Allan Wicks (1923-2010)

English organist who championed Messiaen and Maxwell Davies dies, aged 86

Allan Wicks, who died on 4 February aged 86, was widely recognised as a leading cathedral organist of his generation, and also played a crucial role during the 1950s and 60s in bringing modern works by Messiaen, Maxwell Davies, Stravinsky and Britten into the regular cathedral repertory.

‘We are living too much in the past,’ he once said; ‘So long as we are to continue with rather “plushy” types of musical setting then I think we must get modern people to write for it, otherwise it all becomes just a sort of museum.’

Born the son of a parson in Yorkshire, Edward Allan Wicks took up the organ at the age of 14 and won an organ scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford where he studied under Thomas Armstrong. His studies were interrupted by World War II when he served as a captain in the 14th Punjab Regiment.

After the war he took both an MA and Fellow of the Royal College of Organists before taking his first cathedral post as sub-organist at York Minster in 1954. The following year he took the post of organist and choirmaster of Manchester Cathedral, where he inspired Maxwell Davies with his performances of King John IV of Portugal and Dunstable, then an otherwise neglected composer. Wicks in turn championed Maxwell Davies’s Fantasia on O Magnum Mysterium, to the bewilderment of the then largely conservative world of church musicians, as well as Malcolm Williamson’s ambitious six-movement Symphony. He also regularly championed Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum.

In 1961 he was appointed organist and master of the choristers of Canterbury Cathedral, a post he held until 1988. Among the choristers trained by Wicks was Harry Christophers, the future director of The Sixteen. Wicks made several recordings, released on LP but yet to be issued on CD, of works by Alan Ridout, Messiaen (notably La nativité du Seigneur), Bach, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Franck, Widor, Alain and Reger.