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WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL CHOIR is widely considered to be one of the finest choirs in the world.

The establishment of a fine choral foundation was part of the original vision of the founder of Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan. Vaughan laid great emphasis on the beauty and integrity of the new Cathedral’s liturgy and music, and realised that a residential choir school for the boy choristers was essential to the realisation of his vision. Daily sung Masses and Offices were immediately established when the Cathedral opened in 1903, and have continued without interruption ever since. Today, Westminster Cathedral Choir is the only professional Catholic choir in the world to sing a daily Mass.

Richard Runciman Terry, the Cathedral’s first Master of Music, proved to be an inspired choice. Terry was both a brilliant choir trainer and a pioneering scholar, one of the first musicologists to revive the great works of the English and Continental Renaissance composers. Terry built Westminster Cathedral Choir’s reputation on performances of music—by Byrd, Tallis, Taverner, Palestrina and Victoria, among others—that had not been heard since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Mass at the Cathedral was soon attended by inquisitive musicians as well as the faithful. The performance of great Renaissance masses and motets in their proper liturgical context remains the cornerstone of the choir’s activity.

George Malcolm consolidated the musical reputation of Westminster Cathedral Choir during his time as Master of Music—in particular through the now legendary recording of Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories. More recent holders of the post have included Colin Mawby, Stephen Cleobury, David Hill and James O’Donnell. The choir continues to thrive under the current Master of Music, Martin Baker, who has held the post since February 2000.

In addition to its performances of Renaissance masterpieces, Westminster Cathedral Choir has given many first performances of music written especially for it by contemporary composers. Terry gave the premieres of music by Vaughan Williams (whose Mass in G minor received its first public performance at a Mass in the Cathedral), Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells and Charles Wood; in 1959 Benjamin Britten wrote his Missa brevis for the choristers; and since 1960 works by Lennox Berkeley, William Mathias, Colin Mawby and Francis Grier have been added to the repertoire. Most recently three new Masses—by Roxanna Panufnik, James MacMillan and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies—have been performed and recorded by the choir.

Westminster Cathedral Choir made its first acoustic recording in 1907. Many more have followed, most recently the acclaimed series on the Hyperion label, and many awards have been conferred on the choir’s recordings. Of these the most prestigious are the 1998 Gramophone Awards for both ‘Best Choral Recording of the Year’ and ‘Record of the Year’, for the performance of Martin’s Mass for Double Choir and Pizzetti’s Requiem. It is the only cathedral choir to have won in either of these categories.

When its duties at the Cathedral permit, the choir also gives concert performances both at home and abroad. It has appeared at many important festivals, including Aldeburgh, Salzburg, Copenhagen, Bremen and Spitalfields. It has appeared in many of the major concert halls of Britain, including the Royal Festival Hall, the Wigmore Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. The Cathedral Choir also broadcasts frequently on radio and television. Hyperion Records


Michael Walsh (2011)

For while (J. E.) Gardiner doesn’t, as far as I know, compose, he has been and remains beyond question one of the most influential performing musicians of our time. The book’s first chapter chronicles his gradual emergence as a force in what we all blithely used to call Early Music: his distaste, as a Cambridge undergraduate, for the King’s College Willcocks style (Bach’s ‘Jesu meine Freude’ ‘sung in English with effete and lip-wiping prissiness’), his admiration for Thurston Dart’s ‘Sherlock Holmes-like approach to musicology’ and the ‘most un-English ardour’ of George Malcolm’s performances with the Westminster Cathedral choir.
tephen walsh, Spectator (2013)

The high points in the year are clearly Christmas and Holy Week. Martin explains that the choristers usually favour Christmas: “The music is highly approachable and attractive, full of tinsel and glitter, and young minds respond naturally to this, but I think the music for Holy Week and Easter is infinitely better! The ceremonies at the Cathedral are incredibly powerful and the music plays a key role in enhancing the drama of the movement from Palm Sunday, through the Institution of the Eucharist, to the Crucifixion and finally the Resurrection. The services on Good Friday and Easter morning are the best attended of the whole year – the side chapels are full and the aisles crammed with people standing – but the two Offices of Readings (Good Friday and Holy Saturday at 10am) are my favourites. These meditations on the Passion are formed of psalms sung by the choir in alternation with the congregation, readings, lamentations, and the famous Tenebrae Responsories by Victoria. The experience of conducting the Victoria pieces with this choir (and in doing so I bear in mind the choir’s iconic recording made under George Malcolm in the 1950s) is difficult to better!” Martin Baker

When George Malcolm took over as choirmaster of Westminster Cathedral in 1947, he wrote in a Royal School of Church Music publication that "this pretty fluting sound (of English Boy Sopranos) is an insult to boyhood." He introduced there what has been called 'The Continental Tone' which others quickly copied. Stephen Beet

