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Music at Christ Church before 1800

 Music & Letters (November 1999)
‘Dublin has two Protestant cathedrals, which for the capital of a Catholic country seems – well, a bit Irish. The earlier, Christ Church (also known as Holy Trinity), was founded in the eleventh century, and re-established in the twelfth as an Augustinian priory where the Archbishop of Dublin had his seat. In the following century a new secular foundation was built beyond the city walls on the constitutional model of Salisbury Cathedral. At the Reformation, Christ Church was refounded along the lines of English Cathedrals of the New Foundation, and St Patrick’s was disbanded. However, it was restored under Queen Mary in 1555, since when the two have continued side by side, Christ Church serving the city and diocese of Dublin, St Patrick’s the island of Ireland as a kind of ‘national’ cathedral – though, of course, the primatial see is Armagh.

The book under review is divided into two parts, the first dealing with documents relating to the music of the cathedral, the second with the music itself. Part I is divided into three sections: ‘The Latin Rite, 1480-1558’, ‘The Reformation Cathedral, c. 1560-1647’ and ‘Restoration and Establishment, 1660-1800’. Part II contains eight anthems from between the end of the sixteenth century and the end of the eighteenth by composers who were organists of the cathedral or members of the choir.

The documents in the first section begin with the establishment of ‘four singing boys’ in 1480 and, three years later, of a master to teach them. Various Masses were endowed in 1485, including a Mass of the Holy Ghost every Thursday ‘with playn song and sett song, yf it may be, and yf no, att the lest gode and tretable playn song’ (the other documents are in Latin but translated in an appendix). The charter of the new foundation of 1539 stipulated a choir of eight vicars (four senior and four junior) and four choristers with three ‘choral clerks … of whom the first shall be learned in the musical art as well as in playing the organ and in singing plainchant and polyphony, and equally in sufficient descant for instructing the boys, who shall be master of the boys under the precentor and shall minister in  the daily mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in the high mass; and as often as any mass with polyphonic singing shall be celebrated’. The duties of the organist and master of the choristers are defined in a deed of 1546, and the following year letters patent from the king (Edward VI) increased the choir by ‘six priests and two singing boys more than presently exist’. Other documents of this period deal with additional money for the vicars choral and choristers and various orders of service as they were observed towards the end of Queen Mary’s reign.

With the proliferation of records from Queen Elizabeth’s reign onwards, the documentary material is presented in three series: chapter acts, proctors’ (treasurers’) accounts, and deeds and miscellaneous documents. The chapter acts deal mainly with the appointment of organists and members of the choir, and matters of general and individual discipline. In 1638, following a visitation by the bishops of Derry and Waterford it was recommended that the choir be reconstituted as a ‘corporation’ of ten, six of them priests, and ‘because fowre boys be an insufficient Number to make an harmony in the Quire, We thinke meete, two more to be added’, with ‘two Sakebutts and two Cometts to Serve every Sunday’. Some of this may not have come to pass, but at least a seat was made for a sackbut player, at a cost of one shilling, as the proctor’s accounts make clear. Among the deeds and miscellaneous documents in this section (not all of which are form the cathedral records) are extracts from James I’s charter (1604) whereby ‘we do firmly and fully be these presents Erect Create found ordain make Constitute and establish [one would have thought it enough merely to ordain] … Six Vicars choral and four small Choristers to continue at all times hereafter’.

In any case, along came Cromwell, later (but more terrible) in Ireland than in England. At the restoration the choir was re-established and expanded by the addition of eight stipendiaries in 1661 (later reduced to six). This brought the number of men up to twelve, though the boys remained at four until the next century, when they were increased to six and then to eight. Most of the men also belonged to the choir of St Patrick’s and thus enjoyed better (combined) salaried than their English counterparts: a list of choirmen c.1661-4 shows them divided six/six between the two cathedrals, each with two voices to a part. Similarly, the succession of organists at both was more or less identical. Rules of behaviour for the choir were repeatedly promulgated, and reading between the lines it is interesting to see what they got up to, absenteeism being perhaps the commonest and least surprising of their misdemeanours. Payments to dependants show the authorities in a generous light. The boys, especially, seem to have been treated fairly. Their legal status was as apprentices to the proctor, and no doubt by modern standards the regime was harsh, though strictures against frequenting taverns and ‘unlawful houses’, or contracting marriage without permission, seem reasonable. They were fed, clothed, housed, nursed when ill, and seem to have received a good musical and general education.

