IR RICHARD Runciman Terry (d. 1938) was an English organist, choirmaster, composer, and musicologist. He has often been mentioned on Views from the Choir Loft because he was a great writer and musician. We might not always agree with everything he says, yet his writing is always interesting and provocative. Sir Richard’s words below (in some ways) seem to apply to our current situation:
Biography of Sir Richard Terry
Richard Terry was born in 1864 in Ellington, Northumberland. At the age of 11 he started playing the organ at the local church. He studied at Oxford and Cambridge. At Cambridge, he was much influenced by the Professor of Music, Charles Villiers Stanford and the King’s Chapel organist Arthur Henry Mann who taught him the techniques of choral singing and the training of boys’ voices. Terry left Cambridge in 1890 without taking a degree. Terry underwent conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1896. In 1896, he was appointed organist and director of music at the Roman Catholic Benedictine Downside School in Somerset. (Dom Gregory Murray says Terry was his choirmaster, but this was years later at Westminster.) It was here where he began the massively important work of reviving the Latin music of Tudor English composers such as William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. He was greatly inspired by the revival of Gregorian chant by Dom Prosper Guéranger at Solesmes Abbey in France, which was to be an important part of the Downside musical repertoire.
In 1899 Terry took his Downside choir to Ealing for the opening of the new Benedictine church, where they sang William Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices and motets by Palestrina, Philips, and Father Allegri. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (d. 1903), was the preacher on the occasion and he decided that he would have Terry as his Master of Music at the newly built Westminster Cathedral. Terry’s time at Westminster Cathedral was marked by admiration and praise, as well as frustrations. While Terry’s relation with Cardinal Vaughan was excellent, it was less so with his successor, Cardinal Francis Bourne. Bourne’s different view on church music, a continual shortage of financial means to support the choir, the decrease in the number of lay clerks during and after the World War I, together with Terry’s engagements in other things outside the Cathedral led to a prolonged period of tension.
Terry was forced to resign from the Cathedral in 1924, after coming under increasing criticism for his erratic behavior and neglect of duty (including neglecting administrative work, taking off without leave for weeks at a time, cancelling choir rehearsals without notice, dismissing Lay Clerks without proper procedure, taking on too many engagements outside his Cathedral work, and tensions due to his inconsistent approach to congregational singing at the Cathedral). Nonetheless, during this time he was able to establish a choral tradition of great merit at the Cathedral, developing a repertoire of both Gregorian chant and polyphonic music.