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From the Archives: Richard Storrs Willis

September 2, 2011

One of the first notable musicians to come out of Yale was Richard Storrs Willis (1819–1900). He graduated from Yale College in 1841 – before the School of Music even existed.

Willis was the president of Yale’s Beethoven Society in 1838 and 1840. After graduation he studied music in Germany for six years. His teachers there included Felix Mendelssohn.

Most prolific in writing hymns, Willis is best known for having written the music to “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

After his studies in Germany, Willis returned to America and served as music critic for the New York Tribune, The Albion, and The Musical Times, where he was also the editor for a time. He was a member of the New-York American-Music Association.

Willis founded his own journal, Once a Month: A Paper of Society, Belles-Lettres and Art, which published its first issue in January of 1862.


I’m hoping you can help. I have been trying to find out who wrote the first American Song Cycle, and I believe it may be “March, April, May” by Richard Storrs Willis. Can you help me in tracking down the sheet music for this? You help would be most appreciated.

Prof. English

February 19th, 2015 | Jonathan English

[…] the high-profile contributors of poetical tributes was Richard Storrs Willis. An American composer of hymn music, Willis was probably best known for writing the music to the […]