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An eruption of harmony and the arrival of a beautiful manuscript

Mark Damazer

On Saturday, the college held a memorial service for Prof David Wulstan, a formidable scholar and a musician of the greatest importance in the history of the scholarship and performance of choral music, and an Honorary Fellow of St Peter’s.

David was the founding genius of the Clerkes of Oxenford, created in 1961, which reinvigorated the standing of early English music, particularly 16th-century music. For more than two decades or so, the Clerkes, under his leadership, were pre-eminent in Tudor choral singing. Here is a sample of the discography, and if you are in need of some ethereal Anglican sound, I recommend it. The Clerkes sang at a higher pitch (a minor third) than had previously been the case for performances of Tallis, Gibbons, et al, and the effect is stunning. (David Wulstan rooted this decision in his scholarly understanding of the music of the period – of course – and in particular the voices of those who were singing these pieces.)

There were many in the chapel nave, and as the first hymn began I realised that something unusual was occurring. The vigorous but imprecise singing of a normal congregation at Evensong was replaced by a confident, clear and brilliant sound. The Clerkes had reunited for the occasion, and then sang, extraordinarily, doing the service a Thomas Tomkins anthem and, together with the college’s own choir, Libera nos, salva nos by John Sheppard. It was a superb exposition of choral singing.

David Wulstan had given the college an important collection of musical books and manuscripts, the most beautiful of which are facsimiles of Iberian medieval music. We have placed one of them in a beautifully-lit museum display case in the chapel. It is sumptuous.

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