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Leeds Cathedral

The Cathedral Church of St Anne
St Anne's Church was situated on the west side of Cookridge Street facing down Park Row until demolition for road widening in 1903. The ceremonial opening of old St Anne's took place on 7th November 1838: a full orchestra and choir performed Haydn's Mass No 3 and his Grand Coronation Anthem.  The re-opening of the church on 22nd June 1842 - following the installation of the new altar and reredos - was celebrated by a performance of a mass by Weber. Miss Whitnall of Liverpool was the soloist, "her powerful and melodious voice contributed much to the fine effect produced by the music", wrote a local music critic.

The Father of St Anne's Cathedral Music
A new organ was installed by the respected Leeds firm of Abbott and Smith in 1874.  The Roman Catholic Diocese of Leeds was created in 1878 and in the following year, St Anne's was elevated to Cathedral status. Eighteen-year-old Arthur Grimshaw - a son of the famous Leeds moon-lit landscape painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93) - was appointed as the first Organist and Master of the Choristers in 1883. He remained in post for thirty years until his untimely death in 1913 and became widely regarded as "The Father" of St Anne's Cathedral music. Grimshaw was principal conductor of the Leeds Symphony Society (now the Leeds Symphony Orchestra) from 1896 -1911.

The Restoration of Gregorian Chant
In 1903, the year before the opening of J.H.Eastwood's splendid Arts and Crafts Gothic-style cathedral in Cookridge Street, Pope Pius X issued a Motu Proprio - a Papal decree - to restore to Roman Catholic public worship, the  Gregorian chant, described as the supreme model of all sacred music. The Moto Proprio stated that unaccompanied classical polyphony must be restored, especially in cathedrals, as it "agrees admirably with the Gregorian chant". Although certain music "of a modern character" could be used, greater care must be taken to avoid the "theatrical style"  favoured in Italy during the 19th Century. The Moto Proprio also restricted solo singing and prohibited women from forming any part of the choir or musical chapel.

New Cathedral Opens
Despite the Papal ruling, Rossini's "theatrical" Petite Messe Solennelle was sung at the Pontifical High Mass to celebrate the opening of the Cathedral on 16th June, 1904. Grimshaw was at the organ console and the choir was conducted by Austin Mahoney. A magificent Norman Beard organ had been installed in the new cathedral. Strict limitations were placed on the organ's use in line with the Papal instructions so that it was always secondary to the Choir. In fact, the instrument was shut down completely during Lent and Advent and the "redundant" organist  welcomed into the choir.

World's Youngest Cathedral Organist
Grimshaw was succeeded as organist in 1913 by Henry Alban Chambers, a boy treble in the Cathedral Choir, who at the time of his appointment, was just eleven years old. Chambers remained in post until 1931, combining his duties with the post of resident organist at the Lounge Cinema in Headingley.  Bernard F. Malone, a senior member of the choir, was appointed organist in succession to Chambers and would serve the cathedral in this capacity for the next 22 years. In 1951, the Leeds Catholic Choir was formed from the cathedral choristers and Catholic Parishes in the City. The new Choir was available for Bishop (later Cardinal) Heenan's rallies, broadcasts and other special occasions including an open air Mass at Headingley Rugby Ground and a secular programme of Negro Spirituals performed during a Bishop's rally in Leeds Town Hall.

Gerald B. Lyons, a senior chorister, began to assume responsibility for the Cathedral Boys section whilst Frank Malone remained as organist. The succession of organist/choirmasters promoted from the ranks of the cathedral choir was broken In 1953. Bishop Heenan announced the appointment of a "professional" organist and choir master: Fred Walker, previously organist of  Birmingham Oratory, worked hard to build up the choir but his remunerative demands set him on a collision course with the cathedral administration. Walker's appointment was terminated after just twelve months in the post.  Gerald Lyons now officially took over as choirmaster for the fee of 50 per annum and remained in post until 1969.

A Splendid Tradition of Liturgical Music
Leeds Cathedral, had since its opening in 1904, built up a splendid tradition of liturgical music based on Gregorian chant. Historically, this was led by a large choir of boys and men singing the chant largely from memory.  Some elements of the Vatican hierarchy had viewed their church and cathedral choirs as little more than "ecclesiastical glee clubs" which prevented the congregations from taking a full vocal part in the liturgy. The Second Vatican Council (1962-64) sought to redress the balance by stipulating that the liturgy must be sung in the language of the congregation. The Choir of St Anne's refused to sing an English Mass and the choirmaster declared that it must be a Latin Mass or else he would disband the choir. The dumping of the traditional Latin Rite in use for over a thousand years would usher in a period of turbulence and a continuing struggle to maintain high standards at the cathedral. The Vatican Council had a devastating effect on the quality of Catholic church music in England.  Choirs haemorrhaged members and musical standards declined as congregational participation and populism became the watchwords.

In 1963, Bishop Dwyer decided to re-order the sanctuary, resulting in the removal of the original oak choir stalls and the re-location of the choir to a more remote position behind the altar. In 1968 the Diocesan authorities sought to create a new and expanded post of Master of the Music. The successful applicant would be responsible for the music at Leeds Cathedral, developing music for the new English Liturgy throughout the Diocese and conserving the great heritage of Latin Church music. No suitable candidates emerged and a further twenty years would elapse before a similar post was advertised.

The Choir is Disbanded
On the 15th Sunday after Pentecost,1968, during the 11 0'clock Solemn Mass, the cathedral Administrator, Monsignior Tom Murphy, announced from the pulpit that the choir was to be disbanded forthwith: in future, the singing would be purely congregational.  The boys of the choir dispersed and many years would pass before a Catholic boy treble would again sing the liturgy in the sanctuary of St Anne's.

