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Peter Williams (Musicologist, Organ, Harpsichord, Arranger)

Born: May 14, 1937 - Wolverhampton, England
Died: March 20, 2016 - England

The eminent English musicologist, organist, harpsichordist and music pedagogue, Peter (Fredric) Williams, was born into a Methodist family; he moved to the Church of England when he became a choirboy at St Leonardís, Bilston. At Wolverhampton Grammar School, where he was inspired by Frank Rust, the music master, he was a contemporary of Mervyn King. He was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge (Bachelor of Arts, 1958; Bachelor of Music, 1959; Master of Arts, 1962; Ph.D., 1963).

In 1962 Peter Williams joined the faculty of the University of Edinburgh as a lecturer, subsequently becoming a reader (1972) and a professor (1982), where he held the first chair in performance practice in the UK. In 1985 he was made Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he was chairman of the music department (1985-1988), university organist (1985-1990), and director of the graduate center for performance practice studies (1990-1997). From 1996 to 2002 he was John Bird Professor at Cardiff University, supervising PhD students and performing memorable concerts including J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations (BWV 988). From 1996 to 2006 he served as Chairman of the British Institute of Organ Studies, subsequently becoming President, and he was Patron of the Cambridge Academy of Organ Studies from its inception in 2004. In retirement he continued producing reviews and sleeve notes, including for Vladimir Ashkenazyís recording of J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier.

As a performing artist, Peter Williams made appearances as a recitalist from 1965. As a scholar, he ranks among the foremost authorities on the organ. In addition to his learned books and articles, he has served as general editor of the series Biblioteca Organologica (80 volumes, 1966 et seq.) and as founding editor of The Organ Yearbook (from 1969). He is also founder-general editor of the series Cambridge Studies in Performance Practice and of the Duke University series Sources and Interpretation of Music. He is also general editor of the New Oxford J.S. Bach Edition.

Peter Williams died on the eve of the anniversary of J.S. Bach's birth and hours after reading the proofs for his final book on the composer. In 1982 he married Rosemary Seymour, who survives him with their two sons, and a daughter and a son from a previous marriage.


The European Organ 1450-1850 (London, 1966; 2nd edition, 1968)
Figured Bass Accompaniment (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1970; 2nd edition, 1972)
Bach Organ Music (London, 1972; 2nd edition, 1974)
A New History of the Organ From the Greeks to the Present Day (London, 1980)
The Organ Music of J.S. Bach (3 vols., Cambridge, 1980-1984)
editor: Bach, Handel and Scarlatti; Tercentenary Essays (Cambridge, 1985)
Playing the Works of Bach (New York, 1986)
The Organ (London and New York, 1988)
with L. Todd, editor: Mozart: Perspectives in Performance (Cambridge, 1991)
The Organ in Western Culture 750-1250 (Cambridge, 1993)
The King of Instruments or, How Do Churches Come to Have Organs? (London, 1993)
The Goldberg Variations (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
The Life of Bach? (2004)

Source: Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Obituary in The Telegraph (March 27, 2016); Obituary on Cardiff Universirty Website (March 30, 2016)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2007, April 2016); Douglas Amrine (Dates, April 2016)

Peter Williams: Short Biography
Keyboard Transcriptions:
Works | Recordings
Life of Bach [by P. Williams

Links to other Sites

Playing Bach with Professor Peter Williams (The Lady Organist)

Obituary in The Telegraph
Obituary in London Bach Society
Obituary in Cardiff University



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Last update: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 16:02