Sunday, 4 March 2018

A thirteenth century Alleluya for Chad rediscovered

The cover page of MS Rawl. D. 1225
Earlier this year, our organ scholar, Maks Adach, discovered a fragment of plainsong in the Bodleian Library in Oxford which would have been sung in the Lichfield Diocese before the Reformation. He has transcribed it and created a modern performing edition which was liturgically heard for the first time in five centuries on St Chad's Day (2 March), 2018.

His editorial introduction is reproduced below, and there is a link to download the new edition and to hear the performance recorded during the St Chad's Day Eucharist.

The subject of this critical edition is a fragment of plainsong found in the Bodleian Library. It is one of several musical items (the work of numerous scribes) found in MS. Rawl. D. 1225, a large codex containing the Martyrology of Usard. The MS is a medium-sized codex measuring 245x175mm and is 134 folios in length. Judging from the handwriting style, the MS was written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It belonged to St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury, as it contains an inventory of that church’s feretory. This included the right arm of Chad, the hair-shirt of Thomas Canteloupe, and the spear that pierced Christ’s side. The Crown of Thorns is listed as missing. The Martyrology’s calendar contains the obiits of Parish benefactors and rectors. The text itself contains many additions in the margins. Among these is a substantial entry for Chad (f.35v) and one for the Dedication of Lichfield Cathedral (f.16v). The presence of these confirms that the MS was written for use in the Diocese of Lichfield.

Marginalia denoting the Dedication
Feast of Lichfield Cathedral in the MS
The plainsong fragment in question is an Alleluia Proper in honour of Chad. It is found with other items in the endleaves of the MS. It is one of three items penned by the same scribe in black, thirteenth-century square notation on red staves. The other items are all either in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary or St Edward the Confessor. Aside from one two-part, polyphonic antiphon (f.132v), the musical items are all examples of monophonic, liturgical chant. They were almost certainly intended for use at masses at St Chad’s, Shrewsbury and are, due to the destruction of the historic collection of the Lichfield Cathedral Library in the Civil War, rare examples of the plainsong and early polyphony used in the Diocese during the pre-Reformation era.

A copy of the Alleluya (which includes a reproduction of the original manuscript) can be downloaded here, and the performance recorded on St Chad's Day 2018 can be heard here.

If you want use the edition in any way, please do contact Maks; although he is keen for it to be used more widely, it constitutes a part of a larger research project concerned with the plainsong fragments in the manuscript.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Roland James Cook: Lay Vicar 1923-1967

Roland Cook was one of many Lay Vicars to have been part of the Cathedral's choral foundation. However, his death - fifty years ago today - on 16 February, 1968, aged 73, is particularly significant as it marked the death of the last member of the Corporation of the Vicars Choral to hold freehold office. This meant that once he had been appointed, he was entitled the income from the lands owned by the Corporation of Vicars Choral until his death, even after his retirement on 12 January 1967 following serving at Lichfield for 44 years.

There is a noticeboard in the Lay Vicars' vestry today which commemorates him:
The inscription reads,
'Placed here in 1969 to commemorate the former corporation of the
Vicars Choral, following the death of Roland James Cook, the last member
to hold freehold office under statutes dating from the 13th century'.
(with apologies for the poor photograph)

Before coming to Lichfield, Cook had been at Canterbury Cathedral and during his 44 years at Lichfield, he had a distinguished career as a singer. His son has been in touch and sent a photograph of his father as young man:

and a photograph from 1934 in which Cook is a part of a group of BBC Midland Singers in a studio in Birmingham:

His son comments that "the only others in the picture that I know are the musical director Edgar Morgan, a dapper man on the right hand side and the small lady in front of Dad, Margery Westbury as in Paul Temple. Edgar Morgan lived in Handsworth and was a deputy organist at the Cathedral, but I knew him as the music teacher at the Grammar School who only came in on Mondays and Fridays".

