Organist of the Charterhouse (1938)

The following article details the careers of a few notable musicians who have, at some time or other, been the organist of the Charterhouse.

Originally published in the “Old Charterhouse Magazine” in December 1938, the article begins with Benjamin Cosyn, the first regularly appointed organist, and concludes with Mr. Harry Stubbs, who accepted the position in 1911.

Since it was written numerous organists have held the position, most recently Brother Graham Matthews (pictured above). In 2007, he was elected a Freeman of the Honourable Company of Musicians.


Organist of the Charterhouse

Among the many places in London with traditions interesting to music lovers, the Charterhouse occupies a place not to be overlooked.

The first regularly appointed organist was Benjamin Cosyn, in 1626, he having previously held a similar post at Dulwich College for two years. After a tenure of office for seventeen years, Puritan influence became paramount and the Charterhouse organ shared the fate of many others under the Act of Parliament for their suppression. Cosyn was discharged with an annual pension of £13 6s. 8d.

He was a celebrated composer in his day. A Litany is of interest, and is stated on good authority, to be at Peterhouse, but it is an imperfect copy. The MS Virginal book, the property of His Majesty the Kind, now in the British Museum, contains music by Cosyn, including a piece entitled “The Goldfinch” for treble viol, viola da gamba and harpsichord, which was played at the Dolmetsch Festival at Haslemere in 1931. It is a fine volume of exquisite workmanship and besides Cosyn’s there are pieces by John Bull, Orlando Gibbons, Tallis and Byrd.

In 1662, the post of Organist was revived, and therefore held in succession until 1737 by Nicholas Love and Thomas Love. There is little or no information available about the two musicians, but in the latter year Johann Christoph Pepusch was appointed. His collection of airs, preceded by an overture of his own compositions, known as “The Beggar’s Opera” followed by similar work, “Polly,” has achieved what appears to be of lasting popularity, and its revival every few years has given a permanent place in popular esteem to many charming melodies which would otherwise be forgotten. Pepusch was born in Berlin in 1667.

 Johann Christoph Pepusch by Thomas Hudson (died 1779).

He became organist at the Prussian Court, and attained celebrity as a profound theorist and practical musician. An incident at Court caused him to leave Germany, and he made England his home for the rest of his life, and was engaged at Drury Lane Theatre. There can be no doubt that his comprehensive knowledge of the art, and his devotion to it, did much to advance the progress of music in England.

Besides founding in 1710 “The Academy of Ancient Music” a society which restricted its operations to performing established classical works, and which had a life of eighty-two years, he became in 1712 organist at cannons, the seat of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, in which appointment he was succeeded in 1748 by Handel. Among his pupils are found the names of Travers, Boyce and Bejamin Cooke, the last-named of whom procured the erection of a tablet in Charterhouse Chapel “in grateful respect to his memory.” The degree of Mus. Doc. was conferred on him in 1713. He died on July 20, 1752, aged eighty-five.

The chapel organ in 1916.

John Jones succeeded Pepusch in 1753. He already held the post of organist at the Temple Church, and in 1755 was appointed to St. Paul’s Catherdral, thus holding the three appointments simultaneously. He left a collection of Anglican chants, one of which is favourably noticed in Haydn’s diary after hearing it at St. Paul’s on the occasion of a gathering of school-children which was formerly held there. He was another pluralist, holding the Temple and the Charterhouse appointments at the same time.

In 1796, R.J.S. Stevens, a chorister of St. Paul’s, followed. He is still famous among the lovers of the glee, a form of composition much in vogue in his day, which still holds its own among those who delight in pure vocal harmony. He bequeathed his valuable library to the Royal Academy of Music. He was appointed Gresham Professor in 1801, following Dr. Aylward.

William Horsley was the next, appointed in 1838, a member of a musical family who were friends of Mendelssohn. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Music of Stockholm in 1847. His glees were admired by Mendelssohn, who carried many of them to Leipsig for performance by the Sign Verein. (His son, Charles Edward, who was a pupil of Medelssohn, Hauptmann, and Spohr, went to the United States, where he died in 1876. He was a composer of orchestral and chamber music.)

The name of John Pyke Hullah, Horsley’s pupil, is remembered with respect by many old Carthusians, and is associated with songs which retains their popularity. His chief claim to a place in English musical history is largely founded on his energetic propaganda of choral singing based on the fixed doh system. But the advent of the tonic sol-fa or movable system, under the guidance of Miss Glover and J.S. Curwen, gave choralists a method which entirely superseded Hullah’s, and despite the indifference which it encountered, it may now be considered to be firmly established.

He was professor of vocal music at King’s College, London. Several operas of his composition are now forgotten. Hullah took an active part in teaching at the public schools, including Charterhouse.

A pupil of Hullah, Miss Mary Taylor followed him in 1884, and was succeeded by Mr. Harry Stubbs in 1911.


Shaun Ward plays Voluntary by Benjamin Cosyn

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