, with the rank of major. He established the RAF School of Music and two RAF bands, and composed the “Royal Air Force March Past.”

In 1919 Davies accepted the professorship of music at University College, Aberystwyth, together with the post of director of music for the University of Wales and chairman of the National Council of Music. In 1922 he was knighted in David Lloyd George’s resignation honors.  In 1924 he gave the Cramb lectures at the University of Glasgow, gave his first broadcast talk for the BBC, and was appointed Gresham professor of music at the University of London.   Davies’s BBC broadcast in April 1924 was the first of many he made between then and 1941.  In the same year, at the age of fifty-four, he married (Constance) Margaret Isabel Evans (1898–1984), daughter of the William Evans, Rector of Narberth, Pembrokeshire.  Davies resigned his professorship at Aberystwyth in 1926, but remained as chairman of the National Council of Music for the rest of his life.

In the same year Davies was appointed by the BBC as a musical adviser.   He became well known for his programs such as “Music and the Ordinary Listener” (1926–9), his wartime broadcasts for children (1939–41), and “Everyman’s Music” (1940–41), which brought him great popularity with British radio audiences.  From 1927 to 1932 he was organist and director of the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor. This was his last full-time post.  On the death of Sir Edward Elgar in 1934, Davies was appointed to succeed him as Master of the King’s Music.  As musical adviser to the BBC, Davies moved from London to Bristol when the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the corporation’s music administration moved there on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.  Davies died at Wrington, near Bristol, on March 11, 1941, and was buried in the graveyard of Bristol Cathedral.

My collection includes the following work by Walford Davies:

Royal Air Force March.


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