Durham Cathedral Choir Association

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Each English Cathedral has amassed its own collection of music over the years. Much of this will be shared with other places - the vast majority of music performed at Evensong day by day through the land has been composed by men who were Choristers, Lay Clerks or Organists of cathedrals - but each cathedral probably also has some music unique to itself. Durham Cathedral, albeit one of the greatest buildings in the world, nevertheless cannot boast a Weelkes or a Wesley; for while William Smith’s Preces and Responses are known far and wide, and Richard Lloyd’s music continues to reach and delight an ever-growing number, few if any of its remaining composers have found fame at large. Yet, as this recoding demonstrates, such obscurity is in many cases undeserved.

Opening with a plainsong hymn from the 12th century in honour of St Cuthbert, the recording then explores service music, verse anthems and full anthems from the Tudor period. Bishop Cosin’s translation of the ancient Latin hymn Veni, creator Spiritus (arguably Durham’s most significant contribution to English literature and a text ordained for use at Ordinations not only in the Prayer Book of 1662 but also in the Alternative Service Book of 1980) brings to a close the early period. A single example of J.B. Dykes’ prolific output opens a more modern chapter, which includes music from the last hundred years, and especially that of Richard Lloyd (whose prolific æuvre really deserves a recording to itself).

This section also includes two items from a series of works specifically commissioned for the Cathedral by the Dean and Chapter. The first such work was the Ikon of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne by John Tavener, written in 1987 for the 1300th anniversary of the Saint’s death; it may be heard on the Priory recording Choral Evensong for St Cuthbert’s Day. The series has continued with Richard Lloyd’s Durham Service and Francis Grier’s Thou, O God, art praised in Sion; coupled to it may be John Casken’s Sunrising, written as a gift to the Cathedral in the 900th anniversary year of the present building in 1993, upon the composer’s leaving Durham to become Professor of Music at Manchester.

Without such generosity, and without the devotion of those who (from John Brimley to Ian Shaw) have given of their talents and the goodness of their hearts to write music for use in the Cathedral, this recording could not have been made. It would not have been possible, either, without the work of Simon Anderson, who has reconstructed and copied much of the early music heard here. He would be the first to pay tribute to Dr Brian Crosby, himself a long-time Alto Lay Clerk at Durham and a Master in the Chorister School; his life-long study of the music of Durham and his cataloguing of the music in the Dean and Chapter Library has laid foundations which will continue to be built upon for generations. The Fantasia by William Smith was transcribed by Andrew Fowler, many other of whose editions and reconstructions are in regular use here too. All three will have left Durham or retired from active service by the time this recoding is released; I am glad to pay public tribute to them in introducing a recording which will stand inter alia as a monument to their work.

© James Lancelot, 1996

The Music

Verbum Pater eructavit                                                                                                                                                                                                   Plainsong

Verbum Pater eructavit is a sequence from the Proper Mass for the Deposition of Blessed Cuthbert, and dates from 1104. Until the Dissolution of the Monastic Foundation at Durham in 1541 Cuthbert was commemorated daily at Lauds and Vespers and every Thursday at a Votive Mass. Verbum Pater eructavit seems to have been specially composed for the Mass of the Deposition, and as such is our only witness to the active cultivation of music at Durham in the 12th century, The words celebrate Cuthbert as a living saint and worker of miracles.

Responses to the Commandments                                                                                                                                                    John Brimley (c. 1502 - 76)

Brimley was the last monastic Lay Cantor of the old foundation, and at the Reformation became the first Master of the Choristers and Organists of the new Cathedral. This setting of the Kyrie, or more correctly, the Responses to the Commandments, was written to be sung with John Sheppard’s Second Creed. It was clearly intended for festal occasions such as Christmas Day, setting four different responses (one each for commandments one to three, four to six and seven to nine, and one for the first nine commandments, and one for the tenth). In this recording each response is heard once only, using the first four commandments. Brimley is buried in the Cathedral's Galilee Chapel, where part of his epitaph reads,

By musickes heavenlie harmonie

Dull myndes he maid in God rejoice.”

