REMINISCENCES (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21)

From 'The Tablet' - 1950 to 2013

His predecessor David Lumsden worked with the composer (Britten) and, whether by chance or design, developed the bright, boyish sound that Britten admired and Higginbottom has maintained. "I like voices with strong, colourful character that can carry in a concert hall," says Higginbottom. The beefy but boyish and robust tone of the trebles here is refreshing. He draws a parallel with Britten. "He didn't like the pure Anglican 'cathedral' tone of boys singing like puppets on strings," says Higginbottom. In fact, Britten was moved by the rougher edge, the so-called "continental" sound, of the trebles at Westminster Cathedral under George Malcolm in the 1950s. Britten wrote a boys-only Missa Brevis for Malcolm's retirement in 1959 which the New College boys perform with the high spirits Britten envisaged. "It's a parody work in a sense," says Higginbottom, "cheeky, unexpected." He points out the Schoenbergian tone-row on the organ pedal in the "Sanctus", which the voices playfully mock, and the carhorn chords in the "Agnus Dei", wittily reflecting perhaps the real world beyond cosy, organised religion. (2013)

For the first time in the history of the Edinburgh International Festival, two all-Catholic musical contributions have been recognised by the authorities as worthy of a place in the official syllabus of events. The first concerned the Pontifical High Mass, celebrated in St. Mary's Cathedral to mark the opening of the Festival, at which a large and distinguished congregation of artists and visitors from all over the world heard the first performance in Scotland of Britten's Missa Brevis in D for boys' voices and organ. This striking and original work, dedicated to George Malcolm and the boys of Westminster Cathedral, succeeds in being, at the one time, completely unconventional by accepted standards of Church music, and yet wholly devout. (2010)

This, however, is a problem to which there is more than one aspect. It is the problem of the Mass itself (not extra-liturgical devotion) in an ordinary parish church (not a Cathedral or religious house, which indeed, as Mr. George Malcolm pointed out, is faced with its own problems regarding the rival claims of plainchant and polyphony on the available practice time). (Rosemary Hughes, 1953)

Lovers of organ music are also provided for by the three evening recitals to be given under the auspices of the Organ Music Society at King's College Chapel, Strand, W.C.2; Fernando Germani will play on March 6th, Denis Vaughan on March 23rd and George Malcolm, organist of Westminster Cathedral, on March 30th. (Rosemary Hughes, 1950)

On May 3rd, the opening day (of the Festival of Britain), there will be Pontifical High Mass in Westminster Cathedral at 10.30 a.m., so that all Catholic visitors may take their special part in the solemn opening of the Festival ; and on May 6th, the first Sunday of the Festival period, on the Home Service of the BBC, Solemn High Mass will be broadcast from the Cathedral between 10.30 and 11.30. In addition, during the week of May 13th to May 20th, which is Whit Week, there will be a Festival of Music in Westminster Cathedral, and on every day of this week High Mass and Vespers will be sung, at 10.30 and 3.15 respectively ; a wide range of sacred music, both ancient and modern, will be covered, and the advance notes on the programme give promise of notable performances of Byrd, Tallis, Taverner and Elgar as well as of contemporary Catholic composers such as Dpm Gregory Murray and Mr. George Malcolm. Works by Palestrma, Victoria and Mozart and many other composers will also be sung at these services. (1951)

Because there is so much Catholic music, it is difficult to pick out any particular pieces, but some of the most evocative is to be found in Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories... I can remember as a boy performing these responsories with George Malcolm. He had a natural appreciation of their drama and passion which comes through well in his recording with the Westminster Cathedral Choir. (Colin Mawby,1974)