In the 1940s fashions changed and the new techniques were introduced, largely as a result of George Malcolm’s influence at Westminster Cathedral and Michael Howard’s work at Ely.  Many choirmasters had ‘decided to do something different’, (to quote more than one) but generally until relatively recently they blended the chest voice and head voice so that at least the top register was in the head.  An ‘halfway house’ seems to have been achieved by Stanley Vann at Peterborough, and the tone achieved there was very much in vogue until the 1980s; when Peter Phillips surveyed many cathedrals in 1978 he remarked that only then were choirmasters moving away from that (which he describes as a head voice) towards the so-called ‘Continental tone’, a move then strongly resisted by older choirmasters.  Whether today’s choir trainers are now moving back to a somewhat ‘centre ground’ is a matter of debate, but I fear that today’s cathedral sound would not have been considered acceptable by the masters of the past.
Stephen Beet (2005)

The Dartington Summer School, in particular, has been critical in the development of conducting and conductors, giving them opportunities to work, in a safe and supportive place, with other conductors and musicians of the highest quality. Key among those who developed the teaching of conducting at Dartington was George Malcolm, and others who taught, took classes or developed their own work include Daniel Barenboim, Robert Craft, Ivor Bolton, Simon Rattle, Scott Stroman and Diego Masson.

Well, I think he (George Malcolm) was great too. Certainly a force for good in England.

I heard him in the flesh once as a boy.... on a lovely Goble with golden arcaded keys. I was mesmerised. He did lose his place once....... but no-one knew it until he told us afterwards..... he just improvised until he got back on track. I think he's great........

One of my favorite Malcolm performance stories was from a woman who heard George Malcolm play the Goldbergs on the harpsichord in the Great Hall at Christ Church, Oxford, as part of the English Bach Festival. During the performance, Great Tom tolled! When Mr.Malcolm was called back for an encore at the close of the concert, he said, "Let's make up for that damn bell and have another go at #___ !"

Bach comes to town - George Malcolm - Goble. Really? I heard GM play it in the Purcell Room on a Goff: I also remember him playing it on the 1770 Shudi & Broadwood at Fenton House one Saturday in (I believe) 1960 or 1961. You wouldn't believe what he did with the swell pedal! Talk about decadent! (From Hpschd Archives, UIOWA)

PETER GEACH (1916-2013)

Christopher Coope recalls: "Malcolm was a student at Balliol alongside Peter Geach, a distinguished philosopher in his own right and husband of the distinguished philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. I was Peter’s colleague in the department of philosophy at Leeds for many years.  He expressed fond memories of George Malcolm, and I am pretty sure that when his old friend died Peter travelled down to London for his funeral.  Malcolm was one of Peter’s non-philosophical companions who won him round to the Catholic faith from the atheism he grew up with.

Sir Anthony Kenny (Master of Balliol College 1978-1989) knew George and tells me that he liked him a lot.  I think that George must be the only Catholic that we KNOW that Peter knew at Balliol.  So I think he must have been among those select few who put the remarkable Peter on the right track."

"I would say, without any hesitation, beyond the deep friendship that linked us that, like Michel Chapuis whom I consider as the greatest organist of our times, George Malcolm was, and remains to my mind, the greatest harpsichordist of his times, beyond all the petty quarrels and disputes between schools, and "instrument factions".

Like Michel Chapuis, he always seemed to improvise, and "reinvent" music. Music, first and ever, through life's springing up. I wish he could , one day, regain the only place owed to him, the first one. When I recorded, in 1996, a CD on the historic organ of Orgelet, I dedicated it to those musicians who brought me everything, and Michel Chapuis thanked me for associating him with George Malcolm he admired so much!" Robert Descombes (2014)


It is announced from Westminster Cathedral that Mr. William Hyde; the Director of the Cathedral Choir, will retire on April 30th next. Mr. Hyde, who is now over seventy, was awarded the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in 1947 in recognition of his services to the Church, and in particular of his work at the cathedral. Mr. Hyde first came to the Cathedral in 1924, to serve as Master of Probationers and sub-organist under the late Sir Richard Terry. During the difficult years of the war, from 1941 to 1947, he served as Master of the Cathedral Music. He then acted as Assistant to Mr. George Malcolm, and resumed responsibility for the choir a year ago, when Mr. Malcolm resigned. Before coming to Westminster Cathedral in 1924 he was for eighteen years organist and choir-master at Poplar. He is to be reckoned amongst the small band of great men who have played a formative part in the life of the Metropolitan Cathedral. (1960)

Colin Mawby (2014)

