Peter Williams Dead at Age 78

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Peter Williams Dead at Age 78

I have seen several notices of the death of this world class Bach scholar. The death of Peter Fredric Williams was announced on Monday, March 21, making him 78 years old. I never got to hear him speak, but I have seen his many books.  The photo above is the collection of Williams books from John Hanson Boody. I daresay that we all have some of his books on hand now. There is another book, A Musical Biography, scheduled to be released in July of this year. From the London Bach Society: “One of the most respected writers on Bach over the past half-century, Peter Williams was a former Professor and Dean of Music at the University of Edinburgh and Emeritus Arts and Sciences Professor of Music at Duke University, North Carolina.”

Here are some of his book covers:

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You may read a short biography on The London Bach Society page. There is also a short article on the Bach Cantatas website. Here are some thoughts and memories from John Apple.

As a beginning organ student in the early 1970s, I was soaking up all things organistic. I found several items in the Ann Arbor Public Library relating to the instrument, including The European Organ by Peter Williams, published in 1966. At the time, I enjoyed the pictures, but found much of the text to be over my head. I was able to meet him around the middle 70s when he gave lectures on Bach at the University of Michigan, in the form of asking questions. (This was where I first heard questions concerning the Toccata and Fugue in d, BWV 565: did Bach compose it, was it originally for organ, and was it originally in D minor?)

Later, I read his A Short History of the Organ. After I moved to Charlotte in 1982, I got to talk with him during his visits here while performing an organ dedication and as a harpsichordist, while he was University Organist and music department chair of Duke University. I found him to be a soft spoken introspective person, but very engaging once you got him talking. In subsequent years, I found his articles on the Bach organ works (first published in The American Organist) and his notes for his friend Peter Hurford’s complete Bach organ recordings to be of great help in putting his music into perspective of its time and today. His book for the New Grove (with Barbara Owen), The Organ, is an important basic history of the instrument. All of us owes Peter Williams a great debt of gratitude for his scholarship and his ability to shed new light on old music and instruments

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