OR those of our readers who have been following the events at Westminster Cathedral (UK) that precipitated and followed the departure of Martin Baker as the director of music, and the articles I penned for this blog (1, 2 and 3), we are pleased to publish a contribution submitted by Gregory Treloar. Gregory studied music at Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of York in the United Kingdom, before undertaking choral scholarships at Blackburn and Norwich Cathedrals. His post comments on a public letter written by the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, following the departure of one of Mr Baker’s predecessors, Sir Richard Runciman Terry, in quite different circumstances.
Now follows the guest article by Mr. Gregory Treloar:
The Diocese of Westminster recently announced that they would be undertaking a ‘strategic review of sacred music in the mission of Westminster Cathedral’ and ‘welcom[ed] submissions from interested parties’. In this spirit, I would like to offer the advice of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) who, despite having crossed the bar many years ago, has left astute advice for those in the business of appointing a director of music to England’s most important Catholic cathedral.
Vaughan Williams wrote to The Times following Sir Richard Terry’s (1865-1938) resignation as director of music at Westminster Cathedral in 1924 demonstrating a greater understanding of the spiritual and musical importance of Westminster Cathedral’s choir than most clergy and musicians (see below for full text).
Of course, there are some parallels between the current situation faced by the cathedral following the resignation of Martin Baker (upon which others have commented) and the situation that faced the cathedral in 1924, which are not worth addressing here. But crucially, Westminster Cathedral remains among the best and most iconic representations of the Catholic choral tradition in the world with an importance both within and outside the Catholic Church. This is the most important parallel that should guide those reviewing the Cathedral music and mission. Failure to appreciate fully its role in both these spheres would be detrimental to the Catholic musical tradition (as distinct from the Anglican Tradition) or potentially, its international standing in the musical world.
Westminster Cathedral Then
The roots of Westminster’s importance may be traced to Richard Terry the first Director of Music appointed in 1901. He was an important figure in the musical establishment who, with a small group of supporters, revived vast amounts of polyphonic repertoire by great European composers such as Byrd, Palestrina, Vittoria, and Tallis. While most of the Catholic Church and Anglican Church alike were still wallowing in very fine but indulgent and chromatic Victoriana, Terry was unearthing, pioneering, and trailblazing a Catholic musical heritage that had lain forgotten and unperformed since the Reformation. Through this, he wrought a shift in Catholic music across the country.
Though the standard of singing at Westminster Cathedral had declined by the time Terry gave up the reigns (largely due to a breakdown of his relationship with Francis Cardinal Bourne), it remained a beacon of an austere and profoundly spiritual repertoire which, in the words of Vaughan Williams, allowed
“thousands of listeners from every country and every faith [to find] their spiritual ideals satisfied by the great music they have heard there. Palestrina and Byrd speak not to one faith or to one Church, but to everyone who has ears to hear and a heart to understand.”
Terry’s work clearly had a secular importance that continues to this day. Many people of many faiths and beliefs find themselves in Westminster Cathedral or listening to its choir’s fine recordings in search of the divine or quality music. Furthermore, the musical world has often looked to Westminster Cathedral Choir as the embodiment of the Catholic tradition. In Terry’s day Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), that great musician of the Anglican Tradition, would encourage his students from the Royal College of Music to visit Westminster to experience a performance of polyphony that was rarely found in early 1900s London society.
Terry ensured that Westminster Cathedral was at the heart of London’s musical life through commissions such as Vaughan Williams’ great Mass in G Minor, Holst’s sublime Nunc Dimittis and Herbert Howells’ Mass in the Dorian Mode. He founded a choir school that produced some of the twentieth century’s finest talent in Dom Gregory Murray (trained under Terry) and Colin Mawby trained under George Malcom. These are, in a sense, secular (or not directly spiritual) by-products of the symbiotic relationship between a strong Catholic tradition and a secular outlook.
Terry’s influence was not confined to the Cathedral or music world; he hugely influenced Catholic music across the country at many levels. He managed to instigate real reform in many choir lofts across the land. Many still contain the remnants of Terry’s fairly shoddy (but cheap and accessible) editions of polyphonic music from the early twentieth century. His music was widely and frequently used across the country up until the Second Vatican Council.