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The first performance of Britten’s Missa Brevis took place during Mass at Westminster Cathedral on 22 July 1959, during the last few weeks of George Malcolm’s tenure as Master of Music. The lay clerks sang the plainchant propers from the Apse as usual that day, accompanied by Colin Mawby; however, the trebles sang from the Grand Organ tribune at the West end, unconducted, with George Malcolm sitting between them at the organ console. Decca made a live recording of the Mass which they released as a 45, although the Sanctus was replaced by a recording made at Mass the following day which was deemed to be better. The combination of the boys’ tangible sense of connection with the music, the focus of their musical intent and the ‘Malcolm sound’ add up to a very compelling experience. NLM (2013)

I was lucky enough to participate in the Aldeburgh Festival as a boy. I was a chorister at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in the 1970s, and remember George Malcolm performing on the harpsichord at the Cathedral as part of the festival. I got his autograph afterwards, but then managed to lose it. His Missa ad Praesepe remains one of my favourite Mass settings.
Henry Dunn (2012)

I was interested in historical keyboard music when I was at school; I think perhaps I had heard George Malcolm in concert, but I certainly sought out harpsichords. When I went up to Cambridge I initially read Classics, but tired of this and took music courses. Working with colleagues such as David Munrow (with whom I founded the Early Music Consort) shaped my early musical career further.

In terms of tuition, I would have to say that a number of my teachers have shaped my career, including Raphael Puyana and George Malcolm. The Cambridge based harpsichordist Mary Potts was particularly influential as a teacher; I even lived in her house for a while and particularly enjoyed playing her Schudi-Broadwood harpsichord of c.1775, which had formerly belonged to Arnold Dolmetsch whose son Rudolph had been her teacher. Chis Hogwood, Early Music (2012)

During my conversation with Hogwood, fragments of information about Hogwood himself surfaced, of course. He told me, for example, that he had had a few lessons from George Malcolm, making Mary Potts his second harpsichord teacher, not his first, as IÕd thought. He joked that he was not keen for this to be widely known, given that Malcolm had a famously non-historical approach, and that he had needed to be weaned off playing a harpsichord with seven pedals. Semibrevity (2014)

From 'How High Should Boys Sing' - Martin Ashley (2009)


John Eliot Gardiner introduced six of his Bach heroes, as varied as Casals, Britten, Nadia Boulanger and George Malcolm. Malcolm was playing an amazing, technicolour harpsichord of a type hardly used in Bach today. And Britten's early recording from the St John Passion with the English Chamber Orchestra and Wandsworth Boys School Choir was fascinating and uplifting. Bach Marathon (2013)

I am delighted to be giving a lecture about David Munrow and his contribution to the early music revival on the 28th July 2013 at The Dartington International Summer School. George Malcolm invited Munrow to play bassoon at Dartington in the mid 60s and the summer school provided him with important performance opportunities in his early career.
Edward Breen (2013)


St John’s (Islington) was used by the BBC and recording companies in the 1960s and 70s. A memento of those times, a ‘BBC broadcast’ light, can still be found on the organ console. Recordings and broadcasts were given by (to name a few): Simon Preston, Nicolas Kynaston, Flor Peeters, Jane Parker-Smith, Dame Gillian Weir, Sir Nicholas Jackson, Alan Harverson, Graham Steed, Douglas Mews, Philip Moore, Ludwig Ultman, Carmel Dohoghe, George Malcolm, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, Jeremy Filsell, The Vasari Singers, The London Oratory Choir, John McGreal, Adrian Gunning, Joanna Paul, Martin Stacey and Jennifer Bate.

This is the first ever visit of the Papal Choir to this country, a truly historic event, which has allowed us to hear sacred music sung by a choir trained in the European continental style, as distinct from the style and technique of Westminster Cathedral Choir, faithful to the post-war Catholic choral tradition inculcated by the late George Malcolm. The continental choral tradition  has been described as ‘fulsome’ in its manner of presentation, which while creating impressive and lively sound, loses perhaps a little in purity of tone and clarity of enunciation; whereas George Malcolm insisted, among other things, on the importance of these particular qualities, delivered directly and precisely. Since then, this tradition has been honed to near-perfection, with Westminster Cathedral Choir now regarded as one of the finest Cathedral Choirs in the world.  (May 2012)

Michel Howard was unsuccessful in his application to Ely Cathedral in 1949 but when Sidney Campbell moved on in 1953 Howard was invited to re-apply. The appointment by Dean Hankey was both a brave and an inspired one. By now Howard had already married and divorced twice and his appointment was on the condition that there were no further indiscretions.