Lennox (Berkely) grew closer to the cathedral through his friendship with the Master of Music, George Malcolm, and not long afterwards my elder brother, Michael, became a chorister there. The Westminster Cathedral choir was acknowledged to be among the finest in the world, instantly recognisable by its unique reedy tone quality which gave a passionate conviction to both the chant and the Italianate polyphony for which it became famous. By the time Lennox came to write his Missa Brevis for four voices and organ, I too had become a chorister and his new Mass, dedicated to “Michael and Julian and the boys of Westminster Cathedral Choir”, received its first performance in 1960. I remember the tension of trying to learn and pitch some tricky intervals while at the same time being rather nervously conscious of the reactions of the other choristers to this “modern music”. By the Fifties and Sixties, with Mgr Gordon Wheeler as administrator and George Malcolm directing the choir, the liturgy and music achieved an amazing standard of perfection; ceremonies were carefully choreographed with solemnity and precision in the most dramatic of ecclesiastical settings. Visitors to the cathedral spoke of being drawn into an almost overwhelmingly powerful spiritual atmosphere. (Julian Berkely, 2003)

Requiem for Gilbert Harding FRAY of last week was a sufficiently ungracious day, with a cold wind sweeping the dust down Victoria Street into our eyes, and the iron grey clouds seeming hardly to clear the top of Westminster Cathedral's tower; but inside the cathedral for Gilbert Harding's Requiem the warmth of affection was palpable enough 'to make us forget the wintry day outside. A third of the seats had been reserved for the eminent who were, indeed, there in force, but nearly every other seat was full too—packed with people who were present simply because they had loved this man who, in most cases, they had never met. Middleaged women with shopping bags as well as missals, men in working clothes and old, tired grandmothers knelt with radio and television technicians on their way to the studios and all—many of them evidently not Catholics—had found time to make their last gesture of friendliness to a man who was so real a person that he had projected himself as a true friend of the family in thousands of homes where he was only a voice from a loudspeaker or a face on a screen. In the presence of the Cardinal and Bishop Craven, the Mass was celebrated with pomp and slow dignity by Monsignor Gordon Wheeler; in the sanctuary were to be seen some of the many priests who had known and loved him for his generosity, courage and humility. Behind the high altar the choir soared into formal polyphony or the complicated traceries of a motet, but it was in the Dies Irae that the piercing and peculiar quality of voice that George Malcolm had taught his choir-boys came into its own. As the splendid verses forged onwards to the Rex tremendae majestatis one could sense a new stillness settling upon the congregation, and as the last notes of Huic ergo parce, Deus, Pie Jesus Domine, Dona eis requiem' died away in the Amen there was never a cough to be heard. (1960)

The Missa Brevis which Benjamin Britten wrote for George Malcolm before the latter's retirement from the office of Master of the Music at Westminster Cathedral was hailed by both musicians and critics when it was first heard during the summer. Those of us who were not able to hear it sung in its proper setting in the cathedral at the time—there were very few opportunities to do so—were, thanks to the B.B.C., able to make up for this disappointment late last Monday evening. Mr. Britten had been captivated, as so many others, by the revolutionary quality of the tone developed by the choirboys under Mr. Malcolm's training, and he wrote the Mass especially to exploit this purity of tone to the full. At the end of a long, cold, wet day there was something extraordinary in those 'clear but almost aggressive sounds coming out of one's loudspeaker in a quiet room. It sounded like all the Sons of the Morning, singing for joy. The introduction was made. by Mr. John Amis, who is not a Catholic, and as it was an actual, though edited, transcription of singing in the cathedral that we were hearing, he had to describe for the benefit of non-Catholic listeners the difference between common and proper, and to explain that the celebrant and the men's voices were far away at the other end of the cathedral; we should hear only the boys' and the celebrant's voice at the beginning of the Gloria. It was a most rewarding experience to note how differently the emphasis fell in this purely technical explanation orthe Mass from that in the more usually heard introductions by one or other of the Catholic priests who are engaged in broadcasting, and, we thought, a great deal might be learned from it in the way of explaining the Mass to our non-Catholic friends when they come with us. (1959)

A ceremonial Jubilate Dec (for Pope Paul III's peace conference in Nice in 1538) is complemented by a pessimistic Lenten motet and an impressive Magnificat. The London Oratory Choir couples a rare Victoria mass with a lesser known Palestrina mass and sings them both mellifluously. For the real essence of Spanish Renaissance music, however, one still needs the indispensable recording (now reissued) made by the Westminster Cathedral Choir under George Malcolm of Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories: a revolutionary sound, which has affected all more recent revivals of Renaissance music. (1976)

