Letter from Elgar to George's mother (1924)
From "Britten's Children" John Bridcut (2006)
From David Nice: Blog (2011)
Julian Berkely (2012)
From "Criticism" Hans Keller (1987)
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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, Oremus 2016)
Hunting the LP shelves it was very nice to drag out the old Argo Tenebrae Responses (George Malcolm). Now that's a disc with atmosphere (R3 Forum 2016)
(Imogen Holsts's) choice of music during these years was largely pre-eighteenth century with twentieth century here and there. She did not regard the nineteenth century as her territory and when in 1966 she was unable to avoid it, she asked George Malcolm to conduct. (C G Tinker 2013)
WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL CHOIR SCHOOL
In October 1901 Westminster Choir School opened with an enrollment of thirteen students. In 1905 the school acquired its own building and provided for the education and training of twenty-five boys. Except for being closed during World War II, and despite various crisies, the choir school has remained in constant operation since 1901.
The use of professional singers, or "singing men" as they were called when first employed in 1903, has always been an important and vital part of the Cathedral music programme. The expense of employing these singers has been considerable and their number has varied greatly throughout the years. For example, in 1903 nine were hired, and their number increased to fifteen two years later, only to be reduced to nine one again in 1906. By 1912 there were only six, and by 1918 the Cathedral employed only four full-time professional singers.
The first musical director was Richard Runciman Terry (1865-1938). Terry had been a choral scholar at Kings College, Cambridge, and converted to the Roman Catholic faith in1896. He became England's leading expert on on early sacred music and lead the revival of interest in 16th century English church music. He set a very high standard for excellence at westminster and his men and boys choir was extremely active in providing for the Cathedral liturgies. During 1910, for example, they sang an almost unbelievable total of 420 High Masses at the Cathedral. Terry resigned in 1924, complaining (probably with some justification) that he had been poorly supported in his position. He was replaced by two priests, Father Russell and Father Long, the former as Master of the Music and the latter as Choir Master. Father Launcelot Long had been one of Terry's original choirboys and he did his best to maintain the tradition and standards whig Terry had established during his tenure at Westminster. Father William Stacey Bainbridge became Master of Music in 1939, soon replaced by William Hyde, one of Terry's "singing men" who had served as an assistant organist and choir teacher since 1924.
When George Malcolm was appointed in 1947 to direct the Cathedral's music programme, he retained William Hyde as his assistant. Malcolm remained at Westminster until 1959 and did a great deal to restore a high standard of excellence in the choral programme. Educated at the Royal College of Music and at Balliol, Oxford, Malcolm was a musician of the highest caliber, and he later went on to a very noted career as a harpsichordist and conductor. Just prior to his departure from Westminster, the choir sang the first performance of Benjamin Britten's Missa Brevis, which the composer had written especially for the Boy's Choir out of admiration for the quality of their singing. Malcolm was succeeded in turn by Colin Mawby, Stephen Cleobury, David Hill, James O'Donnell and Martin Baker, all of whom maintained a very high level of excellence, making Westminster Cathedral Choir one of England's finest choral groups. (Vincent a Lenti 1999)
Herbert Fryer was born in London in 1877 and was a pupil of Oscar Beringer (1844- 1922) at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM). Beringer gave the British premiere of Brahms’ Piano Concerto no. 2. Fryer won a scholarship to RCM and spent time with Busoni at Weimar. Fryer was professor of piano at RAM (1905-1914) and, thereafter, went to New York where he was professor of piano for the duration of World War I, before taking up a similar post at RCM. His students included Philip Challis, Constant Lambert, who dedicated his Rio Grande to him, George Malcolm, Cyril Smith, Kendall Taylor and Colin Horsley. Fryer died in 1975. (David Wright)
Henry Purcell : Dido and Aeneas, Opera in three acts,
real. and ed. Britten & I. Holst
Claire Watson (Soprano); Peter Pears (Tenor); Jeanette Sinclair (Soprano); Arda Mandikian (Mezzo-Sopano); Jean Allister (Alto); Patricia Clark (Soprano); John Hahessy (Alto); Rosemary Philips (Voice); Michael Ronayne (Treble)
George Malcolm (Harpsichord)
Purcell Singers / English Opera Group (Chamber Orchestra) conducted by Benjamin Britten
1959/09/29 & 1959/09/30 - BBC Studios, London, England
One of Britten’s very good friends was George Malcolm, harpsichordist and organist, who was Director of Music at Westminster Cathedral between 1947 and 1959. Britten attended a carol service in the cathedral in 1958, when his Ceremony of Carols was performed. George Malcolm decided to quit the cathedral in 1959, and Britten wanted to write a work for him before he left. They got together in Aldeburgh to talk about it, and Britten then very quickly sketched out the Missa Brevis more or less as we have it today. It was performed on 22nd July the same year, shortly before Malcom stood down. Just as with the Ceremony of Carols, it is set for three upper voices only, accompanied in this case by organ rather than harp.