Although an experienced trainer of adult choirs, Howard had little experience of training boys, and in the early days he enlisted the help of Day McAusland and John Whitworth from The Renaissance Singers. Without completely dismissing Campbell's methods Howard developed a new system of choir training that concentrated on the production of pure, open "Italianate" vowels that were consistent from the bottom to the top notes. The genesis of this approach was his war time experience of hearing Henry Washington's choir at Brompton Oratory whilst deputising as organist for his life long friend Ralph Downes. There was a striking parallel here with the work being done by George Malcolm at Westminster Cathedral. Howard understood the human voice and he taught the boys to sing with a thorough grounding of technique - "Lips Tongue and Teeth" was his favourite aide memoire. Diction was perhaps his greatest preoccupation and his legacy of recordings demonstrates the extent to which he demanded that his singers project their consonants.
Alistair Dixon - Renaissance Society (2002)


From 'Cambridge Companion to Singing' - John Potter (2000)

Nicholas Kenyon: from 'Faber Pocket Guide to Bach' (2011)


Michael Berkely: from 'Britten's Century' (2013)

The finest harpsichordist in the land was undoubtedly, before he sadly departed this life in 1997, my wonderful teacher GEORGE MALCOLM. A complete Renaissance Man: harpsichordist, pianist, arranger, composer, conductor (assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra where I first met him in the 1960s). Tony, The Radio 3 Forum (2014)

John Eliot Gardiner: from 'Music in the Castle of Heaven' (2013)


I was a very close friend of George Malcolm, from 1969 to his death, and I was lucky enough to be, from 1979 to 1989, one of his rare, though not regular (since living in France!) pupils too. He was deeply affected by, and suffered from the ostracism of the "Leonhardt" school, which he found so boring... and so do I!!! Beside the fact that he was playing on these modern instruments, I can't understand how these people don't appreciate the extraordinary "life" of his interpretations. His opinion and analysis of the problem of authenticity, as exposed in the interview I uploaded on the Facebook page I dedicated to George, is quite clear and honest, as he was himself. Robert Descombes (2014)

I was once a harpsichord pupil of Richard Lester, who was not only a rare private pupil but also an esteemed page turner for Malcolm. My lessons frequently had references to what Malcolm had taught him. He still regards Malcolm as one of the two most influential people in his career. Why the modern generation doesn't see him how he should be I could not say. Perhaps the instruments he uses in his recordings? Times have changed and they might see his instruments with the pedals etc as old fashioned. I know that not every moderm harpsichordist does not see him this way. There are many that appreciate him for his true abilities, musicianship and contribution to the early music movement, like myself. Samuel Bristow (2014)

Westminster Cathedral inculcated a distinctive vocal style under George Malcolm since World War II that was called the “continental” style, but that’s now rather meaningless because many Anglican choirs have been informed by it. Malcolm developed a style with a gutsier, more emotionally engaged technique rather than the floaty head voice that he regarded as an old-fashioned, rather precious Anglican style. Anglican choirs now routinely sing repertoire they wouldn’t have done 25 or 30 years ago — Latin masses and other kinds of music. Everything has become much more of a melting pot. And with the advent of CDs, there aren’t any backwaters nobody knows about anymore. James O'Donnell, WCLV (2014)

There is a kind of effortlessness to the singing of the English cathedral choirboy (at the highest levels of selection and training) which tends to produce a wistful, often plaintive sound. It is a timbre that is artless in the finest sense, and most perfect for the Anglo-Catholic liturgical repertoire. I think that even in today's climate of social uniformity one cannot sensibly deny that there is a natural difference between the 'tendencies' of emotional expression between boys and girls. So the boy treble in the finest Anglican cathedral tradition is generally trained to demonstrate that kind of natural emotional detachment in his singing which, for me, profoundly expresses the ineffable nature of traditional cathedral music (if the expression of the ineffable is not a contradiction in terms).

Having said that, some English boy choirs have cultivated a subtly different style of expression, and the Choir of Westminster Cathedral is one of the foremost models for this. Some musicologists believe it began with George Malcolm, the Cathedral's music director in the 1950s and 60s (it was for Malcolm and the choir that Britten composed the album's Missa Brevis in D, in 1959). Malcolm taught the boys to sing in a style that is sometimes referred to as the 'Continental' sound. It involves a more physical effort on the part of the young trebles, a full-throated singing; this in contrast to the lighter 'head' voice, traditionally cultivated in Anglican cathedral trebles. David Hill, the music director on this album, is another exponent of the larger continental sound. In recent years, he also directed the famed men and boys' choir of St. John's College Chapel, Cambridge, where this sound continues as a great legacy from the days of the brilliant choirmaster George Guest, who led St. John's around the same time that George Malcolm was with Westminster Cathedral. Incidentally, this Westminster is not to be confused with the more famous Westminster Abbey, the Anglican seat of English kings and queens. Westminster Cathedral is the English Roman Catholic mother church. For lovers of Anglican cathedral singing, that fact is a pleasant curiosity, as it is generally agreed that the Catholic cathedrals have not produced the quality of choral singing (especially with boys) as the Anglican tradition. L. G. Eaglesham, Amazon (2009)