Harold Darke

About Harold Darke

Harold Darke was perhaps better known in his lifetime as an organist than composer. Not that he was a lesser figure in the latter endeavor: Darke was regarded as one of the greatest organists of his time, and as such appeared regularly in concert, often performing his own works, works that were tonal, conservative but imaginative, and well-crafted. Moreover, a good portion of his sacred output gained a foothold in the repertory in England. Several of his Communion Services, as well as his Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in F, became staples of the sacred music repertory in the Anglican sphere. But his organ works also gained currency, especially A Fantasy for Organ, Op. 39, and Rhapsody for Organ, Op. 4. Without doubt, his most popular work was his 1911 setting of Christina Rosetti's poem "In the Bleak Mid-Winter" (for vocalist and organ), which has become one of the most widely performed and recorded Christmas carols ever written. In fact, this short work, with its haunting melody, has appeared on more than 100 recordings over the years, in performances given by some of the leading singers: Roberto Alagna, Ian Bostridge, Thomas Hampson, Jessye Norman, Kiri Te Kanawa, and many others.
Harold Darke was born in London on October 29, 1888. At the Royal College of Music he studied organ with Thomas Parratt and composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. Throughout most of this period and during further studies at Oxford, he held an organist post at Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead (1906-1911).
With some of his early sacred works and his masterly In the Bleak Mid-Winter carol drawing notice, Darke was appointed organist in 1916 at London's St. Michael's Cornhill. Performing for services and appearing there in regular recitals that included a vast repertory, from the complete organ output of J.S. Bach to works by Vaughan Williams, Darke remained at St. Michael's until 1966, but for a wartime hiatus (1941-1945), when he substituted for RAF-bound Boris Ord as King's College Music Director.
Beside composition and his organ posts, Darke was busy as a teacher throughout his career, serving on the faculty of the Royal College of Music from 1919-1969. In 1919 he also founded the St. Michael's Singers, an ensemble he served as director until 1966. With it he regularly presented choral programs at concerts and music festivals. Darke died in Cambridge on November 28, 1976.