One can also trace through the records the acquisition of various organs: the first after the Restoration from George Harris with a chair organ by Lancelot Pease (one of the stipendaries), the second by Renatus Harris (though Bernard Smith had been approached first), the third by John Byfield. The day-to-day cost of tuning and maintaining these instruments can be seen in the proctor’s accounts; likewise the cost of buying music paper, copying partbooks and binding them. Specially composed music was paid for, and published collections of church music by Greene, Boyce etc. acquired.

Enough has been said to give an idea of the scope of this material. Its interest and importance to the musical history of this particular cathedral, and social history in general, is obvious. Barra Boydell’s editing appears highly competent. and his introductory summaries give a succinct, well-balanced digest of the items that follow. In addition, there are useful reproductions of various documents. Two appendices include the Latin translations, and lists of the organists and masters of the choristers.

Part II, containing ‘Selected Anthems’, begins with a useful introduction dealing with Christ Church repertory and its sources during the period. The examples chosen include Thomas Bateson’s seven-part ‘Holy, Lord God almighty’, edited from New York Public Library Drexel MSS 4181-5 since it is not in the cathedral partbooks, which do not survive from before the middle of the eighteenth century. Bateson is best known as the author of two books of madrigals, and in fact this seems to be his only piece of sacred music. Probably it was never sung at Christ Church (nor at any other cathedral until the present century), since all its sources are secular. It is an impressive piece all the same, which is more than can be said of the two anthems which follow by Richard Hosier, a member of the choir before the Civil War and master of the choristers from the Restoration until his death in 1677. His ‘Consecration Anthem’ (‘Now that the Lord hath readvanc’d the crown’) was sung at the great service held at the cathedral on 27 January 1661 at which twelve new bishops were consecrated for the Irish Church following g the interregnum. It is a verse anthem with stiff declamatory solos and a very sub-Carissimi ‘Halleluja’ chorus, which it shares with the second anthem, ‘Thou, O God art prais’d in Sion’. Both are from Hosier’s anthem book now at Durham Cathedral (MS B.1) as is John Blett’s ‘Thou art my strength’.

These anthems from a rather impoverished period – the early Restoration – whereas the harmonic richness of Ralph Roseingrave’s ‘I will cry unto God’ reflects a much more opulent era. (Roseingrave was organist from 1727 to 1747 in succession to his father, Daniel.) It is the first of these anthems to be drawn from the cathedral partbooks, which also provide sources for the two works to follow: Robert Shenton’s ‘The beauty of Israel is slain’ and Richard Woodward’s ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’. Both Shenton and Woodward were members of the choir in the second half of the eighteenth century: the former was Deans; vicar from 1757 until his death in 1798: the latter was organist between 1765 and 1777 and published his own collection of Cathedral Music in London in 1771. The editing shared between Dr Boydell and Carol Cunningham, seems capable though on checking the commentary to see whether there was any mention of a pair of consecutive unisons between alto and first tenor in the Roseingrave (bar 42) I drew a blank. ( I would have thought the sources were corrupt and would have proposed an emendation – officiously no doubt.)

Both as a documentary study and as a showcase for cathedral music in Ireland this book is a valuable achievement. It supplements W. Harry Grindle’s pioneering Irish Cathedral Music: a History if Music at the Cathedrals of the Church of Ireland (Belfast, 1989) by focusing a spotlight on one particular institution (though hardly a typical one from the musical point of view) and dealing with it in a way that will satisfy specialist and non-specialist alike. I wish English cathedrals could raise their sights above cheaply printed pamphlets on organs and organists’ Ian Spink, Music & Letters, 80 no.4 (nov 1999)

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