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!