Monday's ceremonies were conducted with the greatest dignity and precision, maintaining the highest standards in a place where these standards are very high. Terce was sung in the choir, instead of in the Lady Chapel as on previous occasions. Mr. George Malcolm, the Master of the Cathedral Music, had composed new settings for the Entry and Enthronement of the Archbishop — the responsories as the Archbishop left the Blessed Sacrament chapel and approached the high altar, and as, seated at the faldstool, he was vested in cope and mitre, and the triumphant antiphon immediately after the actual enthronement. (1957)

In addition to the embellishment of the cathedral, it is hoped to provide some endowment for the Cathedral Choir School, which has suffered for nearly thirty years from the Bolshevik Revolution; for Cardinal Bourne invested its funds in Russian railways, so that they were all lost in 1917, and the school today has no bursaries or scholarships. There were, we believe, eighty applicants the other day for only two vacancies in the St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School, so that boys with very good voices could be chosen from that wide field. Everyone will agree that Mr. George Malcolm ought to have a similar choice for the choir which he directs with such distinction. (1955)

These days almost any Catholic matter is news and many of us are ruefully aware of the word over-exposed as being all too apt a term. But there is one category of Catholic activity for which we wholeheartedly welcome publicity, and that is in the greatly increased respect that has of late been accorded to Catholic choirs. This dates, of course, from Mr. George Malcolm's reign as master of Westminster Cathedral music, where he trained his choir to sing in a way quite unlike that of the great English choral tradition of King's, New College or Christ Church and that of the famous Anglican choirs. So remarkable was the Malcolm tone that, as readers will recall, Benjamin Britten wrote a new Missa Brevis especially to show off the talent of the Cathedral Choir. Other groups which seem to get glowing notices every time they perform in concert hall or on the air are John Hoban's Scuola di Chiesa and Michael Howard's Cantores in Ecclesia. (1969)

A unique contribution (to the Festival of Britain) is being made by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral, by its Festival of Music running from Whit Sunday, May 13th, to Trinity Sunday, May 20th. On six of the eight days the Mass of the day is by an English composer, and of these, four belong to that earlier generation of Tudor composers who were great composers in their own right as well as great forerunners— Tye, whose Mass Euge Bone is to be given on Whit Sunday, Taverner, Shepherd and Tallis. Byrd's Five-Part Mass rounds off the cycle on Trinity Sunday, and his Four-Part Mass will also be sung earlier in the week. The remaining Masses are by Victoria and Palestrina.The anthems and motets for vespers and compline range further afield. Plainsong stands side by side with Mozart, a major German master, Schutz, with the minor but gently persistent English tradition represented by Arne, Attwood, Pearsall and Goss, and the exiled recusant Peter Philips with the Cathedral's own musicians, past and present—Richard Terry, George Malcolm and William Hyde. Indeed, this eight-day festival offers, alike to Londoners and to visitors from abroad, a magnificent survey of three and a half centuries of choral music. Mr. Malcolm and the choir will place us still further in their debt if their future plans also include Rubbra's Missa Sancti Dominici, of which they gave the first liturgical performance fifteen months ago, and Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor, which was originally composed for Westminster Cathedral. (1951)

Mr. George Malcolm, we believe, is returning to Westminster Cathedral as organist and choir-master; which is good hearing. His musicianship is not only highly sensitive but is based on a long experience of choral training and of activity in many other departments of music—he has made an enviable reputation for himself as a harpsichord player. (1954)

The picture of President John F. Kennedy visiting Westminster Cathedral, which was published in The Tablet has brought back memories for several readers. JFK and his wife, Jackie, visited the cathedral in June 1961 for the baptism of their niece, Anna Christina Radziwill the President was also Anna Christina's godfather and the ceremony was officiated by Mgr Gordon Wheeler, the cathedral administrator. One of those with recollections of the event is Martin Gloyens, then a choirboy, aged seven, at Westminster Cathedral Choir School. The choristers lined up to sing George Malcolm's "Benedic Anima Mea" as they walked past. According to the cathedral's master of music at the time, Colin Mawby, Jackie Kennedy was moved to tears by the singing and asked for the boys to be given an extra day's holiday. (2013)

