Wednesday, 18 May 2016

New CD celebrates 700 years of
choral tradition at Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral … the new album ‘Inservi Deo’ celebrates 700 years of the Choral Foundation at Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Over the past few days, I have reposted two features I have recently written for this year's annual report of the Friends of Lichfield Cathedral on two composers: John Alcock, a former cathedral organist, and Frederick Oakeley, a former canon of Lichfield Cathedral who is remembered principally for ‘Come all ye faithful.’

John Alcock is one of the composers featured on Inservi Deo, a new CD by Lichfield Cathedral Choir. This new CD, which I received at the weekend, was launched at the end of last year [December 2015] and features exclusively music that was either written for the Cathedral Choir or by musicians closely associated with Lichfield Cathedral .

This new CD was also a celebration of last year’s 700th anniversary of the Choral Foundation at Lichfield Cathedral. The first record of a formal Choral Foundation at Lichfield Cathedral is found in 1315, when Bishop Walter de Langton provides housing for the Vicars’ Choral in the Vicars’ Close. To this day, some of the Lay Vicars Choral still live in Vicars’ Close.

The CD was recorded in Lichfield Cathedra over three days from 13 to 15 July 2015. Alongside familiar names such as Andrew Lumsden, Richard Lloyd and Paul Spicer, there are the more historic figures such as Michael East, John Alcock and Sir Frederick Ouseley – who once counted John Stainer among his students.

Lichfield’s most celebrated writer, Dr Samuel Johnson, makes an appearance too, and the CH includes at least five works that have not been recorded previously.

The title of this new CD comes from the motto of the Choral Foundation at Lichfield Cathedral, Inservi Deo et Laetare, “Serve God and be cheerful.”

Inservi Deo … the latest album from Lichfield Cathedral Choir, includes music and settings written by people who lived and worked in Lichfield or who are associated with the cathedral

Two pieces on this album are the work of the composer and organist Sir William Henry Harris (1883-1973). A former Assistant Organist (1914-1919), he wrote the antiphon I believe verily (Track 8) for the unveiling of the memorial window to Dean Herbert Mortimer Lucock (1833-1909). He wrote this antiphon in 1911, three years before he came to Lichfield Cathedral. This work was largely forgotten and unknown until it was found recently in a pile of music in the cathedral library.

Harris also wrote the setting for Almighty and most merciful Father (Track 13) for Richard Greening while he was the Organist (1959-1977):

Almighty and most merciful Father,
Grant that my hope and confidence
may be in Jesu’s merits and thy mercy;
confirm my faith, stablish my hope,
enlarge my charity; pardon my offences,
and receive me at my death to everlasting happiness,
for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.


This is a contraction by Harris of the final prayer of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who was born in Lichfield within sight of the three spires of Lichfield. He compiled the first Dictionary in the English language, became one of the most important writers of the 18th century, and is often commemorated among the saints of the Anglican Communion.

In his last prayer, on 5 December 1784, before receiving Holy Communion and eight days before he died, Samuel Johnson prayed:

Almighty and most merciful Father,
I am now, as to human eyes it seems,
about to commemorate for the last time,
the death of thy Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer.
Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in his merits,
and thy mercy; enforce and accept my imperfect repentance;
make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith,
the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity;
and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption.
Have mercy on me, and pardon the multitude of my offences.
Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men.
Support me, by the grace of thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness,
and at the hour of death;
and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness,
for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Samuel Johnson is also the author of Grant me, O Lord (Track 15):

Grant me, O Lord,
good purposes and steady resolution,
that I may repent my sins,
and amend my life.
Deliver me from the distresses of vain terrour,
and enable me by thy Grace to will and to do what may please thee,
that when I shall be called away from this present state
I may obtain everlasting happiness
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The setting for these words, written in his diary by Samuel Johnson on Easter Day, 22 April 1764, was composed for the Annual Service of the Johnson Society in Lichfield Cathedral by Benjamin Lamb, who has been Director of Music at Lichfield Cathedral with his wife Cathy Lamb since 2010.

Detail of the Herkenrode windows on a recent display board at the entrance to the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Ben Lamb has also written the setting for two other tracks on this CD. Take my life and let it be (Track 7) was written for his first service with the choir on BBC Radio 3. His setting of George Herbert’s text, The Windows (Track 11), was written to mark the restoration of the Herkenrode Windows in the Lady Chapel in the cathedral in 2010, and was sung again at their rededication last year.

Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?
He is a brittle crazie glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers; then the light and glorie
More rev’rend grows, & more doth win:
Which else shows watrish, bleak, & thin.

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw: but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the eare, not conscience ring.


Lichfield Cathedral dates back to the mission of Saint Chad in Mercia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The CD opens with Antiphon for Chad, written by Richard Lloyd, a former chorister at Lichfield (1942-1947) and later organist at Hereford and Durham Cathedrals. This antiphon celebrating Saint Chad, the founding figure in the story of Christianity in Mercia and of Lichfield Cathedral, was written by Canon Wealands Bell while he was the Precentor of Lichfield (2007-2014) for a set of liturgical antiphons commissioned by Michael Guest:

Let thy priests, O Lord, be clothed with righteousness:
Serve the Lord with gladness, and sing with joyful hearts.
Let the congregation of saints praise him:
Serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with a song.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Serve the Lord and be joyful.


