Bristol Chamber Choir

under the auspices of Bristol  Madrigal Society

Echoes around us

Extended notes to accompany the CD


His Life

Robert Pearsall was born in Clifton, Gloucestershire, on 14 March 1795. He spent his childhood in Bristol, studied law and, when his father died in 1813, he was already destined for a legal career. In London, in 1817, he married Harriet Hobday, daughter of the artist Armfield Hobday. The couple returned to Willsbridge House in Gloucestershire where they set up home with Pearsall’s widowed mother, who had just bought the house from her recently bankrupted brother-in-law.

It seemed settled then, that Pearsall would spend his days practising as a provincial barrister, living a quiet but comfortable life. It was not to be so. Pearsall thirsted after other interests – antiquarian, historical, poetic, prosaic and musical – and in 1825, one year after the birth of his fourth child, he left England with his wife and children, in search of a more creative and fulfilling life. The family moved first to Baden-Baden and then to Mainz, where they stayed until 1830, when they settled in Karlsruhe, in the Grand Duchy of Baden. From Karlsruhe, Pearsall travelled widely through Germany and central Europe, collecting material for the learned papers he was to write on subjects as diverse as duelling practices in medieval Germany, and the' Iron Maiden of Nuremberg’ instrument of torture.

Karlsruhe remained home to the Pearsalls until 1842, when Pearsall and his wife went their separate ways, she to Strasbourg and he to Schloss Wartensee, a medieval castle standing on the hillside overlooking the vast Lake Constance, dividing Bavaria from Switzerland. By now, Pearsall’s surviving children, a son and two daughters, had grown up and moved away. His younger daughter, Phillipa, eventually returned to live with him in Switzerland where she enjoyed success as a painter.

Pearsall died at Wartensee on 5 August 1856; his estranged wife had returned to live with him in 1854, most probably at the invitation of their son, to whom Pearsall had handed over the Schloss. Three days before he died he was received into the Roman Catholic church, and after his death was buried in a vault below the floor of the castle’s chapel.

James Hobson

His Music

 Pearsall's compositions are wide-ranging in both scale and the media for which they were written. They fall quite comfortably into distinct episodes, although they are sometimes not as easily identified with the clearly definable periods of his life.   

Before his departure from Bristol in 1825, there is no evidence that Pearsall had ever tried his hand at composition. Some of his biographers have claimed that he was composing while still a child, but there is no factual evidence of this. The earliest composition in Pearsall’s hand is dated July 1825, shortly before the family left for Germany, and it is only a single tune with no harmonies.

His first known compositions date from the 1820s; for the most part they are short settings of Latin church texts for unaccompanied voices, and reflect Pearsall,s interest in the German revival of the Renaissance polyphonic music of the Catholic Church and its plainsong tradition – the Cecilian Movement. Even in these short works, Pearsall was developing a very individual harmonic palette which would colour his later compositions.

   Following the small-scale vocal works, Pearsall’s attention was captured by the challenge of instrumental  music, and in the next distinct compositional period he wrote, among others, at least three overtures for orchestra, a ‘pantomime·ballet‘, two marches, and works for string ensemble.  It  

 Was in l836 that his interest in the madrigal form began and it was in the same year that he last composed for instrumental ensembles.  

Pearsall’s connection with the Bristol Madrigal Society is well known: he was a founding member of that august body when it was formed in January 1837 (he had come home to Bristol in the summer of 1836 to tie up the affairs of his deceased mother’s estate, and had remained at Willsbridge while he made arrangements for the sale of the house), and his membership provided him with the inspiration to compose works for the Society. The 21 madrigals, let alone the many part-songs, bear testament to a composer of solid skills, but also one with a lightness of touch and an understanding of harmony and counterpoint unmatched by any other composer in this genre in the 19th century.

Following the move to Wartensee in 1842, Pearsall appears not to have put pen to score until about 1846, when his interest in composition was refreshed by his friendship with Johann Oehler, the Diocesan Chancellor of the nearby city of St Gallen. The subsequent compositions of this, the last period, were mainly for ecclesiastical use, for both the Roman and Anglican rites, and it is to this era that the Requiem belongs.