If you can offer any information about any of the other singers in this photograph, please get in touch!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Lay Vicar Appointment in 1977

This weekend marks Michael Guest's final weekend in the choir after just over 40 years. In this time, he has served under four Bishops, five Deans, six Precentors, six Directors of Music, six Organists, and seen 17 basses, 13 tenors, 24 altos (one of whom, twice) and over 200 Choristers come and go.

This is a copy of the advertisement to which he responded, and the letter from the Dean, George Holderness, offering him the post. He duly started in September 1977 and was officially installed into the Lay Vicar's stall of Longdon on St Lucy's Day, 13 December, 1977.

The text of the advertisement from May 1977 reads:
There are vacancies for a TENOR and a BASS in the Cathedral Choir. All duties outside normal office hours. Flexible holiday system. Small historic house available at moderate rent. 
For details and application form apply: The Secretary to the Dean and Chapter, 14 The Close, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 7LD.

The text of the letter, dated 2 June 1977, reads:
Dear Mr. Guest, 
On behalf of the Dean and Chapter I have pleasure in writing to offer you the post of Tenor Lay Vicar in Lichfield Cathedral Choir. The conditions are as laid out in the enclosed sheet and the post would commence on 1st September, 1977, though the first sung services commence on Sunday, 11th September. 
We would also be happy to offer you the tenancy of No. 10 Vicars' Close (which I believe you have already seen) at an annual rental of £208 exclusive of rates. 
I should be grateful if you would let me know as soon as possible whether you are able to accept this offer. We very much hope that you will be able to do so. 
Yours sincerely,
+George Holderness
Dean of Lichfield

Saturday, 9 September 2017

BBC Songs of Praise with the Northern Division of the Choir Schools Association (9 September 1990)

Recorded in summer 1990 and broadcast at the start of the new academic year, this edition of Songs of Praise featured cathedral choirs from the Northern Division of the Choir Schools Association. Filmed in Lichfield Cathedral, it also marked the first public engagement of the Patron of the CSA, HRH The Duchess of Kent.

Cathedrals which I know are represented alongside Lichfield include Lincoln, Liverpool, Edinburgh, York and Wakefield, but please let me know if there are others so I can update this list.

The choir booklet reveals that on the day itself just an hour and a quarter (from 11.00am until 12.15pm) was allowed for the television rehearsal, with the recording starting at 1.45pm and finishing at 6.00pm.

While the original video that we were given had clearly been watched, we are grateful to the Archive of Recorded Church Music which has provided a link to a better quality copy in their archives.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Cathedral Choir Concert: Summer 1979

Beyond the cassette label 'Summer 1979', specific details about this private recording of a concert in the Cathedral are sparse. However, local recollections suggest that it was a concert to showcase the first year's achievements of Jonathan Rees-Williams who had taken on the role of Organist and Master of the Choristers at the start of April 1978 and was installed on 16 July, 1978.

The inclusion of the entirety of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor (including the Credo), which was a new addition to the choir's repertoire under Rees-Williams, is a clear indication of what he had achieved in a short space of time, after Richard Greening's eighteen years at the helm.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

'One equal music': a homily for the end of the choir year

This is the text of the homily given by Canon Andrew Stead, our Precentor, at Evensong on Sunday 9 June, 2017, the last service at which departing members of the choral foundation sang. It is reproduced here with permission.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven. And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no foes nor friends, but one equal communion and identity; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity. 

John Donne concluded a sermon given at Whitehall on February 29 1627 with these words referencing the story of Jacob’s Dream of the angels ascending and descending from heaven on the ladder resting between earth and heaven. Donne was speaking about the Christian hope and his conviction that Christians would achieve the beatific vision, the ultimate communion with God. In Donne’s wonderfully chosen and crafted words there is a recurrent construction: one equal light; one equal music; one equal possession; one equal communion; one equal eternity.