Lord, I am not high-minded                                                                                                                                               Richard Hutchinson (c. 1590 - 1646)

Durham’s answer to Thomas Weelkes in terms of notoriety, though sadly not in terms of compositional output or quality, Hutchinson was a Chorister, Lay Clerk and Organist of Durham Cathedral, holding the latter post from 1613 until his death, excluding a stretch in jail for ‘the breaking of the head of Toby Broking one of the singing men of this church with a Candelsticke in An Alehouse, wounding him verie dangerously’. He was something of a virtuoso organist, and this may have prevented his dismissal, though he was relieved of his duties as Master of the Choristers on ac-count of his ‘frequent hanting [sic] of Aile houses’ and ‘divers other evill demeanors’.

Behold now, praise the Lord                                                                                                                                                William White (c. 1570 - after 1622)

William White was a Chorister at Durham Cathedral from 1578 to c. 1587. He is next heard of in London at the start of the 17th century listed as one of the singing men of Westminster Abbey at the funeral of Elizabeth I in 1603. Whilst at London he composed a number of pieces for viol consort, and seems to have been an acquaintance of Tomkins, who dedicated a song to him in his 1622 publication. Only three anthems can be assigned to William White with any authority, confusion arising with two other composers sharing his surname. We can be sure in the case of this anthem, as the Durham organ book attributes the piece to “Will: White of Durham”.

Behold now, praise the Lord is a full anthem in five parts and is probably an early work written before his move to London. It is a vibrant hymn of praise with a distinctly modal flavour. The words are from Psalm 134.

Almighty and everlasting God                                                                                                                                                             William Smith (1603 - 45)

Durham’s most prolific 17th century composer, William Smith was a Chorister, Minor Canon and Precentor of Durham Cathedral, though never Organist except for a short period deputizing for the imprisoned Hutchinson. His well known Preces and Responses aside, he was also responsible for seven verse anthems, five festal psalms, two communion services and a Kyrie ‘10: severall wayes’. Additionally two organ fantasias survive n his hand, the first which is recorded here.

Almight and everlasting God sets the text of the Collect for the Purification concisely and effectively, making use of the prevalent device of the imitative verse section, and displaying Smith’s predilection for lengthy verse sections and short choruses, the first chorus here lasting a total of just eight minim beats. Smith took this verse/ chorus proportion to its extreme in his Second Creed which, save for the ‘amen’, is entirely a verse setting. He was by far the most competent of the several Durham composers of his day, showing a more varied harmonic language and a better ability to sustain counterpoint through a phrase. Thirteen of Gibbons’ anthems were in the Durham repertoire in Smith’s time, and his influence is readily apparent in this piece.

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem                                                                                                                                  Richard Nicholson (c. 1570 - c. 1639)

A Rychard Nycholson was a Chorister at Durham Cathedral in the 1570s. He is last recorded as a pupil at Durham School in 1584. He may wall be the same Richard Nicholson who was Organist of Magdalen College, Oxford from 1594 until his death in 1639, and who was responsible for a handful of pieces surviving at Lichfield Cathedral and the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This rather tenuous link is strengthened by the fact that an anthem by the Durham organist Edward Smith is represented in the Bodleian manuscripts in an arrangement for viol accompaniment and attributed to “R.N.”.

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem is one of only two surviving anthems by Nicholson and is a full anthem in five parts. It sets the text with feeling and displays a good sense of melody. His technique is sound, though the harmony remains rather static. None of his music survives at Durham, suggesting he move away before becoming active as a composer.

Fantasia No. 1                                                                                                                                                                                         William Smith (1603 - 45)

Fantasia No. 1 for organ survives at the back of an organ book in the Cathedral Library in William Smith’s hand. Unusually for him he signs neither his name nor his initials anywhere in the music, raising some small doubts about his authorship. Certainly the incomplete Fantasia No. 2, also in his hand, is of a poor and often eccentric quality which does not match up to Smith’s standards.

