27 February 2011

An organist from Lichfield in Dublin

Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Visiting Lichfield and its cathedral this weekend, I was delighted to find an interesting connection between Lichfield Cathedral and one of the high points of musical and cultural life in Victorian Dublin.

Everyone in Dublin knows both the Feis Ceoil and the Culwick Choral Society. But I wonder how many people realise that both were founded within a year of each other by Dr James C Culwick (1845-1907), or that Culwick was a chorister and assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral before moving to Ireland in 1866.

Lichfield Cathedral ... seen from Darwin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The English composer and organist held a succession of appointments as organist, first in Birr, Co Offaly, and then in Bray, Co Wicklow, before finally settling in Dublin.

Culwick moved from Saint Ann’s, in Dawson Street, Dublin, in 1881, to take up the prestigious position of organist and choirmaster in the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle.

Meanwhile, he was involved in a number of amateur musical bodies, including the Orpheus Choral Society, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin) in 1893.

His output as a composer includes church services, anthems, finely-crafted secular songs, and notably the dramatic cantata The Legend of Stauffenberg (1890).

In 1897, Culwick was a co-founder of Feis Ceoil, and a year later, in 1898, he founded the the Orpheus Choral Society. The society was later renamed the Culwick Choral Society in his honour.

The Culwick is an amateur choir with over 100 active members drawn from all over Dublin and the surrounding counties. For 113 years, the Culwick has maintained an unbroken tradition of music-making in Dublin. The skill and musicianship of a succession of conductors has been crucial to its success. The present Musical Director, Bernie Sherlock, assisted by the Chorus Master, David Leigh, follows a long line of distinguished conductors.

The choir offers a major choral performance each Spring and a concert of seasonal music at Christmas. Since 1990, a charity performance of Handel’s Messiah in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral each December has been an established feature of the Dublin musical calendar.

But it was only in the last few days that I learned the connection between this very important treasure in Dublin’s cultural life and the life of Lichfield Cathedral, which I am enjoying this weekend.

No comments: