Two forgotten composers: Kent and Woodward

In the Cathedral Library there is a volume which throws an interesting sidelight on the music sung in the Cathedral in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the methods of performance used at the time.

The volume is really two books in one, containing separate publications which were later bound together. The first part consists of James Kent’s Twelve Anthems, published in London in 1773. Kent was organist of Winchester Cathedral, and a very popular composer in his day. The Dean and Chapter of Gloucester appear amongst the list of subscribers to the book, and they immediately put it to good use. Within months of its arrival in Gloucester at least four of the anthems in the book were copied en bloc into the manuscript part books used by the lay clerks, and more were copied subsequently. What is more, the book was clearly used in the services alongside the manuscript part books. It contains all kinds of handwritten additions: ornamentation of the solo lines, slurs and tempo markings, adjustments to the layout of the treble parts, in-filling of the organ part, and so on. It seems likely, therefore, that the men of the choir sang from the manuscript part books whilst the organist (or perhaps the trebles) used the printed copy. In addition, the pages of Kent’s most celebrated anthem (Hear my prayer, O God) have been heavily repaired, which suggests regular usage over a significant period of time.

The second part of the volume was less fortunate. It contains Richard Woodward’s Cathedral Music, published in 1771. Woodward was organist of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, and the first Irish-based composer to publish a collection of cathedral music. His book contains a full service setting, eight anthems (many of them quite extended and virtuosic), and ten psalm chants. However, unlike the Kent part of the volume his music has no added markings at all, and the text is as clean as the day it was published. It looks like this part of the volume was never used at Gloucester.

Nowadays, both Kent and Woodward are largely forgotten and unperformed. Tastes have changed, and both disappeared from the repertoire in later Victorian times or with the Tudor revival of the early twentieth century. (One modern writer has even gone so far as to describe Kent as ‘a wretched composer’.) But in their day both Kent and Woodward were leading writers of church music, and this volume is evidence of their differing contributions to the repertoire here at Gloucester.

Article by Martin Graham, Library volunteer

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