Gurney, Howells and Novello in context: Sir Herbert Brewer and his articled pupils at Gloucester Cathedral

Carpenter, Simon (2019) Gurney, Howells and Novello in context: Sir Herbert Brewer and his articled pupils at Gloucester Cathedral. Local Historian, 49 (3). pp. 207-220.

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In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the classical musical life of provincial towns and cities largely revolved around local cathedral and major parish churches and their organists and singers. At the regional level musical culture was served by the four triennial choral festivals: Birmingham (from 1768), Norfolk and Norwich (from 1824), Leeds (from 1858) and the pioneering Three Choirs Festival held cyclically at Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford cathedrals since at least 1724. These were all conceived originally as charitable events and were therefore focused on making a profit. This had the effect of shaping their programmes, which were very conservative, and gave little incentive to experiment with untried composers. But at least they provided a chance for people in the provinces to experience something of top class music, even if that did not progress much further than Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn oratorios. For the training of provincial musicians the cathedral (or large parish church) organist was again the first port of call. He—and it was always a ‘he’—would take on pupils of various kinds in order to supplement his meagre Church of England salary. Aspiring professional musicians would apply to become articled pupils and be trained by him on a one to one basis. Many, perhaps the majority, would be the more gifted of the choristers whose voices had now broken. Gloucester Cathedral and Sir Herbert Brewer, its organist between 1896 and 1928, were no exception. This paper, based on my recent research for a University of Gloucestershire MA dissertation, was initially prompted by the sense that Brewer has generally been given a raw deal by the biographers of his better-known articled pupils, Ivor Gurney, Herbert Howells and Ivor Novello. They tend to disparage or downplay his role in their training and careers, although those pupils became three of the most iconic cultural figures of the twentieth century: Ivor Gurney was a leading poet and composer, nicknamed ‘Schubert’ by one his teachers; Herbert Howells was regarded by the Royal College of Music as the most gifted composer of his generation; and Ivor Novello was an outstanding composer, playwright, actor, and impresario remembered today in the song-writing and composing awards that bear his name. In order to test my theory I sought to put Brewer’s relationship with Gurney, Howells and Novello in context by identifying as many of his other articled pupils as possible, and finding out about their backgrounds and subsequent careers. This would enable assessment of how effective Brewer really was as a teacher of pupils of differing abilities, and how they built on his tutoring. This approach was prosopographic—it is described in more detail later, but in essence involves researching and bringing together all the relevant individual biographical data that can be traced from groups of persons, in a systematic way in order to identify common characteristics and patterns. Not all the biographical and career details could be traced—a lot is known about some pupils, but for others there are gaps. However, patterns in terms of background and career could be identified.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ivor Gurney; War Poetry; Music; Gloucestershire
Related records:
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Research Priority Areas: Culture, Continuity, and Transformation
Depositing User: Kate Greenaway
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 12:27
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2022 14:47

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