Monday, 27 May 2013

Worcester Cathedral organists through the ages.

A new mini display, put together by your blogger and some of the library volunteers, looks at the lives of the organists at Worcester Cathedral from 1468-1945.

Comprising of three glass cases, the small display is located in the south nave aisle of the Cathedral, and examines six influential organists who lived through some of the most tumultuous periods in English history.

The display incorporates account books, original music manuscripts and photographs that reveal the characters of influential Worcester Cathedral organists, such as Thomas Tomkins and Sir Ivor Atkins (friend of Sir Edward Elgar). Below are some images and facts about some of the organists who feature. Enjoy!

Photograph, Accounts of the Master of the Chapel (1415). Photograph by Mr Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist. Reproduced by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

  • John Hampton is the first Cathedral Organist that we know for certain was Worcester born and bred. Hampton's father, John Sr., was a wealthy Worcester mercer.
Photograph, Accounts for the Master of the Chapel (1479-80). Photograph by  permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
  • Below is the signature of one of Worcester Cathedral's most famous organists and the renowned composer of church music, Thomas Tomkins. Tomkins lived and worked throughout the violent Civil War era. The Dallam organ (which Tomkins played) was attacked and damaged twice by the Parliamentarians, and Tomkins' house (no. 9 College Green) was directly hit by cannon fire!

Photograph, Signature of Thomas Tomkins taken from Account Book (1379). Photograph by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).
  • It is not until the eighteenth century that we have paintings or pictures of organists, like this beautiful oil painting in a gilt frame of Thomas Pitt (pictured below). Pitt was organist from 1793-1806. Upon researching Pitt, one of our volunteers unearthed a fabulous account by Pitt of George III's visit to Worcester in August of 1788. It contains a beautiful collection of posters and tickets pertaining to the musical concerts put on for their Majesties George and Charlotte, produced by local Worcester printers.

Photograph, Portrait of Thomas Pitt, done in oils with gilt frame (date unknown). Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

As we move towards the Victorian and Edwardian ages, personal writing and correspondence by Worcester Cathedral organists survive in abundance. William Done was organist at Worcester from 1844-95. His correspondence with the Dean and Chapter, as well as a diary kept by his daughter, portray him as a dedicated teacher, deeply concerned with improving  the traditional schooling and musical education of the choristers.

Photograph, group portrait of William Done (organist), Hugh Blair (sub organist) and C. B. Shuttleworth (precentor), with choristers (c. 1890). Photograph by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

A wealth of source material on Sir Ivor Atkins is available to study at Worcester Cathedral Library. Atkins conducted a rather impressive thirteen musical festivals during his time in office and was knighted in recognition of his role in reviving the Three Choirs Festival. A dedicated antiquarian, Atkins also served as librarian of the Cathedral Library from 1933-53. Atkins was connected with the famous musicians and composers of his day (such as Sir Edward Elgar), and he is pictured below with Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly.

Photograph of Sir Ivor Atkins and Zoltan Kodaly (date unknown). Photograph by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

Find out more

If you wish to find out more about the organists mentioned then call into the Cathedral to look at the small display in south nave aisle. Entrance to the Cathedral is FREE.

Alternatively, if you wish to view any of the source material mentioned or research other figures from Worcester Cathedral's musical history, you can contact the library by calling 01905 732922. You can also book a visit by clicking on the "Visit Us" section on our homepage.

Please note: visits to the library are by appointment only.

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