Lloyd also wrote the setting for George Herbert’s poem The Call (Track 14):

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.


Spring sunshine in the Cathedral Close, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

John Alcock (1715-1806), a cathedral organist (1750-1760) who is the subject of one of my papers in this year’s report of the Friends of Lichfield Cathedral, composed the second track on this CD, Voluntary X, which has clear echoes of the blind composer John Stanley (1712-1786), for whom he had been amanuensis and apprentice. Alcock also wrote Out of the deep (Track 6) in 1732.

Now the green blade riseth (Track 3) has already been recorded by the Cathedral Chamber Choir, and this arrangement of a traditional Easter carol, published by Canon John MC Crum in the Oxford Book of Carols (1928) was written for the cathedral choir by Andrew Lumsden.

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

In the grave they laid him, Love whom we had slain,
Thinking that he’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

Up he sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
See from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are weary, grieving or in pain,
By thy touch thou calls back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.


While he was Organist and Master of Choristers at Lichfield Cathedral (1999-2002), the cathedral choir recorded five CDs and toured France, Germany, Italy and the US. He also oversaw the complete rebuilding and extension of the cathedral’s Hill organ by Harrison & Harrison.

Ambrose Porter’s setting of Psalm 29 (Track 4) has remained a regular part of the choir’s repertoire since Porter was organise (1925-1959).

Another discovery in the cathedral library is When Israel came out of Egypt (Track 5) written by Michael East, who was the organist at Lichfield Cathedral (1618-1638). The manuscript was found in the back of the cathedral’s set of Barnard Part books.

Spring colours ar Vicars’ Hall, close to Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The settings of two canticles, Magnificat (Track 9) and Nunc Dimittis (10), are from The Lichfield Service written by Grayston (Bill) Ives of Magdalen College Oxford, who also sings with the King’s Singers. The Lichfield Service was commissioned to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Choral Foundation, and had its first performance last year [16 May 2015] at Evensong attended by the Friends of Lichfield Cathedral and was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 as part of Choral Evensong the following week [20 May 2015].

Sir Frederick Ouseley (1825-1889) who had John Stainer as one of his students, had no direct connections with Lichfield Cathedral – he was Heather Professor of Music at Oxford (1855-1889) and the Precentor of Hereford Cathedral at the same time. However, he wrote It came even to pass (Track 12) for the reopening of the cathedral in 1861 after its restoration under Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The two final tracks on this album are by the composer Paul Spicer, who is now a lay member of the chapter of Lichfield Cathedral. You shall go out with joy (Track 16) is part of the Easter Oratorio written with Bishop Tom Wright, when they were both neighbours in the Cathedral Close. Tom Wright was then the Dean of Lichfield (1994-1999) and Paul Spicer was still the Artistic Director of the Lichfield International Arts Festival. The oratorio was conceived in 1998 to mark the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Lichfield Cathedral, and while its first performance was in Ely Cathedral, it received its proper première at the Lichfield Festival on 15 July 2000. The celebrations that year of the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death also left its mark on the score.

You shall go out with joy is Easter Hymn 4 in the Easter Oratorio and is based on Isaiah 55: 12 ff. Paul Spicer called this tune ‘Darwin Close’ after the enclosed close behind his house between Lichfield Cathedral and Erasmus Darwin House, with its herb garden planted by Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin.

After hearing this hymn in Lichfield Cathedral, I chose it as the recessional hymn when I was presiding at the Community Eucharist three years ago in Easter Week [3 April 2013] in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

You shall go out with joy
And come again in peace;
The mountains and the hills
Shall sing and never cease.
The Son of God is risen again,
His love has conquered death’s domain.

The trees in every field
Shall clap their hands, and say
‘Come shout aloud, and help
Us celebrate this day!’
Jesus, the King, has burst the grave,
And lives once more to heal and save.

The Word, like rain or snow,
Has come down from above,
And now reveals to all
God’s purposes of love;
The Word made flesh, once dead, now lives,
New life to all he freely gives.

The myrtle for the briar,
The cypress for the thorn,
Shall rise to tell the world
Of its awakening dawn.
Jesus, the Life, the Truth, the Way,
Has ushered in God’s great new day.


The closing track (17) on this CD is Paul Spicer’s Fanfares for Chad, so that this collection opens and closes with contemporary tributes to Saint Chad.

On this CD, Lichfield Cathedral Choir is directed by Ben and Cathy Lamb and the organ solos are played by Martyn Rawles. Producers: Andrew Post and Ben and Cathy Lamb; Recording Engineer: Andrew Post; Editing: Andrew Post and Ben Lamb.

● Inservi Deo, VIF Records 441, (2015).

The spires of Lichfield Cathedral seen from the hill at the junction of Stafford Road and the Western Bypass near the Hedgehog (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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