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire                                                                                                                                                        Veni Creator (Mechlin)

John Cosin’s association with Durham Cathedral, which began in 1619 with his appointments as Bishop's chaplain, was as long as it was colourful and influential. He became a Prebendary (i.e. a Major Canon) in 1624 and soon began impressing his high-church inclinations upon the musical establishment. He was no doubt instrumental in the introduction of sackbuts and cornets to augment the organ, which, according to his great antagonist, Peter Smart ‘yield an hydeous noyse’.

Cosin favoured elaborate musical settings, and those such as William Smith’s Second Creed and his Kyrie ‘10: severall wayes’ must surely be the results of his influence. In 1635 Cosin was appointed Master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and there he set about creating a similar choral foundation to the one he had helped evolve at Durham. He took with him Thomas Wilson, a Durham Chorister, to be his Organist, and he arranged for the copying of a large amount of music from the Durham repertoire into the Peterhouse manuscripts.

At the Restoration in 1660 Cosin was appointed Bishop of Durham. Not only did he spend a great deal of money restoring the interior of the Cathedral, providing new wooden choir stalls and an ornate font, both of which survive today, but he also provided a chapel for the Bishop’s Palace at Auckland. Doubtless he also influenced a swift return to the regular pattern of worship in the style that he preferred in his time as Prebendary.

Still throned in heaven                                                                                                                                  Tune Lux vera; John Bacchus Dykes (1823 - 76)

Dykes brought to an end two hundred years of relative musical obscurity for Durham. Although plenty of music survives from this period at Durham, from the early attempts at imitating the incoming Italian style of Humphrey, Blow and Purcell in the 1670s to the prolific Tomas Ebdon who composed sixty anthems during his 48 years as Organist, it is at present considered of little musical merit. After studying the organ with Walmisley, Dykes came to Durham in 1849 as minor canon and Precentor. The choir is said to have improved with his insistence on more rehearsal and regular attendance of the lay clerks. In 1862 he resigned his cathedral posts to become vicar of St. Oswald’s church, Durham.

Dykes sent seven hymn tunes to the editors of the forthcoming Hymns Ancient and Modern. All were accepted and more requested, the first edition eventually containing over 50 of his tunes. Of the small number to have withstood the modern reaction again Victorian hymnody are included Holy, holy holy, Jesu, lover of my soul, Praise to the holiest in the height,  and Eternal Father, strong to save.

Psalm 142                                                                                                                                                                                Chant: Arnold Culley (1867 - 1947)

After reading music at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Culley was ordained and went to Exeter Cathedral as deputy priest-vicar choral. He moved to Durham in 1906, initially a minor canon and Precentor, but the following year became Organist, a post which he held for 25 years until his retirement in 1932. He was one of the last recipients of the F.C.O. Diploma in 1893 before the college received its royal charter (the diploma becoming the F.R.C.O.). Culley has a handful of fine chants in the Durham cycle, of which the D major chant to Psalm 142 is sung each month.

Try me, O God                                                                                                                                                                                                            Arnold Culley

Try me, O God, an anthem for men’s voices, was written shortly after his graduating from Cambridge, and was published in 1893.

Psalm 114                                                                                                                                                                                      Chant: Conrad Eden (1905 - 94)

Eden was a chorister and Organist of Wells Cathedral before moving to Durham in 1936, holding the post of Organist and Master of the Choristers until 1974. He composed all manner of church music, much of which is still sung at Durham, notably the Evening Canticles in G, the Acclamations for Christmas, Easter and Whitsunday, and a number of psalm chants.

Grey Towers of Durham                                                                                                                                                                                              Conrad Eden

Grey Towers of Durham sets to music the words of the Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott which are engraved in the stonework of Prebends Bridge in Durham looking up to the Cathedral from the south-west.