What drew me to that extract from Donne’s sermon were the words, ‘one equal music’ words that informed the title of one of one of my favourite novels by Vikram Seth: An Equal Music. An Equal Music is a book about love, about the love of a woman lost and found and lost again; it is a book about music and how the love of music can run like a passionate fugue through a life. In one passage in the book there is a description of a string quartet and the relationships between the individual musicians and how in the moment of playing a scale all of the individuality, differences and tensions dissipated as seemingly without prompt they play the perfect scale together. In the simplicity of that a sort of perfection is achieved, a synergy between the musicians playing; and there is something profoundly spiritual about that moment as if it were making connections that tapping into the very order of creation.

Donne’s words, ‘one equal music’, resonate in passages like this and speak of a power that goes way beyond individual talent and musicianship, or indeed the achievement of the individuals coming together. There is a sophistication and a sense of connection springing from a common humanity that can be so much more than just a sum of the parts.

Our anthem, Blest pair of sirens, this afternoon helps us consider this in another way as it points us towards considering, through Milton’s words, the relationship between voice and verse; words and music; rhythm, metre and harmony. The direction of this interplay points very much in the same way to eternity and to the courts of heaven, as do John Donne’s words – words and music, voice and verse, the individuals (and the collective) transporting humanity through a God given creativity to the union with our creator Himself. Music has this ability to serve as a vehicle enabling the worship of God in so many ways, whether as an expression of devotion and worship by the composer and musicians themselves, or carrying a congregation in hymnody or psalmody to engage with words and meaning through bringing them together with one voice; or enabling worshippers to have a sense of awe and wonder, of beauty and truth at the deepest level of their being through listening and mediating upon what they are listening to. It is not a thing of the moment either as, in every sense, communion takes place and something is taken away. It is often that this taking away, this glimpse of truth, of beauty and the divine, that occurs in the relationship of voice and verse, the carrying the other, that important moments are captured and later through the singing of the tune, that a word, phrase, idea or glimpse of the divine is made alive again.

St Augustine in his Confessions, often deeply concerned about the worldly nature of music, was forced to concede of music’s ability to touch the soul and tap into a world beyond itself as he said,

How I wept to hear your hymns and songs, deeply moved by the voices of your sweet singing in church. Their voices penetrated my ears, and with them truth found its way into my heart; my frozen feeling for God began to thaw, tears flowed and I experienced joy and relief. 

At the end of an academic year our Choral Foundation are also coming to the end of their choir year. We are grateful to them as individuals and as a choir for all that they do through their musicianship to enable not only their own worship of God but that of our collective worship and our mission in this place. They help us in maintaining the opus dei in this place; the daily round of the offices, and they are an important part of our missional offering as a cathedral bringing, as they do, many to have their frozen feelings for God to thaw and to convey the reality of the love of God through an encounter with truth and beauty.

In a few minutes time after the offertory hymn we will be saying thank you and farewell to members of the foundation who are leaving us and we will be praying for them God’s blessing and we do that with love and gratitude for all that they have done to support and be part of the mission and worship of this Cathedral Church through their music making, discipline and hard work. We hope that along the road they too have grown in faith, in their humanity and as musicians, and that whatever is next in their lives that they will still look back on their time in the Choral Foundation as a blessed and special time.

Our anthem, and the quotation I read from John Donne, point beyond the immediate and into eternity. Our music making here is always by definition going to be full of imperfection but we are reminded of a greater reality and the hope of eternity where we will be, ‘in tune with heaven’: one equal light; one equal music; one equal possession; one equal communion; one equal eternity. And, as Milton puts it, in words concluding this evening’s anthem:

O may we soon again renew that song,
And keep in tune with Heav’n, till God ere long
To His celestial concert us unite,
To live with Him, and sing in endless morn of light. Amen.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Choristers' Recital at St Peter's Church, Edgmond (10 June, 1987)

As well as singing the regular services at the Cathedral, the choir has always been involved in concerts both within the Cathedral and in the diocese. This is a copy of a private recording made of a recital given at St Peter's Church in Edgmond as part of their seemingly now defunct annual music festival.