Bristol Chamber Choir

under the auspices of Bristol  Madrigal Society

Pearsall Rescue Appeal

Thank you for helping us bring Pearsall home

The cost of rescuing our founder-member’s memorial stone was more than £2,500. Fortunately, we were able to muster enough to cover the cost temporarily, but had to ask friends of the choir and lovers of Pearsall’s music to help us raise this sum to safeguard the continuing existence of our historic choir.

To our amazement, less than a month after launching our appeal, we have reached our target. We would like to thank you for this heroic effort, particularly in such difficult economic times. As promised, the name of every donor will be engraved on a plaque to be displayed inside St Mary’s Church, Bitton.

Bitton Church, England.

The whole story

Schloss Wartensee, overlooking Lake Constance in Switzerland, was purchased by Pearsall in 1843. He remodelled the Schloss to create the neo-Gothic building it is today and also redesigned the parklands which surround it. The composer died there in 1856 and was buried in the estate’s chapel, where a memorial stone was erected. Sadly, the family was obliged to sell the estate after his death.  In 1957 the chapel was deconsecrated and his remains were exhumed then re-interred at the Roman Catholic church in Wilen-Wartegg, where a new memorial stone was installed. The original stone languished at Schloss Wartensee.

Fast forward to the autumn of 2011. Father Lukas Helg of Einsiedeln Abbey (to which Pearsall bequeathed his music library, including 150 original compositions) learned of the proposed sale of Wartensee to Saxo Bank A/S. The owners of the Schloss, the Reformed Church of the Canton of St Gallen, had no interest in the stone, and there seemed little likelihood of the bank being interested - the stone might even be destroyed. Father Lukas therefore arranged to have it transported to the Abbey for safekeeping. Our choir heard of the rescue and, understanding that the memorial  had only a temporary home in the stonemason’s shed at Einsiedeln, resolved, somehow, to ‘bring it back home’ to St Mary’s Church, Bitton. This was Pearsall’s parish church when he lived in Willsbridge; the church’s pulpit was donated by Pearsall and the present vicar and churchwardens are keen to make St Mary’s in some sense a site of pilgrimage for the thousands of people who love Pearsall’s music.

The memorial was therefore transported from Einsiedeln Abbey in May 2012 and is now installed in the west porch of St Mary’s Church. We are currently in the process of fulfilling our promise to contributors to list all their names in a display at Bitton church.

Schloss Wartensee, Switzerland.

The memorial stone in its new location at Bitton Church.

For more pictures of the stone’s journey click here.

Letters of support

I heartily commend the Committee of the Bristol Madrigal Society for taking the initiative to save Pearsall's gravestone from destruction. Pearsall is well-known to all singers for his arrangement of 'In dulci jubilo', which is widely sung at Christmas-time. In view of his work I feel sure that all Church musicians, and indeed everyone w ho loves singing carols, will want to support this cause.

David Willcocks

Sir David Willcocks passed on your letter about the Pearsall gravestone, and here is a brief message of support:

Robert Lucas Pearsall was a composer who has earned a small but honoured place in the history of English choral music. He is remembered now mainly for his immortal setting of the Christmas carol In dulci jubilo and for his lovely madrigal Lay a garland, but beyond these favourites there is a wealth of beautifully-written music which awaits rediscovery. His memory should certainly be preserved in the place which meant so much to him, and his gravestone restored to its proper state for posterity.

John Rutter