 James Hobson


Requiem    RL Pearsall (1795-1856)

Pearsall began work on the Requiem in 1853 with the intention that it would form part of the anniversary celebrations of the commemoration of the Abbacy of St Gallen. As Richard Crewdson points out in his preface to the Church Music Society’s 2005 publication of the Requiem, political tensions in Switzerland which led to civil war between Catholics and a radical faction, made performance of the Requiem at St Gallen impossible. It was seen to be too politically charged in its evocation of St Gallen’s Catholic past, particularly as it was intended for liturgical, not concert, performance.

The fact that the Requiem was written for liturgical use shapes the entire work For many people the word ‘requiem’ conjures up the works of composers such as Mozart, Verdi or Brahms, whose magnificent compositions for soloists, chorus and orchestra are favourites of the concert hall. Pearsall’s Requiem is much more intimate and smaller-scale; there are no soloists, only a choir, and the ‘orchestra’ is the organ, a brass ensemble of horns, trumpets, saxhorns and bombardon, and a string double-bass. Pearsall had previously experimented with a similar combination of instruments and the St Gallen organ, notably in his March in C of 1852, and the Introduction to a Festival Mass in D. It was evidently successful, as he returned to the same formula for this work, adding voices to the mix. The great baroque organ at St Gallen stands majestic in a vast gallery over the west door of the cathedral, where there would undoubtedly have been room to accommodate not only the brass instruments, but also the choir.  The cathedral itself is a glorious and spacious confection, where winged putti and cherubim, modelled in stucco, climb the columns and line the fine white tracery of the vaults, against the pale green plasterwork and rich colours of the friezes.

The Requiem has ten movements, all of them in common time, and nine scored for SATB. Only the ‘Kyrie’ differs from the rest, as it is written for five voices, SSATB. Interestingly, the ‘Kyrie’ is a re-working of an earlier anthem by Pearsall, ‘O Give Thanks unto the Lord’, written in 1838 and published posthumously by the organist of Clifton College, WF Trimnell. That anthem was in G major, and can be be sung without accompaniment, Here it is in G minor, and the organ and instruments not only play an integral role in supporting the voices, but also add an extra dimension of texture and depth to the whole. Pearsall incorporated plainsong into two of the movements, the ‘Lux Aeterna’ and the ‘Libera Me'. In so doing he was remaining loyal to his Cecilian Movement principles, while also affirming the tradition which produced the words that he was setting to music.

Pearsall uses the organ, instruments and voices as three separate ‘choirs’ throughout the work. Each ‘choir’ has a distinct identity, and he uses these to great effect, allowing each to speak individually, in duet and, of course, all together at high points and climactic moments.

We are told that Pearsall considered the Requiem to be his finest work, and it is important to try to understand why. That he is not well known as a composer of church music is due in part to the lack of publication of his works —in his own lifetime, only a very small number of his compositions reached print;  the majority of his music was written for and presented to specific individuals or groups (such as the Bristol Madrigal Society, or the cathedral at St Gallen, etc) — but his madrigals and part-songs eclipse any of the other works, both instrumental and ecclesiastical.

As we leave behind the 20th-century fashion of deriding British composers of the 19th century, the skill and ingenuity of many of them are at last beginning to be appreciated. Pearsall was a master builder in the art of music: his use of counterpoint and his consummately skilled fugal writing form the foundations of his recognisable style. Few composers of the mid-19th century achieved such individuality in their work; Pearsall belongs to that élite.

Homophonic passages of vocal writing punctuate the work throughout, but there are also many examples of fugal and chromatic imitative devices that afford Pearsall plenty of opportunity for his signature effects of dissonance and resolution. The opening bars of the first movement give a flavour of his love for chromatic effect: the first chord is resolutely G minor, but immediately the upward step of the third of the chord (in the ‘tenor’ voice of the organ part) to a B, and the F passing-note in the bass, destabilise the tonal centre at a stroke, and two chords later, via C minor (the ‘tenor’ persisting upwards in steps of a semitone), the music falls in such a natural-sounding way on a cadence into the dominant key of D major; yet within another one and a half bars we are in F major! In the first nine bars alone he manages to achieve five examples of dissonance and resolution, all of them carefully prepared textbook examples of good compositional practice; at the same time he throws in a daring use of harmony. He was a man who loved the intellectual challenge of composition, but far from his works becoming academic exercises, they fed both mind and soul.

Pearsall’s Requiem is very much a work of the soul; into it he poured his genius for composition, both simple and complex, and from it created a lasting monument that bears testament to his greatness. The Requiem is now, finally, getting the recognition which it truly deserves.