Britten’s religious background was as a low church Anglican, so his understanding of Catholic liturgy and theology needed a little updating, a task that George Malcolm readily undertook. The result is a work that consciously builds the concepts of the Mass itself into the music. Britten was not a composer who simply wrote out pretty or even elegant music passages as his imagination took him. Every note and phrase, every use of key, or manipulation of melody, has a purpose and a meaning. He also picked up on the way that Catholic music through the ages has built on the language of chant.
Readers of these notes will be used to being told that a Renaissance mass is based on a particular bit of chant (a cantus firmus mass) or on a motet (a parody mass). Well, Britten knew about this, and the Missa Brevis takes its basic thematic material from Mass XV in the Graduale, which bears the title Dominator Deus (Sovereign Lord). This thematic material is then reworked through the Britten magic into highly imaginative textures and phrases.
The setting throughout is concise: a series of impassioned pleas for mercy in the Kyrie that cascade from the top of the vocal range to the bottom and then, in the Christe section climb back up. For the final Kyrie, they once again descend the same path, but this time more reflectively and gently. The Gloria builds a series of arch shapes in a series of contrasting keys. All the time, there is tremendous rhythmic intensity pushing the music forward. A brief pause for a calmer central section Qui tollis peccata mundi nevertheless is constantly commented upon by urgent voices answering each phrase which burst back in to drive the movement to its quiet but very effective conclusion. Throughout, the impression is given that we are engaged in something with an urgency behind it, something of great importance, able to evoke an almost breathless intensity.
The Sanctus manipulates the chant motif into a series of unmistakeable imitations of a peal of bells – obviously a reference to the bells used in the sanctuary during the liturgy. Moreover, each of these phrases passes through every available pitch – a procedure borrowed from the principles of musical serialism, which Britten occasionally used for certain special effects, although absolute serialism was never his thing. In this case, his aim in using all twelve pitches in the octave is to build a picture of the heavenly and earthly hosts combining from all corners of creation to sing the praises of God in the words of the Sanctus. It is a vivid and exciting image. The Benedictus is a delightful duet between two solo voices that ultimately intertwine before the Hosanna reappears. The Agnus Dei is a little unusual in that Britten uses short stabbing notes over a wandering pedal figure to give a sense of tension in the music. He picks up in this way on the fact that a Mass begins and ends with urgent pleas for mercy. The Kyrie obviously is all about this, but even after we have gone through the whole liturgy and the Sacrament is on the altar, we have reached no point of peace or respite according to his vision: in his hands, the Agnus Dei is an urgently renewed request for mercy and peace. The voices and organ combine to give a truly uneasy, unsettling, and anxiety-inducing quality to the setting of the text, reminding us of our weakness and unworthiness as we approach the altar. (2015)
Kenneth Skeaping 1897-1977, pioneer 'period volinist' and viol player had 'recently' died and Early Music Magazine printed two pages of tributes including this:
'On Kenneth's eightieth birthday I wrote to him, claiming to be his 'earliest surviving pupil'. I used to have lessons with him when I, at the age of 7, was the RCM's youngest pupil whilst he, at the age of 27, was possibly its youngest professor.
The fact that I never turned into a violinist was certainly not his fault! I have happy recollections of looking forward weekly to those friendly and stimulating lessons.