Who dreads, yet undismayed                                                                                                                                Tune: Elton; John Dykes Bower (1905 - 81)

Dykes Bower studied organ with Herbert Brewer, and was Organist of Truro Cathedral, where he remained for the rest of his working life. The middle name ‘Dykes’ records his family links with J.B. Dykes.

Virtue                                                                                                                                                                                                             Richard Lloyd (b. 1933)

Richard Lloyd was assistant Organist of Salisbury Cathedral and Organist of Hereford Cathedral before moving to Durham in 1974, holding the post of Organist and Master of the Choristers until returning to Salisbury in 1985. During his eleven years at Durham he composed a great deal of music to order for special occasions. Virtue was written in 1995 as a gift to James Lancelot and the Cathedral Choir.

Christ is the morning star                                                                                                                                                                                         Richard Lloyd

Christ is the morning star was written in 1983 for the tenth anniversary of the enthronement of Bishop John Habgood, and first performed at the west wend of the Cathedral, close to the tomb of the author of the words, the Venerable Bede.

The Durham Service                                                                                                                                                                                                   Richard Lloyd

The Durham Service was comissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Durham and first performed at the 1991 Northern Cathedrals Festival in Durham Cathedral by the choirs of York Minster, Ripon Cathedral and Durham Cathedral.

Sunrising                                                                                                                                                                                                      John Casken (b. 1949)

Now Professor of Music at Manchester University, John Casken was a Lecturer in Music at Durham University from 1981 to 1992. He wrote Sunrising as a gift to Durham Cathedral in 1993, the year of its 900th anniversary.

Balulalow                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ian Shaw (b. 1960)

Ian Shaw was Sub-Organist of Durham Cathedral from 1982 until 1991, during which time he composed a number of pieces for the Cathedral Choir. Bulalow  was written in 1983 for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols and continues to be performed at that service from time to time.

Thou, O God, art praised in Sion                                                                                                                                                             Francis Grier (b. 1956)

Successively a chorister at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, music scholar at Eton College, organ scholar at King’s College, Cambridge and Assistant Organist at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, Francis Grier later resigned his posts at Oxford to study further and devote more time to composition. He has contributed the following note:

Thou, O God, art praised in Sion was commissioned for the 900th anniversary of Durham Cathedral. It was first performed there on 20 March 1993, the feast-day of St Cuthbert. The Organist and Choirmaster of Durham, James Lancelot, is one of my oldest musical friends, and so it was with pleasure that I dedicated the piece to him. Durham was the bishopric of St Cuthbert, that Celtic St Francis, and so I was keen to find a text that could both celebrate the civic Cathedral and also the wonders of nature which St Cuthbert so loved, and from which he seems to have derived his spirituality. I found all this in Psalm 65, which I decided to set in its Prayer Book translation, not only because of my fondness for it per se but because it also symbolized the best of the traditional aspect of the Anglican Church. It is a pæan of praise, in which “the valleys also shall so thick with corn that they shall laugh and sing.”

© Simon Anderson

Durham Commisions.mp3

Durham Comissions

PRCD 562


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Verbatum Pater eructavit

John Brimley

Responses to the Commandments

Richard Hutchinson

Lord, I am not high-minded

William White

Behold now, praise the Lord

William Smith

Almighty and everlasting Lord

Richard Nicholson

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem

William Smith

Fantasia No. 1

Veni Creator (Mechin)

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire

Tune: Lux vera; John Bacchus Dykes

Still throned in heaven

Chant: Arnold Culley

Psalm 142

Arnold Culley

Try me, O God

Chant: Conrad Eden

Grey Towers of Durham

Tune: Elton; John Dykes Bower

Who dreads, yet undismayed

Richard Lloyd


Richard Lloyd

Christ is the morning star

Richard Lloyd

The Durham Service


Nunc Dimittis

John Casken


Ian Shaw


Francis Grier

Thou, O God, art praised in Sion