Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941) was a chorister at St George's Chapel, Windsor, and acted as a pupil assistant to Walter Parratt. As a student at the Royal College of Music his peers were Parry and Stanford and at the age of twenty-five he was appointed as a teacher of counterpoint at that college. Davies held various church appointments before becoming organist and choirmaster to the Temple Church in 1898. It was there that he became almost a legendary figure. Between 1903 and 1907 Davies was conductor of the Bach Choir and in 1918 he was appointed Musical Director to the Royal Air Force. From 1919 to 1926 he was Professor of Music at University College, Aberystwyth, and Director of the National Council of Music in Wales. He was knighted in 1922 and from 1924 was Gresham Professor of Music, achieving great success as a broadcasting lecturer in music. He was organist of St George's Chapel, Windsor, between 1927 and 1932, and from 1927 held an advisory post at the BBC. When Elgar died in 1934, Davies succeeded him as Master of the King's Musick.
Percy Scholes described Davies as 'a man of whims' and this is demonstrated by his wide-ranging career. Davies was also an important teacher; his Saturday morning class in 1914 contained George Thalben-Ball, Arthur Bliss, Ivor Gurney, Arthur Benjamin, Eugene Goossens, Herbert Howells and Douglas Fox.
Of the many stories that surround Davies's life, one in particular is worth recounting. He was taken ill one Sunday at the Temple Church and George Thalben-Ball was sent for to play evensong. It being 'Cantata Sunday', Thalben-Ball found a full score of Bach's B minor Mass on the organ console from which he was expected to play. The deputation sent to obtain the services of the young Thalben-Ball said to him, 'By the way, we usually do it down a semitone'!
As a composer Davies earned some recognition with his oratorio Everyman (1904) and with a well-known RAF march. Although his music has been described as 'sentimental', the composer captures the mood perfectly in his short anthem Blessed are the pure in heart.
from notes by William McVicker © 1995