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Reginald Owen Morris (3 March 1886 – 15 December 1948), known professionally and by his friends by his initials, as R.O. Morris, was a British composer and teacher.

Morris was born in York. He was educated at Harrow School, New College, Oxford and the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London, where he subsequently became professor of counterpoint and composition.[1] On the outbreak of World War I he enlisted in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, along with his friends George Butterworth and Geoffrey Toye. He became famous as an exceptional teacher of counterpoint, and wrote several texts including Introduction to Counterpoint (Oxford 1944), Contrapuntal Technique in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 1922), Foundations of Practical Harmony and Counterpoint, Volume 1 of The Oxford Harmony (1946), and The Structure of Music (Oxford, 1935).[2] In 1926 he taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

His compositions have been overshadowed by his formidable reputation as a teacher. Students of Morris included composers Gerald Finzi, Sir Michael Tippett, Constant Lambert, Robin Milford, Anthony Milner, Edmund Rubbra, Bernard Stevens and Jean Coulthard. But Morris enjoyed a ten year period of creativity as a composer, roughly between 1922 and 1932, writing symphonic and chamber music, songs and choral works. Gerald Finzi thought highly of his music, and in an obituary piece (quoted in Diana McVeagh’s biography of Finzi)[3] he chose four pieces representing Morris at his most approachable –Corrina’s Maying for chorus and orchestra, the Concerto Piccolo, the Suite for Chamber Orchestra and the six Canzoni Ricertati for strong orchestra or string quartet – with the Toccata and Fugue for Orchestra at the other extreme and the Symphony in D (first performed on 1 January 1934 at the Queen’s Hall) somewhere in the middle. According to Stephen Banfield[4] Finzi regarded the last of the Canzoni Ricertati as "his one genuine masterpiece” and described it as a “grave and lovely” work.[5] But in the early 1930s Morris stopped composing and would never talk about his own compositions from that point onwards.[6] Today he is generally known for just one work, the hymn tune Hermitage [7] used as the melody for the carol Love Came Down at Christmas.[8]

In February 1915 Morris married Emmie Fisher, thus becoming brother-in-law to Vaughan Williams, who had married her sister Adeline. He died very suddenly at his London home (at 2, Addison Gardens, Kensington) in December 1948, having been examining at the Royal College of Music the day before with no sign of anything wrong.[9]


Orchestral and Chamber

  • 1922 Fantasy for string quartet [10]
  • 1925 Motet for string quartet (fp 7 June 1925)[11]
  • 1928-9 Sinfonia in C Major [12]
  • 1930 Concerto piccolo for two violins and string orchestra [13][14]
  • 1930 Concerto in G minor for Violin and Orchestra [15]
  • 1931 Canzone Ricercate for string quartet or string orchestra.[16][17]
  • 1932 Partita Lidica (Suite for Violoncello and Orchestra in F major) [18]
  • 1934 Symphony in D [19][20]
  • Toccata and Fugue for Orchestra


  • 1925 Love came down at Christmas (tune Hermitage) [21]
  • 1928 See amid the winter's snow (tune Winter's Snow) [22]
  • 1929 'Six English Folk-Songs (Seventeen come Sunday, Brisk young sailor (two versions) The lawyer, Tarry trousers, The cuckoo) [23]
  • 1930 There is a Garden
  • 1931 Five English Folk-Songs (Blow away the Morning Dew, Cold Blows the Wind, High Germany, The Turtle-Dove, The Mare and the Foal) [24]
  • 1932 Since thou, O fondest and truest
  • 1932 Hunting Song
  • 1933 Corinna's Maying. (also version with orchestral accompaniment)


  1. ^ Morris, Reginald Owen, by Raymond Holden, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
  2. ^ Morris, Reginald Owen, by H C Colles and Howard Ferguson, Grove Music Online, 2001
  3. ^ McVeagh, Diana: Gerald Finzi, His Life and Music, Boydell Press, 2005
  4. ^ Banfield, Stephen: Gerald Finzi, an English Composer, Faber and Faber, 1998
  5. ^ The Lindsay Quartet, Canzoni Ricertati Nos 1 and 6, ASV, 1992
  6. ^ Weedon, Robert: War Composers: The Music of World War 1
  7. ^ Presbyterian Hymnal, 1933
  8. ^ King's College Cambridge Choir: Love Came Down at Christmas, 2012
  9. ^ Obituary, The Times, 16 December 1948
  10. ^ Carnegie Collection of British Music
  11. ^ Lloyd, Stephen, Beyond the Rio Grande, p 83 footnote
  12. ^ Schaarwächter, Jürgen (2015): Two Centuries of British Symphonism
  13. ^ Worldcat
  14. ^ Music and Letters, Vol 32, No 3, July 1951 (Reviewed Works)
  15. ^ National Library of Australia
  16. ^ Copac
  17. ^ atuneaday
  18. ^ Royal College of Music
  19. ^ Radio Times, issue 535, 29 December 1933, p 956
  20. ^ Schaarwächter, Jürgen (2015), p 373-4
  21. ^ Songs of Praise, OUP, 1925
  22. ^ Oxford Book of Carols, OUP 1928
  23. ^ Worldcat
  24. ^ Worldcat