James Hobson

A note on the edition used, with revisions by Edward-Rhys Harry, on this recording:

When I came to study the score of Pearsall’s Requiem, I realised that Christopher Brown had done a tremendous job in editing the original manuscript, so that a clear indication of what the composer had scribed was available for further study and possible performance, In fact, Christopher Brown has, very wisely, for this publication, provided us with a score that is as incomplete as the composer had left it. How fascinating then, to begin a journey delving into PearsaIl’s compositional intentions, through looking at many of his other sacred (and secular) works, for clues, compositional habits and techniques that would help Bristol Chamber Choir fill in some of the missing elements seemingly left open to interpretation by Pearsall himself.

As a result of the hard work done by Christopher Brown, and also by Richard Crewdson, Richard Lyne of the Church Music Society has many thankful Pearsall enthusiasts pleased that the Requiem can once again circulate as part of choral repertoire, published by OUP in the UK and beyond.

Of course, the journey from page to performance has been an interesting one, thanks to Pearsall himself!

The recording you will hear of the Requiem does, in some places, differ from the currently published score. In seeking to ensure as authentic a ‘Pearsall performance’ as possible, I have had little choice but to alter the verbal underlay in several instances, most notably in the ‘Kyrie’ where there were musical phrases with little or no underlay at all. I have studied closely the way in which Pearsall uses text, his placement of syllables and his phrasing of such. I hope that the revisions I have made will ensure further accurate ‘Pearsall performances’ in the future.

There are also a few instances of harmonic ambiguity which I have had to address to ensure that the vocal lines reflect the harmonies found in the orchestration.

Finally, we are left to speculate how Pearsall wanted to use his four solo singers, as indications in the score only show where the full chorus should begin singing. I hope that our version does reflect how Pearsall would have used the four single voices, to the best effect, in the mighty cathedral at St Gallen all those years ago.

Edward-Rhys Harry,  January 2009

Instrumentalists for the Requiem by Robert Pearsall

Trumpet I   Jason Owen Lewis

Trumpet II   Rosamund Wilkin

Horn I    Jennifer Wright

Horn II    Beth Nolan-Neylan

Eb Tenor Horn   Catherine Showell

Euphonium   Molly McConnell

Baritone   Michael Pearce

Double Bass   Ashley-John Long

David Guy

Organ    Richard Johnson


Soprano   Chantal Marsh

Alto    Julia Harrow

Tenor    Greg Smart

Bass    Mark Dennis

Great God of Love   R L Pearsall (1795-1856)

‘Great God of Love’ was chosen by Sir Walford Davies to supply a link in the musical history ‘From Plantagenet through Tudor to Victorian Times’ at the Albert Hall Royal Command Concert on Empire Day, 1935. The programme note says: ‘Pearsall wrote this for the Bristol Madrigal Society and took part in the first performance in 1839. Words and music from the same mind — our tonal architect makes each help the other, and so frames a perfect work of art. From the building up of the opening chords to the peaceful close, we have a fleeting moment of spacious harmony.’ The piece was dedicated to JD Corfe, the first musical director of the Bristol Madrigal Society. One of the most interesting aspects of this eight-part madrigal, from a musical perspective, is that at one point every note in the scale is sung simultaneously. You will hear this unusual chord in the lines, ‘And makes her feel the safe-same fire that wastes her lover’s heart away’. This recording, made in February 2009, marks the 170th anniversary of the work’s first performance — by the same society it was written for, and originally performed by.


Great God of love, some pity show,

On Amaryllis bend Thy bow;

Do Thou, we pray, her soul inspire,

And make her feel the self-same fire

That wastes her lover’s heart away.

Behold our Lord  Kevin Duggan (1959-)

Musical Director of the choir 1998-2004

‘Behold our Lord’ was written in 1992 (when the composer was living on the Danish island of Ærø) and received its first performance by Marstal Motetkor that Christmas. It has been performed several times since, by church and chamber choirs, including the Ionian Singers and, of course, Bristol Chamber Choir. The choir has given first performances of two other works by Kevin Duggan, ‘God’s Praises’ and ‘Suibhne’s Song’.

The carol chosen for this recording, based on a folk-like melody in 7/8, was written in just a few hours — a remarkably short time for this composer – to words by the 17th-century hymn-writer, Thomas Pestel.

