Harold Darke (1888-1976) was born in Highbury, London the youngest son of Samuel Darke & Arundel Bourne. While in the RAF he married a violinist, Dora Garland, (the first woman to lead the Queen’s Hall Orchestra) at St Michaels, Cornhill on 25 July 1918.
His first organist job was at Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead from 1906 to 1911. He became organist at St Michael’s Cornhill in 1916, and stayed there until 1966, leaving only briefly in 1941 to deputise for Boris Ord as Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge during World War II. It is widely accepted that the Cornhill Lunchtime Organ Recitals series begun by Darke in 1916 is the longest-running lunchtime organ concert series in the world; the series has flourished under his successors Richard Popplewell 1966-1979 and the present Organist, Jonathan Rennert, from 1979 to the present. Darke died in Cambridge, aged 88.
His famous setting of Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter, giving to his delicate melody a beautiful and lilting organ part, is still often sung at the service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, and at similar services around the world. In the Bleak Midwinter was voted the greatest Christmas carol of all time in a poll of choral experts and choirmasters that was published on 7 December 2008.
Most of his other compositions that are still performed are settings of the Anglican liturgy, especially his three Communion Services in E, F, and A minor; and his Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in F.
Darke’s work as Conductor of St Michael’s Singers was crowned in 1956 on the occasion of the Choir’s 40th Anniversary with the first performance of a number of now well-established works composed especially for the occasion – notably “Hierusalem” by George Dyson and “A Vision of Aeroplanes” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.