Healey Willan is largely known as a composer of Sacred and Choir works, comprising half of some 850 compositions in his catalog. He has also composed a wide spectrum of works, including several symphonies, songs, instrumental and chamber pieces.
Conservative in his approach, he was also grounded in counterpoint and fugue. Interested in new trends, he saw no reason to abandon his roots, and in Deirdre, which he regarded as one of his finest works, he centered on a post-Wagnerian idiom. His choral music composed for St. Mary Magdalene has had a significant influence on composers of all denominations. His major works signaled the acceptance in Canada of large scale composition. Frequently known as the “Dean of Canadian Composers”, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada at its inception in 1967.
The Sonata for Violin and Piano by Healey Willan dates from 1916, but was revised in 1955, which this recording is the premier of that revision, presumably from 1956. Both Albert Pratz and Leo Barkin were prominent soloists as well as highly regarded teachers in Canada. Pratz was at the Royal Conservatory of Music from 1953 on, and Barkin was a much-requested Piano accompanist for numerous artists throughout the world.
A considerable amount of overlooked music from Canada, as I’m sure the same is true with just about every country. The only thing you can do in a situation like that is to go digging, spend time listening and tell your friends what you found. That’s what I’m doing here and I hope it prompts you to do the same thing where you are. Lots of good stuff out there, just waiting to be unearthed.