UP TILL fairly recently, British Catholics have lagged rather noticeably behind those of other countries in their exploration of the modern idiom in church music. We have had nothing to show in comparison with the exhilarating and joyful African Missa Luba, which has been so successful in the open market that more than one perspicacious film director has used it as background music. There was, of course, Britten's outstanding Missa Brevis, written especially for the Westminster Cathedral Choir and sung by them on disc in an unforgettable performance under George Malcolm. But this is not quite the same as a folk Mass or the like, which you are more likely to hear in an Anglican church or, if Catholic, safely tucked away in a parish hall to make it quite clear that it is not yet what you might call liturgically respectable. (1970)

The music for the pontifical Masses at Westminster Cathedral will be under the direction of Mr. George Malcolm, who will have Mr. William Hyde as his assistant. Mr. Ralph Downes, the organist at Brompton Oratory, has been appointed Hon. Organist to the cathedral to assist during the Congress. For the Pontifical Mass in the cathedral on September 1st, Mr. George Malcolm has composed a special Mass Cantatibus organis, at which both the choir organ and the grand organ will be used. At the Pontifical Mass in St. George's Cathedral, Southwark, on September 29th, the Mass and Motet will be sung by the Ealing Priory Choir, under the direction of Mr. W. Bowyer. The Proper of the Mass will be sung by priests of the diocese of Southwark and Benedictine monks of Quarr Abbey. The organist will be the Rev. Peter Farmer. For the children's Masses on Saturday, September 30th, the Ordinary of the Mass will be sung by the schoolchildren. At Westminster the Proper and the Motet will be sung by the choristers of the Westminster Cathedral Choir School, and their organist will be Master Colin Mawby, a thirteen-year-old pupil of the school. At Southwark the Proper and the Motet will be sung by the choir of the Notre Dame High School, Southwark. (1950)

Two things in particular must have struck anyone who attended the Holy Week ceremonies in the cathedral. One was the devoted tirelessness of His Eminence, who presided on every occasion, singing Pontifical High Mass twice within twelve hours, on Saturday evening and then again on Easter Sunday morning, presiding at Vespers in the afternoon, and then preaching in the evening. And, secondly, Mr. George Malcolm's cathedral choir sang magnificently, especially, perhaps, at Matins and Lauds on Saturday morning—the transferred Tenebrae of Good Friday—and at Sunday's Mass. (1955)

For the first performance of a work by one of the most distinguished of living composers to take place in a Catholic church is an event which would be remarkable for its rarity, if for nothing else; but the singing, last week, of Benjamin Britten's Missa Brevis at Westminster Cathedral was remarkable in every way. The work itself is a small masterpiece, as deeply felt as it is original, and as characteristic of its composer as it well could be. He has made no attempt to reproduce any kind of liturgical style; indeed, one of the most striking things about the Mass is its freedom from the sort of inhibition that can so easily overtake a composer when writing church music. Britten has been content to be himself, to use his normal idiom, and in doing so he has achieved an extraordinary freshness in his treatment of the text. The writing for the organ, too, is highly individual, as is instanced in the Kyrie—a movement that combines great simplicity with a feeling of urgent prayer. The Gloria is fast moving, with an athletic springy rhythm, while the Sanctus is based on a broad bell-like figure. The lively melody of the Benedictus, sung by two solo boys, first singly, and then in canon, is perhaps what remains most vividly in the memory, unless it be the poignancy of the Agnus Dei with its whispered, awe-struck ending. The work is written for boys' voices and organ, and is dedicated to George Malcolm and the boys of the Cathedral Choir. It can be said with ample justification that the performance was worthy of the music. The boys performing the Mass sang from the organ gallery at the west side of the cathedral, while the rest of the choir sang the proper of the Mass from the apse. This in itself was something quite new and very effective. The character of the music made one realise why Mr. Britten had chosen this choir to perform his work, for it demands a full-voiced type of singing rather than the over refined hooting quality that prevails in many church choirs in this country. The performance, too, gave one the measure of Mr. Malcolm's achievement at Westminster Cathedral, for it showed that he has obtained from his choir not merely competence, but a high level of musical understanding and feeling. (Lennox Berkely, 1959)

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