(b Resel, Värmland, c1486; dFrankfurt an der Oder, 12 Nov 1552). German humanist, physician, writer and musician. The generally accepted birthdate for him is about 1486, but according to Pietzsch it is 1501. In 1516 he entered the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, where he probably studied music under Johann Volckmar. After graduating he taught music from 1522 to 1539. In 1524 Willich became professor of Greek and in 1540 professor of medicine. Although he retained his connection with the university until his death, he was frequently called to other countries (such as Poland and Hungary) because of his renown as a physician. He corresponded with Erasmus and was personally acquainted with Luther, Melanchthon and Glarean. More than 60 writings on philology, antiquity, philosophy, theology, law, medicine, mathematics and music, some of which remained current into the 18th century, gave Willich a position as one of the outstanding German humanists of his time. An ardent lutenist, he founded about 1530 a convivium musicum, the first of its kind in Germany, and sustained it until his death. It had between nine and twelve members who held lengthy meetings involving vocal and instrumental music as well as food, drink and discussions of philosophical matters. In his Prosodia latina (Leipzig, 1539) he dealt with the close connection of music and text, and the dependence of the former on the latter.
EitnerQ; MGG1 (D. Härtwig)
G.Pietzsch: Zur Pflege der Musik an den deutschen Universitäten bis zur Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts (Hildesheim, 1971), 171
CLEMENT A. MILLER
(b Germany, 1764; d Philadelphia, 30 Dec 1851). American publisher. He took over John Christopher Moller’s business in Philadelphia in 1794 and established one of the most active and enduring music publishing firms of the early 19th century. He built up a large and varied catalogue of instrumental and vocal music and popular songs, including Stephen Foster’s first published song, Open thy lattice, love (1844). In 1856 the firm was taken over by Lee & Walker, which was in turn acquired by Oliver Ditson in 1875. In 1822 Willig acquired the business of Thomas Carr in Baltimore, and his son George Willig jr took control of that firm (which was renamed after him) in 1829. The Baltimore firm also published popular songs, especially minstrel music such as Clare de Kitchen, Jim Crow and Zip Coon. At the death of George Willig jr in 1874, his sons Joseph E. Willig and Henry Willig, who had joined him in 1868, inherited the business, which they continued until 1910 under the name Geo. Willig & Co.
C.E. Claghorn: Biographical Dictionary of American Music (West Nyack, NY, 1973)
R. ALLEN LOTT
(b London, 27 April 1821; d London, 11 Feb 1901). English organ builder. He was articled to John Gray in about 1835 but left before his apprenticeship was completed to work with Wardle Evans of Cheltenham, an organ builder and maker of harmoniums (reed organs). Willis later claimed to have developed a two-manual free-reed instrument with Evans (1841) and to have met Dr Samuel Sebastian Wesley when it was exhibited in London. This meeting was the prelude to an association which was to be of considerable significance in Willis’s career.
Meanwhile, Willis returned to London and set up in business as a pipe-maker and organ builder (c1845). By 1848 he was at 2½ Foundling Terrace, Gray’s Inn Road, moving subsequently to 18 Manchester Street (1851–9), 119 Albany Street (1859–65) and finally acquiring a remarkable circular building in Camden Town (‘The Rotunda Organ Works’) previously used as a studio by Robert Burford, a painter of cycloramas. His first major contract was the rebuilding of the organ in Gloucester Cathedral which he completed in 1847 for £400; he provided a 12-stop, full-compass Swell Organ, and described this job as his ‘stepping stone to fame’. This was premature, though he rebuilt the organ in Tewkesbury Abbey the following year (1848) and about the same time journeyed to France to meet the leading Parisian organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and C.S. Barker, inventor of the pneumatic lever.
Much of Willis’s eventual success can be attributed to his technical skills. He was one of the great artist-engineers of the 19th century. Not only was his workmanship of the highest order, he was able to satisfy the demands of the rising generation of concert organists for a more musically flexible instrument able to render orchestral scores convincingly. In the church sphere, he was able to meet the requirements of architects who wanted to remove central screens and expose vistas. In each case, the exploitation of the pneumatic principle first developed by Barker and Cavaillé-Coll offered a way forward. The long series of Willis patents includes pneumatic thumb pistons for effecting instantaneous changes of registration (1851), improvements in the design of pneumatic levers (1851, 1853), and a crescendo pedal (1857) and blow-tube for operating swell shutters (1861) both activated pneumatically. Other patents describe improvements in pallet design to lighten the touch (1851, 1861, 1862). Later, Willis won favour with the architects when he used the new tubular-pneumatic action (which dispensed with the need for a mechanical connection between key and pallet) to achieve the physical division of large organs; the most famous example was St Paul’s Cathedral (1872), with others at Durham (1876) and Salisbury (1877). Willis’s development of tubular-pneumatic action began in the 1850s, and was confirmed by patents issued in 1868 (drawstop action) and 1889 (Vincent Willis’s invention of an all-pneumatic mechanism).