Organist, composer and conductor, Kevin Duggan has been interested in music since a very early age. A pupil of Wells Cathedral School, learning the piano, composing and singing, he read music at Bath University, followed by a year at the Royal College of Music. He studied organ, harpsichord and composition, winning the RCM Clavichord Prize in 1981, the West of England Organ Competition in 1983, and reaching the semi-finals of the 1992 Odense International Organ Competition. He has since given organ recitals around Europe, including a concert in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Composition remains a major interest. Kevin’s Sinfonia Nordica for organ was first performed in 2005 and, in the following year, he wrote a large-scale cantata, Kontakion for Bornholm. In 2007 he completed Nicolaimessen, a mass for soloists, eight-part choir and organ.

Kevin Duggan was Musical Director of Bristol Chamber Choir for several years at the turn of this century, until his retum to Denmark and the island of Bornholm where he lives today. Currently, Kevin is

Director of Music at Renne, a church with a flourishing musical life, including two choirs and some 50 concerts a year. There is also an international organ festival there, held every August.

Behold the great Creator makes himself a house of clay,

A robe of virgin flesh He takes, which He will wear for ay.

Hark, hark, the wise eternal Word, like a weak infant cries!

ln form of servant is the Lord, and God in manger lies.

This wonder struck the world amazed, it shook the starry frame;

Squadrons of spirits stood and gazed, then down in troops they came.

Glad shepherds ran to view this sight; a choir of angels sings,

And eastern sages with delight adore this King of kings.

Join then all hearts that are not stone, and all our voices prove,

To celebrate this holy One, the God of peace and love,

Amen, Alleluia.

Behold our Lord of peace and love.

Thomas Pestel (c. 1584-1659)

What the Bird Said    Raymond Warren (1928-)  

President of the choir 1972-

Bristol Chamber Choir is fortunate to have the gifted composer Professor Raymond Warren as President, a position he has held since 1972, attending concerts and giving valued support , for which we are extremely grateful.

Raymond Warren studied at Cambridge University and later privately with Michael Tippett and Lennox Berkeley. From 1955-72 he taught at Queen’s University, Belfast, and was also Resident Composer to the Ulster Orchestra, a post which involved both composing for them and conducting concerts of contemporary music. He was Professor of Music at Bristol University from 1972 until his retirement in 1994. Warren’s compositions include three symphonies, a violin concerto, an oratorio, Continuing Cities, two passion settings, three string quartets and six operas, of which three are church operas for children. There are three song cycles, including one commissioned by Peter Pears. He is also the author of a book, Opera Workshop, which gives a composer’s view of the art of opera.

Over the years, the choir has sung several pieces by Raymond Warren, including works composed in 1985 for the 150th anniversary of the Bristol Madrigal Society. However, ‘What the Bird Said Early in the Year’, of which we gave the first performance in 2007, has a closer association than any, as Raymond explains:

 ‘Addison’s Walk is in the grounds of Magdalen College Oxford, where CS Lewis was a fellow from 1925 to 1954. The poem, published in 1938, tells how the birdsong Lewis heard there seemed to be a message of hope for the future. In this setting, the first two verses are sung simply by the lower voices, with a soprano descant representing the song of the bird. Later, all voices take up the bird's music as if it were echoing around the garden. The music was written in memory of Jean Littler, who, with her husband John, was a loyal choir member for many years, and whose radiant character seemed to me to embody the message of hope in the poem.’ (The couple met at Magdalen where they enjoyed strolling along Addison’s Walk and punting on the River Cherwell which borders the Walk.)

I heard in Addison ’s Walk a bird sing clear:

This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees

This year, nor want of rain destroy the peas.

This year time's nature will no more defeat you.

Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back

To Autumn, one year older by the well-worn track.

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,

 We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.

 Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,

Quick, quick, quick, quick! - the gates are drawn apart.

'What the Bird Said' by CS Lewis (1898-1953) © CS Lewis Pte Ltd

Requiem of Loss    Edward-Rhys Harry (1973-)

Musical Director of the choir 2007-09

Edward-Rhys Harry (formerly Bate) comes from Penclawdd, South Wales. Having shown a precocious talent for singing, organ-playing and composition (including a children's musical at the age of 18), Edward studied composition under William Mathias and John Harper at University of Wales, Bangor. In 2006 he was crowned a Bard of Wales at the National Eisteddfod, followed by a Masters in composition from LCM and post-graduate studies in conducting. Edward sings with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, works occasionally with Welsh National Opera, directs choirs and teaches singing and composition.

