In praise of Richard R. Terry

Hearing Richard Terry's Myn lyking in Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge recently reminded me that the one hundred and fortieth anniversary of the birth of the father of the Tudor music revival figure is likely to pass unremarked.

Richard Terry was born in 1865, and was appointed to direct the music at the Bendictine school of Downside in 1896. His pioneering work with the choir there revived the liturgical music of neglected 16th century Catholic composers, and led him to uncover the hugely important riches of Tudor polyphonic music. At Downside he was the first to perform in modern times as part of the liturgy music which is, thanks to him, so well known today. His pioneering performances included the three and five-part masses of Byrd, Tye's Euge Bone, and Tallis' four-part Mass and Lamentations.

When the new Catholic Westminster Cathedral (above) was built in 1901 Terry moved to London as organist and director of music. He held this position for twenty-three years, and during that period his performances of Tudor polyphony were an important influence on the emerging generation of young composers. His major contribution was to take early English works for the Roman rite that only existed in obscure manuscripts, and present them from performing editions. Among the important works he revived in this way were Peter Philip's Cantiones sacrae, Byrd's Gradualia and cantiones sacrae, and the cantiones of Tallis and Byrd.

But sadly a prophet is not recognised in his own land. In 1924 he resigned from Westminster Cathedral after coming under considerable criticism for his innovatory programming of liturgical works. Richard Terry went on to follow a career as editor, journalist and academic, and died in London in 1938.

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Anonymous said…
"But sadly a prophet is not recognised in his own land."

Not quite: Richard Terry received a knighthood for his contribution to music in 1922.

"In 1924 he resigned from Westminster Cathedral after coming under considerable criticism for his innovatory programming of liturgical works."

Terry's resignation had many causes: his bitterness of the cathedral's chronic shortage of money, which meant he could not get the choir he wanted; his constant battle with the contradiction between his love of unknown renaissance polyphony and the wish of having the congregation's involvement in the liturgy; his volatile character (cancelling practice sessions on short notice, dismissing lay clerks without proper procedure...); his many engagements outside the cathedral (he would often take off without leave for weeks, leaving his choristers to his assistant) and his frustration having to work under the strict jurisdiction of the Administrator of the cathedral.

However, his legacy to the cathedral was a formidable one: the belief that only the best was good enough for the choral music in the Cathedral.

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