Tonally, Willis’s early work appears relatively conservative. Although it impressed by its sheer size (70 stops) and the novelty of thumb pistons, Willis’s organ for the Great Exhibition (1851), with its duplication of chorus registers and conventional selection of ‘fancy’ stops, seemed to be pursuing a line of development that Hill had discarded as obsolete 15 years earlier. Yet it impressed Dr Wesley sufficiently for him to acquire part of the Exhibition organ for Winchester Cathedral (1854), and to support the award of the contract for the monster organ for St George’s Hall Concert Room, Liverpool (100 stops), to Willis. Completed in 1855, the Liverpool organ retained anachronistic features such as G'-compasses, duplication, and unequal temperament (all at Wesley’s insistence), but the skilful application of the pneumatic lever turned what might have been a disaster into a qualified triumph, and Willis was later able to repair the organ’s shortcomings (1867, 1896). There were other, more economic schemes from this period which hinted at future trends: at Carlisle Cathedral (1856) 11 of the 35 stops were reeds, and the Swell flue chorus with its Flageolet 2' and Echo Cornet already presented the appearance of an enclosed accompanimental division rather than a secondary chorus à la Hill. In his instruments of the 1860s further characteristics of Willis’s mature style can be detected. Powerful yet brilliant reeds, using closed shallots, weighted tongues and harmonic resonators in the treble, spoke on wind pressures appreciably higher than the fluework and dominated the choruses; the flue choruses were made up of pipes of relatively small scale, narrow-mouthed, and blown hard. The result was an intense ensemble which blended well and lent itself to a gradual crescendo from piano to full organ (see Bicknell). Tierce mixtures added to the intensity, and slotting (creating a rectangular slot near the top of a flue pipe as part of the voicing process) encouraged clarity in the bass. The Pedale (Willis’s favoured terminology) might have a complete flue chorus up to a mixture as well as a weighty 16' reed (often called Ophicleide). In all Willis’s instruments from the 1860s onwards there would be a variety of refined orchestral and accompanimental voices – Gedacts, Violas, Harmonic Flutes; the Claribel Flute, Gemshorn, Corno di bassetto and perhaps an enclosed undulating register in the modern French manner. This ‘middle’ period saw some of Willis’s finest achievements: two organs for the Alexandra Palace (1868, 1875), the Royal Albert Hall (1871), St Paul’s Cathedral (1872) and Salisbury Cathedral (1877).
The later instruments lose none of the refinement and superb finish, but some of the vigour and brilliance of the earlier organs is absent. Wind pressures were increased (at Truro Cathedral, 1887, the lowest was 10 cm); the Pedal reed became a climax stop and the Pedal upperwork disappeared; mixtures and mutations became fewer in number and less assertive in character. Willis’s last cathedral organ, for Lincoln (1898), had 58 stops, but only one mutation and six ranks of mixture.
The engineering of Willis’s organs is always impressive. The Liverpool organ may have been old-fashioned in its tonal design, but the spaciousness of its layout and the finish of its component parts represented a novel standard in English organ building. Willis frequently adopted a horizontal layout for the manual soundboards – Great, Choir and Swell, one behind the other – and although he made increasing use of tubular-pneumatic action, and even electro-pneumatic action in large organs for difficult sites (Canterbury Cathedral, 1885), his preference for most of his career was for tracker, pneumatically-assisted in the case of the larger instruments. Beginning with the big concert organs of the 1860s and 70s his consoles set a new standard in elegance and accessibility, with their solid ivory stop-heads, overhanging keys and angled jambs. Willis frequently installed the concave and radiating ‘Wesley–Willis’ pedal-board (said to have been suggested to him by Wesley at the 1851 Exhibition) though it did not find much favour with other builders until after his death in 1901.
Such was Willis’s reputation in the closing years of his career that the musical journalist F.G. Edwards proposed that he should be given the title ‘Father’ like his distinguished forebears, John Howe and Bernard Smith. For half a century following his death his pre-eminence among Victorian builders was hardly questioned. Today, a more measured judgment acknowledges him as a tonal and mechanical engineer of genius, while reasserting the pivotal role of William Hill in the development of the Victorian organ pre-Willis, and paying due regard to Willis’s contemporaries (and rivals) Thomas Hill and T.C. Lewis. Willis’s success owed everything to his ability to satisfy the desire of many influential organists for an organ which mirrored the power and colour of the orchestra and had the mechanical equipment to exploit these characteristics to the full. Yet his instruments provoked strong reactions. For every organist who applauded the direction which Willis had taken, there was another who deplored it.
In 1878 Willis had taken his two sons, Vincent (c1841–1928) and Henry (ii) (bc1851) into partnership. Vincent withdrew in 1894. The financial difficulties in which ‘Father’ Willis left the firm overshadowed Henry (ii)’s tenure, and he took his own son, Henry (iii) (1889–1966), into partnership in 1910. Henry (iii) rapidly assumed control of the firm, and under his direction it was responsible for two of the most important organs of the first half of the 20th century – Liverpool Cathedral (1912–26) and Westminster Cathedral (1922–32).
Most of ‘Father’ Willis’s larger organs have been destroyed or extensively rebuilt, but among whole or partial survivals may be mentioned: Lambourn Parish Church, Berkshire (1858), Reading Town Hall (1864, 1882), St George’s, Preston (1865), St George’s, Tiverton, Devon (1870), Union Chapel, Islington (1873), St Paul’s Cathedral (1872), Salisbury Cathedral (1877), Truro Cathedral (1887), Blenheim Palace, Library (1891), Hereford Cathedral (1893), Oxford Town Hall (1897) and St Bees Priory, Cumbria (1899). Smaller instruments are more numerous, but even they are becoming rarer, and should be jealously guarded.
Interview, MT, xxxix (1898), 297–303
W.L. Sumner: Father Henry Willis, Organ Builder, and his Successors (London, 1957)
C. Clutton and A. Niland: The British Organ (London, 1963, 2/1982)
N.J. Thistlethwaite: The Making of the Victorian Organ (Cambridge, 1990)