The ceaseless determination to prolong life by medical advances and stave off the process of ageing has made death the final taboo — an insult rather than an inevitability. As a result, the loss of a loved one comes as an appalling shock; the physical and emotional pain can be overwhelming. These dark moments are explored and reflected upon in Harry’s Requiem of Loss.

This Requiem is principally a choral work which takes the listener on the journey from the first impact of losing someone, through the many aspects of mourning, ending in one final, devastating realisation: there is no option but to say goodbye.

The work is in nine movements, from the enraged ‘Requiem Aeternam’ and the masculine, rhythmic ‘Kyrie Eleison’ to the feminine, ethereal ‘Pie Jesu’, and the final reflection of ‘O Lord Now Lettest Thou Thy Servant’. The ‘Libera Me’ is set as a duet - a conversation between a man and a woman who have lost a child. This movement is dedicated to all those who have suffered a similar loss.

The requiem is set to the traditional Latin texts used in the Catholic funeral service with added verses from the Bible.

Requiem of Loss was written for and premiered by Bristol Chamber Choir in 2008.

1. Requiem Aeternam

2. Kyrie Eleison

3. Pie Jesu

4. Sanctus

5. Libera Me*

6. Agnus Dei

7. Hymnus

8. Lux Aeterna

9. Lord, Now Lettest Thou Thy Servant

*conducted by Molly McConnell


Flute    Bethan Pickering

Clarinet   Samuel Thompson

Oboe/Cor Anglais  Tom Wood

Bassoon   Harry Ventham

Trumpet   Glen Philp

Euphonium   Molly McConnell

Timpani   Simon-Rhys Harry

Harp    Sally Jenkins

Organ    Richard Johnson

Violin    Michelle Zarb

‘Cello    James Ottley


Soprano   Zoe Carter-Beedie

Mezzo Soprano   Antonia Taylor

Baritone   Edward-Rhys Harry

The Waits     Jeremy Saville (c.1600-67)

This joyous piece has been sung after every rehearsal (almost without exception) since 1837. The glee often also ends summer concerts, in which madrigals usually take pride of place. It rightfully, therefore, concludes this recording.

 The meaning of ‘wait’ has changed throughout history. In the 13th century, it signified a town or castle watchman who sounded his horn at the gate to signal that someone needed to be let in. Later, the horn became a shawm, warning of a fire or other danger, and might even sound the hours, too, to signal that all was well. In the late 1400s, waits had become town bands, playing at civic ceremonies and around the evening streets. By the 16th century, these fairly raucous groups had evolved to include singers and more tuneful instruments, such as viols and recorders, while by the time of Jeremy Savile, many towns had their own individual tunes which were played and sung by the waits.

Savile, one of the London Waits, composed many songs, glees and catches during his lifetime, several of which can be found in later 17th-century published anthologies of such compositions. His most famous song is probably ‘Here’s a health unto His Majesty’, which appeared in John P1ayfo1d’s 1667 The Musical Companion. This collection was prepared for a catch club called the Old Jewry music society, of which both Playford and Savile were members. ‘The Waits’ itself was published in an edition of 1672-3.

Interestingly, no words were provided for the singers, other than ‘fa’ and ‘la’. The two-line verse was written almost 200 years later by Thomas Oliphant (1799-1873), music editor and cataloguer of music manuscripts in the British Museum. Oliphant joined The Madrigal Society (of London) in 1830, becoming president in 1872 and remaining an active member until his death. As well as writing verses for the society, including the words for ‘The Waits’, he also translated Italian madrigal lyrics and even, in 1837 (the year the Bristol Madrigal Society came into being) wrote the words and music of an original madrigal, ‘Stay one moment, gentle sires’, which he declared to be the work of one Blasio Tomasi, a previously unknown  17th-century composer. Thomas Oliphant’s name appears on some manuscript madrigals in the Bristol Madrigal Society’s library, and it is likely that there was a considerable flow of music — and people — between the two societies. As suggested by Oliphant, his verse to ‘The Waits’ is sung once, and then the tune is repeated twice to ‘fa las'.

Let us all sing, merrily sing

Till echo around us responsive shall ring    

Fa la la la, la la la la…

Verse by Thomas Oliphant (1799-1873)