A view from the past

Stainton Taylor. A view from the past.

Stainton de B Taylor (†1975) was a well-known musical figure on Merseyside, author (The Organ Preludes of J S Bach), organist and conductor of the Wallasey Singers, who later through failing eyesight and helped by his wife, became music critic for the Liverpool Post and Echo and many of his kind and perceptive accounts of RMG recitals appeared in these publications. He compiled a wealth of information about local music which was finally published posthumously as ‘Two Centuries of Music in Liverpool’, Rockcliff Brothers Ltd, Liverpool 1976(?) In Chapter 6, p48, he included details of the then young Renaissance Music Group.

“Conscious of the need for a vocal and instrumental group in Liverpool specialising in music of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Dr Morris Davies formed the Renaissance Music Group in 1966 with the blessing of the University’s Professor of Music [Professor Basil Smallman] and the administrative co-operation of the Institute of Extension studies [Professor Tom Kelly], which provides an annual grant [long since discontinued!] for expenses and a rehearsal room at its Royal Institution headquarters [in Colquitt Street. It moved to the University Music Department in 1983]. “Morris Davies, a native of Leeds, graduated in Leeds in physics and music, [sic, actually Physics, music was a subsidiary subject], and in 1958 took a degree in acoustics at Liverpool, in which subject he is now Lecturer at Liverpool University. He joined the University Singers, then directed by Donald Coult, from whom he took over the directorship in 1959. In 1966, [actually 1965], feeling that this post should be filled by a member of the then developing Music Department staff, Davies handed over the Singers to Trevor Hold [† 2004]. “Being now free to develop the specialist group he envisaged, Davies brought together a small group of singers, soon expanded to a 30-strong choir which initiated regular concerts of music composed during the period 1500-1750 [more exactly, 1400-1650] given mainly in the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral , but also occasionally given elsewhere, notably in the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral. At these recitals much music by such masters as Josquin des Pres, Machaut [no! RMG has never performed Machaut !], and of course the mainstream Italian, Spanish, English and German composers of the succeeding polyphonic period has been brought forward. The RMG has gone further afield, notably to Cartmel priory in the Barrow Peninsula, and has sometimes sung polyphonic music in its proper liturgical setting in Catholic [and High Anglican] churches.

“Insistence upon the original liturgical function of most of this vast field of sacred music is indeed a feature of Morris Davies’s work, and is nowhere more strikingly evident than in his annual Christmas and Easter recitals at the Lady Chapel, which are invariably built around some relevant seasonal theme giving each programme unusual and rewarding unity of thought and expression..

“He is also exceptionally gifted in his understanding of the verbal rhythms governing the whole structure of polyphonic music, a quality which at once impresses the listener to his performance of English music – especially that of Byrd and Gibbons.

“This organisation calls itself a Group rather than a Choir of Singers in order to leave scope for the employment of instrumental forces when these are needed: but though a few concerts have been given on these lines, this development has not so far been seriously followed up: nor does the RMG at present include much secular music within its range of study. But since the main body of vocal music written during the period was of religious origin, the Group finds an almost limitless repertory available without going beyond these bounds.”

Reading these remarks (Autumn 2012) , drafted nearly 40 years ago, I feel that little has changed. The aims and venues are the same. Six of the 1976 membership still take part. We have included local instrumental groups when they are available as in fact they have been over the last few years, when we have been joined among others by the Chester Viols. Where possible, we include a little secular music in summer programmes, but madrigals to English, French, German or Italian texts are more intimate than works intended for liturgical use and are best performed with one or two voices to a part, rather than with RMG’s larger forces. Stainton Taylor is right in his mention of an ‘almost limitless repertoire’ and this is much truer now than it was then, but it must be said that only a fraction of it can be described as ‘good’!