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Willis, Richard Storrs (10th February 1819-7th May 1900)

He was a Romantic period composer, music critic and editor born in Boston, Massachusetts as the son of the Deacon Nathaniel Willis and the brother being the poet Nathaniel Parker Willis.  He studied at the Chauncey Hall, the Boston Latin School, and Yale University where he would become a member of the student’s secret society Skull & Bones and hold the post of president of the Beethoven Society.

After leaving Yale he re-located to Germany where he spent six years studying music with Moritz Hauptmann and Xavier Schnyder and became friends with Felix Mendelssohn.  His return to the United States saw him working as a music critic for The Albion and the New York Tribune, and he was also editor and critic for The Musical Times from 1852 to 1864.

After the Civil War had started in 1861, he decided to move to an area that would provide more safety for him and his family, so they moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he would remain for the rest of his life aside from escorting his daughter to Italy to attend school there.

A prolific composer, he wrote much hymn music including his “Carol” that would be adapted for the popular Christmas carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”.  His published works include Waif of Song, Pen and Lute and Church Chorals and Choir Studies.

He died in Detroit, Michigan, when he was 81 years old.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear recordings
Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra
Decca B0003552-02 (CD: A Leroy Anderson Christmas)

Robert Shaw Choral recordings
RCA 6429 – 2 – RG (CD: A Festival of Carols)
Arrangers – Robert Shaw/Alice Parker