William Henry Anderson

W.H. (William Henry) Anderson. Composer, choir director, tenor, voice teacher, b London 21 Apr 1882, d Winnipeg 12 Apr 1955. He studied in London, first with Battistini and Garcia, then at the GSM on scholarship.

Anderson, W.H.

W.H. (William Henry) Anderson. Composer, choir director, tenor, voice teacher, b London 21 Apr 1882, d Winnipeg 12 Apr 1955. He studied in London, first with Battistini and Garcia, then at the GSM on scholarship. He became lay tenor at several London churches, notably St Stephen's Walbrook and later St Paul's Knightsbridge. He also sang for a time at St Paul's Cathedral. He was the tenor in the London premiere of Messager's Véronique (5 May 1903) under the composer's baton, and sang with the Moody-Manners Opera company. He appeared briefly under the name Wallace Anderson, reverting to William but retaining a predilection for pseudonyms. (His compositions bear three signatures: W.H. Anderson for his most serious work; Hugh Garland for his ballads; and Michael Bilencko for his arrangements of European folksongs.) Chronic bronchitis interrupted his London singing career and forced him to seek a dry climate. He emigrated to Canada in 1910, settling in Winnipeg, where he made a name as a singing teacher, choir director, and composer. His choirs included the CNR Choral Society, which he founded; several church choirs (his last, 1934-54, was St Andrew's River Heights United); and a 14-voice madrigal choir formed in 1936 as the Oriana Singers and transformed in 1942 into the 16-voice (later 20-voice) Choristers, which 2 Jun 1942 began a series of CBC national broadcasts which continued without interruption for nearly 30 years. Anderson directed the Choristers until a few months before his death in 1955.

Anderson was a prolific composer of songs (more than 150), carols, and anthems (more than 40), and these were published in Canada, the USA, England, and Australia. He also arranged a large number of Ukrainian, Czech, and Icelandic folksongs for the Winnipeg choir director Walter Bohonos, using particularly those variants developed among European settlers in Manitoba. For his songs he sought Canadian verse, choosing more often from among the local and the modest than from international anthologies. He set words of the Victoria poet Audrey Alexander Brown, for instance, and the Winnipeg poets R.H. Grenfell, Nan Emerson, Constance and Sheila Barbour, and Noreen Moore. He had been struck by a comment of Sir Ernest MacMillan, who, after attending an early session of the Manitoba (Winnipeg) Music Competition Festival, had said he thought Canadian children should have the chance "to sing of their own flora and fauna." Anderson's large output is the more remarkable in view of his daytime work as a CNR draftsman, his evening teaching and conducting, and his Sundays at church. His music is remarkable, too, for the amount which has persisted in the repertoire, for though it has no pretensions beyond usefulness, a natural lyricism, and an appreciation of what is idiomatic vocally and chorally, young singers and volunteer choirs are grateful for these qualities and for the music's effectiveness and durable charm. The success of his works in church is mildly ironic, for though Anderson was an austere moralist and a religious thinker, his beliefs were not conventional and he subscribed to theories of evolutionary reincarnation. New voice pupils were surprised to be told that good singing only began with technique, and that wide reading, a developed morality, and a constantly challenged philosophy were integral to the performing art. Among his pupils were Herbert Belyea, Lorne Betts, Lloyd Blackman, Ronald Dodds, James Duncan, Reginald Hugo, Wallace Lewis, Morley Meredith, Maxine Miller, Gladys Whitehead, and Phyllis Worth.

Perhaps Anderson's finest choral piece is the serene short motet "Come, I Pray Thee." The Choristers recorded this piece as well as three of Anderson's folksong arrangements (1951, RCI 53). Notable also are the songs "Hospitality' and 'To Immortality" (recorded by the Anne Campbell Singers, Praise Records ACS-100); the trio for female voices "Sea Blue Gardens"; and the Christmas pieces "Ane Song for the Birth of Christ," "Lullaby of the Little Angels" (recorded by the Oriana Singers,1984 World WRC1-3686), and "The World's Desire," all of which demonstrate his happy turn of melody and sensitivity to words. Lists of his works are published in the Catalogue of Canadian Composers and Contemporary Canadian Composers/Compositeurs canadiens contemporains. His publishers include Arnold, C.C. Birchard, Boosey & Hawkes, C. Fischer, Galaxy, Gray, Leslie, Oxford, Presser, G. Schirmer, Stainer and Bell, Thompson, and Western.

See also Jeffrey Anderson (his son) and Evelyne Anderson (his daughter).


Further Reading

  • Doyle, Patricia. "W.H. Anderson: his life and contribution to music education through his compositions for the young voice," M MUS thesis, University of Western Ontario 1977

    Lamont, Evelyne and Mackle, Marie. "Our choral heritage: William Henry Anderson 1882-1955," Manitoba Choral Association MCA Voice, vol 1, Feb 1982; repr Anacrusis, vol 1, spring 1982