Given that this required a shift in repertoire away from that characterized by Vaughan Williams by reference to the composer Jan Kalivoda (1801-1866; whose name was printed in the German prints of his Masses in F, G and A as “Johann Kalliwoda”, and whom RVW seems to have considered disparagingly) and Charles Gounod (1818-1893), this was not only a significant accomplishment for Terry, but also demonstrates the wider importance of the director of music at Westminster Cathedral in United Kingdom’s musical life. The influence of the director of music at Westminster is felt not only in the musical life of that Cathedral, but in that of the wider English-speaking Catholic Church.
Westminster Cathedral Now
Westminster Cathedral Choir was (and is) the showcase of a spiritual and cultural heritage and Vaughan Williams recognized its vital importance to Catholics and wider society alike. It is for this reason that Vaughan Williams’ plea for the Cathedral authorities to “show that in one English institution at all events, a great ideal, once conceived, can be maintained and made permanent” by appointing a director who can demonstrate the “skill and knowledge for his task and the authority and personality to carry it out in the face of possible opposition” rings true even today and the current situation.
Yet there is an added importance to Westminster Cathedral today. Unlike the Anglican Tradition which is blessed with many stable strongholds and great institutions to uphold and showcase its musical tradition, Westminster Cathedral Choir is the largest stakeholder of a much smaller and economically poorer Catholic musical tradition. It is a tradition that has been struggling to come to terms with the ecclesiastical tinkering of the twentieth century.
Therefore, in a nutshell, if the tradition at Westminster suffers, the Catholic Church’s musical tradition across Britain and the world suffers. Today the Choir stands among the finest choirs of the world, and is perhaps the finest Catholic choir in the world; something which I for one would like to see upheld. In the words of Roger Scruton, “good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created” (How to be a Conservative, p. viii).
It seems inconceivable that the choir school and choral tradition that has been built up at Westminster Cathedral over the past 118 years could collapse, but musical traditions are fragile and Westminster must show real investment in its Catholic musical heritage and inspiration in their deliberations, as a service not only to itself and the faithful from across the globe that worship there, but indeed as service to the worldwide Church. The eyes of the musical and ecclesiastical world will be looking on in anticipation.
In 1924 Vaughan Williams’ call for Westminster to “show that in one English institution at all events, a great ideal, once conceived, can be maintained and made permanent” fell on deaf ears. It was not until the appointment of George Malcom in 1947 that the Cathedral managed to appoint a musician capable of creating an excellent choir of international repute, and regaining Westminster’s musical importance.
Thankfully this has been continued through to Martin Baker, whose fine work over the past 20 years has seen the Catholic musical tradition and heritage fostered and developed, as Martin Baker’s recordings of medieval and modern works by John Sheppard and James Macmillan attest. Under his direction BBC Radio 3 broadcast Tenebrae, live from Westminster in Holy Week 2018: a mark of Westminster’s continued importance to society and the musical world. Throughout his tenure, Baker continued the tradition established by Terry into our contemporary climate: providing a beacon of the Catholic music heritage and tradition going forward for the world and the Church.
The strategic review is no doubt important and necessary as the cathedral prepare to appoint a new director, but the talk that has surrounded the recent changes to the choir school, and the Catholic Church’s track record for a novel and often harmful approach to managing its musical tradition gives Catholics, musicians, and most especially Catholic musicians, just cause to be slightly wary of such affairs. Clergy and laypeople alike have often sought to use church music as a liturgical football that can be kicked towards the goal of one’s own flavour, taste, or in search of some misguided application of the principal of ‘active participation’. And yet, music remains ‘that treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art’ (CCC 1156), so whatever the price, the musical tradition particularly at Westminster must be fostered.
Therefore, I hope that Vaughan Williams advice will be heeded and that someone who has not only the necessary musical skill, but a real understanding of the Catholic musical heritage and tradition be found. A candidate who fully grasps this tradition, knows what sets it apart, and who is willing to invest in it. Finally (and most importantly), I hope that the strategic review will look beyond the Cathedral and know the significance that the Cathedral choir has for the wider Church, the world and the faithful and non-faithful of London who need it.
The following was published in The Times on the 4th April, 1924.