There is no record of any music making in the pre-Reformation Chapel of the Inn, although fragments of plainsong recently found in book bindings indicate that like most wealthy establishments the Mass was sung by a choir. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries very little music would have been heard in the Chapel. This situation was obviously of some concern to the Inn as an organ was offered as a gift to the Chapel on more than one occasion. Finally in 1820 an organ was purchased from the firm of Flight & Robson and a relation of the firm was appointed as the first Organist. It appears that the standard of music making was poor because, in 1852, the music publisher J. Alfred Novello was employed to provide music for the Chapel. Not an organist himself, he was obliged to employ someone to play for him whilst he conducted the choir. Novello had originally approached one of the virtuosi of the day, W T Best, but illness prevented Best from accepting the position and Josiah Pittman was employed in his place. By 1855 it is clear that not all was harmonious between the Choirmaster and the Organist. Novello dismissed Pittman for his ‘intention of playing in a different time from that which I, as the choirmaster, directed’. W T Best finally replaced Pittman in the spring of 1855, but his appointment lasted a matter of months as he was appointed organist to St George’s Hall in Liverpool that summer.
Once again the Inn sought to revitalise its music. Novello’s contract was not renewed and Pittman was reappointed. A school was set up jointly with the Inner Temple for the education of the choristers and a new organ purchased. Pittman remained until Advent Sunday 1863 when he disagreed with the Chaplain’s choice of the tune Helmsley due to its secular origins and so played it ‘in what he deemed to be the original tempo for dancing purposes…till the whole exercise ended in confusion’. He was dismissed by the Inn the next day. Under Pittman’s successor, Charles Steggall, standards improved greatly, The Times describing a Memorial Service for the death of Queen Victoria as containing ‘solemn, inspiring music’.
The twentieth century saw the gradual phasing out of boy choristers. They had evidently become a cause of concern as by 1907, the Organist was being instructed to ‘do his best to better the class of boys in the choir’. By 1937 they had been entirely replaced by a professional adult choir by C H Trevor, laying the foundations for the current musical tradition. Trevor was undoubtedly an extremely popular figure around the Inn; when he announced his retirement in 1965, the Inn even offered to transport him to Chapel each Sunday if he would remain.
The current choir consists of nine professional singers led by the Organist and Director of Chapel Music who provide music of the very highest quality most of the services in the Chapel, as well as appearing at the Inn for other musical events.
The organ is a new 40 stop instrument by Kenneth Tickell, the installation of which was completed in October 2009. More details of the new instrument can be found in the attached article for the 2010 Newsletter by the Organist (download article >).
With its fine acoustics for music, the Chapel is well suited for concerts, and these are a feature of the Inn’s calendar.
A series of lunchtime concerts, with free admission to the public, usually takes place on Tuesdays in term time. These feature predominantly the talented young musicians of the Royal College of Music. The next concert is scheduled for Tuesday 23 October at 1.05pm. A programme will be posted online once confirmed.
A CD of Christmas Carols and Seasonal Favourites is available. You can order it here.