Book Review: Full with Wills by Arthur Wills

Full with Wills: My Life in My Music: A Memoir by Arthur Wills OBE

Image: Full with Wills: My Life in My Music: A Memoir

In this book, Dr Arthur Wills tells the tale of his humble beginnings in Coventry as a young boy who knew he would spend his life as a composer/performer and how his world blossomed into an exulted life of fulfilment through his music.

It is impossible not to respond to Arthur Wills when reading this recently launched autobiography. The book is certainly a good read and appears at the outset to accomplish just what the preface states: “to relate the story of [Arthur’s] life with reference to the compositions which demonstrate the complex interweaving of the life and the work …”. However, it accomplishes far more than this. Within this amazing whirlwind of a tale, the engaging personality of this musical giant emerges with sparkling directness. As you become mesmerised with the phenomenal stamina and complexity of this highly gifted composer/performer you are brought to immediate attention with his jovially-disguised statements of belief that attack the very heart of musical complacency.

With a no holds barred’ approach, very little is left untouched as the vicissitudes of a composer and performer’s life in the highest echelons of the musical world feed accounts of his varied of experiences of different venues, instruments and administrators. At the same time, in an almost confrontational way, his acute perception raises political issues ranging from the addition of female voices to cathedral choir ranks and women clergy, the adoption of modern service books, publishing, the workings of the BBC and ITV, the standards of current music examinations and temperamental soloists to the over riding importance of high art.

Organ enthusiasts will revel in his comprehensive understanding of the instrument with his many adventures from the simplest to the finest of these instruments worldwide. His appreciation of the inherent qualities of all kinds of musical styles from polyphonic masses to joyous outbursts of ragtime and his disarming ease of engagement with the inner complexities of the most stringent of compositions leaves one spellbound.

His deep involvement with the ethos of the church and of Ely Cathedral bring rare insight into this world.

The pages are packed with details of compositions, concert programmes and reviews but this is no dry account. Anecdotal gems spring from the pages and sharp colourful asides make the words spring to life as we learn of occurrences such as the antics of choirboys or raising a laugh from the Duke of Edinburgh.

Above all, his deep involvement with the ethos of the church and of Ely Cathedral bring rare insight into this world that so many people flock to see and try to glimpse for themselves.

Littered amongst these captivating pages is also the “Who’s who” of the concert recital/church music world (e.g. David Lumsden, Messiaen, Simon Rattle, Sidney Campbell, Benjamin Britten and Eric Fenby) and, most enchantingly, the ‘Who’s who’ of Cambridge and Ely personalities: e.g. David Willcocks, James Bowman, James Tilly, Paul Trepte and Mary Archer to name but a few.

His world travels touch on familiar treads in the UK (e.g. Coventry, Norfolk, the Channel Islands, Bournemouth and Birmingham) and take us to exciting new experiences abroad (e.g. Europe, Canada, the USA, Hong Kong, Malta, Australia and New Zealand).

Arthur’s love of literature and liturgical texts and the poetry of William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning shines through while Arthur Wills OBE, Organist Emeritus to Ely Cathedral who has been Organist and Master of the Choristers, student, professor, composer and performer never seems to stray from his humble background. His description of the ‘tug of Ely’, where he currently resides, and brief glimpses of his good wife Mary engender his writing with rare approachable appeal and sincerity that make the book positively irresistible.

The book is available from Ely bookshops, Burrows, Topping & Company and online with Amazon.

1 reply
  1. John R Wood
    John R Wood says:

    This book is a most rewarding and satisfying account of a great musician. During my schooldays in Suffolk, I had the thrilling experience of hearing Dr Wills play his own music, and that of many significant French Romantic and modern composers, on the organ of Ely Cathedral on many occasions. My first hearing of Vierne’s ‘Impromptu’in Ely was an enchantment never to be forgotten, and Messiaen’s ‘Combat de la mort et de la vie’ was a shattering introduction to this composer’s work. Dr Wills has had an influence for the good on many people that he probably has never met and doesn’t know about, and who will treasure memories of his performances for life!

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