Co-operation is Followed by Dissent
The dawning of the 1970s heralded an era of co-operation between the rump of the Cathedral Choir and the Leeds Catholic Choir. A shortage of boy and adult male choristers necessitated both choirs becoming mixed groups and, for the first time, women were admitted to the ranks to sing the soprano and alto lines.

Bill Dibley, Master of the 40-strong Leeds Catholic Choir and a member of the Cathedral Choir now took control of both groups but was succeeded in 1978 by Geoffrey Phillips, a teacher at St Michael's College. Phillips preferred to channel his energies solely into the Cathedral Choir and in the Spring of 1982, Leeds Catholic Choir was wound up.  The Cathedral Choir was itself suspended only months later because members disagreed with the cathedral administration's new ruling that the choir occupy the first two rows of the nave and become, in effect, part of the congregation.  Yet another change at the helm brought Michael Murphy to the post of Master of Music and the choir developed slowly but was unable to muster more than 15 or 16 singers during the 1980s.

Bishop Konstant Lays Foundations for Modern Era
In 1988, Bishop Konstant decided to appoint a full-time Director of Music for the Diocese. Joseph Cullen, formerly Master of the Music at St Andrew's Cathedral Glasgow, was the successful candidate.  The new Director of Music was able to recruit from any school in the Diocese to meet Bishop Konstant's requirement for a boys choir of 24 voices at Leeds Cathedral.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-64) and the subsequent overthrow of the traditional Latin Rite had destroyed many Catholic church choirs.  Bishop Konstant's backing and practical support laid the foundations for the development of today's acclaimed Leeds Cathedral choirs of boys, girls, adults and professional choral scholars.

Leeds Cathedral Houses the Largest Catholic Choral Foundation
The Diocese of Leeds under the stewardship of Benjamin Saunders, Director of Music since 2001, has developed one of the largest programmes of choral music for young people in the United Kingdom. Leeds Cathedral now has a boys' choir, a junior choir for girls aged from 7-13, and a semi-professional adult choir made up of university students (choral scholars) and auditioned adults. The first girls' choir in a Catholic cathedral was established by Stuart Thompson who succeeded Joseph Cullen as Director of Music in 1993. Three more choirs are based in Bradford: Bradford Youth Choir, Bradford Boys' Choir and Bradford Girls' Choir. All of these groups form an integral part of what is now the largest Catholic choral foundation in the country.

Cathedral re-opens following restoration
On Monday 13th November 2006, a magnificently restored Leeds Cathedral re-opened for worship after a closure of 15 months. The Bradford Boys' Choir joined the cathedral boys and adult choirs to sing at the Solemn Mass and Dedication of the Altar. The music performed on this historic occasion included works by Juan Garcia de Salazar, Ludovico da Viadana and Colin Mawby - a former Master of the Music at Westminster Cathedral.

The Bradford Boys' Choir took part in Leeds International Concert Season's spectacular performance of Berlioz's Te Deum at Leeds Town Hall in May 2006 and the united choirs, together with the Choir of Leeds Parish Church, performed a programme of Christmas Music at the Town Hall in December 2006.

The four cathedral choirs now sing ten services between them each week including Choral Vespers and Mass every weekday (except Friday) alongside the two principal Sunday services. Choral Vespers are regularly broadcast from the cathedral on BBC Radio 3 and the choirs can also be heard on both BBC Radio 2 and 4.

Leeds Cathedral's free Thursday lunchtime organ recitals and choral concerts are now an important element of the City's busy musical calendar.

Cathedral Organ Reconstruction
The organ, built in 1904 specifically for Leeds Cathedral by Norman and Beard, had been out of use since the 1970s and was subsequently replaced by an electronic organ. Widely recognised as the one of the finest examples of Edwardian organ building, the Norman and Beard instrument has now been re-built and enlarged, as befits the restored Cathedral and the new position of the Choir at the East End. Reconstruction and restoration work undertaken by German organ builders Johannes Klais Orgelbau has been designed to preserve the English Edwardian tonal style of the original instrument. The organ was re-built in the workshops of Klais in Bonn and transported to Leeds Cathedral in June 2009 for re-instatement over a five month period. On the 16th May 2010, Benjamin Saunders gave the inaugural recital on the re-built organ, preceded by Pontifical Vespers sung by the Leeds Cathedral Boys' Choir, Girls' and Adult Choirs.  



Click images to enlarge
Cathedral Choir, 1913
Cathedral Choir, 1913
Organist Henry Chambers in 1913 with Choirmaster John Needham
Organist Henry Chambers in 1913 with Choirmaster John Needham
Organ recital 1921
Organ recital 1921
Cathedral Choir 1929
Cathedral Choir 1929
Cathedral May Procession 1934
Cathedral May Procession 1934
Bishop Cowgill's funeral procession passes St Patrick's, 1936
Bishop Cowgill's funeral procession passes St Patrick's, 1936
Cathedral Choir at Kirkstall Abbey, early 1950s
Cathedral Choir at Kirkstall Abbey, early 1950s
Gerald B Lyons, Master of the Choristers 1954-69
Gerald B Lyons, Master of the Choristers 1954-69
Carol Service 1955
Carol Service 1955
Leeds International Concert Season, lunchtime organ recitals 2004-5
Leeds International Concert Season, lunchtime organ recitals 2004-5
Thursday lunchtime concerts, 2007
Thursday lunchtime concerts, 2007
Leeds Roman Catholic Choirs, Huddersfield
Leeds Roman Catholic Choirs, Huddersfield
Leeds Choirs
Leeds Choirs
Bradford Boys and Adults
Bradford Boys and Adults




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003