William Hewlett

William (Henry) Hewlett. Teacher, organist, choir conductor, composer, b Batheaston, England, 16 Jan 1873, d Bronte, Ont, 13 Jun 1940; B MUS (Toronto) 1902, honorary D MUS (Toronto) 1936. He was a choirboy at Bath Abbey before emigrating to Canada with his family in 1884.

Hewlett, William

William (Henry) Hewlett. Teacher, organist, choir conductor, composer, b Batheaston, England, 16 Jan 1873, d Bronte, Ont, 13 Jun 1940; B MUS (Toronto) 1902, honorary D MUS (Toronto) 1936. He was a choirboy at Bath Abbey before emigrating to Canada with his family in 1884. He enrolled at the TCM and studied piano and organ with A.S. Vogt, theory with Arthur Fisher and Albert Ham, and orchestration with Francesco D'Auria, graduating in 1893 with the gold medal for organ playing and extemporization. At 17 he went to Carlton St Methodist Church as organist-choirmaster. This was his only Toronto post before he moved in 1895 to London, Ont, where he was organist-choirmaster at Dundas Centre Methodist Church and conducted the London Vocal Society 1896-1902; later he went to Hamilton, where he was in charge of the music at Centenary Methodist Church 1902-38. As an advanced student he worked with the pianist Ernst Jedliczka and the composer Hans Pfitzner in Berlin, and with the pianist Vladimir Cernikoff in London.

With A.S. Vogt he was one of the founders of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and served 1895-7 as its first accompanist. He also accompanied Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Dame Clara Butt when they visited Canada. In 1907 Hewlett and two fellow faculty members became co-directors of the Hamilton Cons (RHCM). Hewlett succeeded the triumvirate and was sole principal 1918-39. During those years he travelled widely in Canada as adjudicator and examiner. He was conductor 1922-35 of the Elgar Choir (see Bach-Elgar Choir), which flourished under his direction and frequently was joined by the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1927 he conducted a 1000-voice choir in a celebration of Confederation.

Hewlett was an able composer but prolific only in the smaller forms. A musical play, Jappy Chappy, was published by Novello, and short piano, vocal, and choral pieces were issued by Ashdown, G. Schirmer, F. Harris, Metzler, and Anglo-Canadian. The 1917 Methodist Hymn and Tune Book, to which Hewlett was a contributing editor, contains five of his hymn tunes, four of which are reprinted in CMH vol 5. He also was on the committee that compiled the United Church Hymnary (1930), and his arrangement of a Ukrainian tune in that hymn book is reprinted in CMH vol 5. John Beckwith notes in that volume that these hymn tunes are 'remarkable for their harmonic originality, including unexpected (or avoided) cadence-points and strong dissonance treatment'. An anthem by Hewlett is reprinted in CMH vol 9, and his setting of 'In Flanders Fields' (Toronto 1934) has been widely used in schools and at Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Hewlett was a practising musician of broad capabilities, generous with his time and energy. He was one of the most respected Canadian organists of his day and an expert on church-organ installation. He served on the first (1920) Hamilton committee of the CCO and was national president 1928-9. The Toronto Daily Star's Augustus Bridle described him as 'a wizard player of rickety wheezetrap organs' who later revelled in his great modern Casavant at Centenary Methodist Church. His Twilight Recitals there, on Saturday afternoons for some 25 years, were a staple of music in Hamilton. The Hamilton Cons Faculty Club established a scholarship in his name in 1947.

A large bust of Hewlett was sculpted by Elizabeth Holbrook and remains in the artist's possession.


Further Reading

  • Hamilton Conservatory of Music. Yearbooks

    A.E. Mullin private collection. William Henry Hewlett diary 1905-39