If you haven’t heard of Henry Aldrich, the famous 17th century composer, architect and Oxford dean, you’re likely not alone.
But Lakehead University music professor and Orillia campus principal Dr. Dean Jobin-Bevans wants to convince you to tune in.
“I was immediately drawn to his work as it’s the music I love to hear and perform myself,” says Jobin-Bevans, who came across Aldrich’s archived manuscripts in 2013 during a sabbatical researching in the Christ Church Library, Oxford. “There is also a modern appeal to his music – it’s still accessible and relevant all these centuries later.”
Aldrich’s music, most of which are anthems composed for the cathedral at Christ Church, was written for both unaccompanied choirs or those singing with an organ accompaniment. Typically thought of as an English style of church music, choral anthems have a long history of performance in the Anglican tradition and are almost exclusively sung in English.
Henry Aldrich collected, transcribed and composed as many as 8,000 scores of choral music for cathedral performances during his career at the University of Oxford’s Christ Church college, as a way to inspire his own creative work and religious musical expression. A prolific 17th century English writer, theologian, philosopher, composer, and architect, he also served as Dean of Christ Church and as the University of Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor.
Intrigued by Aldrich’s unique approach to choral music, Jobin-Bevans set out to transcribe select pieces from the 300-year old collection, editing and creating musical scores for contemporary church choirs, instrumentalists, and music scholars. Working his way through original leather-bound, handwritten manuscripts, Jobin-Bevans spent six years editing and digitizing 20 different scores, updating elements such as time signatures and adding musical bars and vocal clefs.
A CD of the new editions was released in November of 2019 and some of Aldrich’s original manuscripts are also captured on the project website. Jobin-Bevans says that hearing the music performed for the first time by the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, who also recorded the music for the CD, was hugely rewarding and speaks to the lasting quality of Aldrich’s work.
Viewing history through the late composer’s musical lens is another takeaway of the project, says Jobin-Bevans. “Aldrich grew up, was educated and appointed Dean during the period of the English Restoration, a time of great upheaval, politically and socially. His work reflects that history and tells us a lot about what his creative mind was thinking concerning the role and function of Restoration church music and liturgy.”
Jobin-Bevans also agrees a parallel can be drawn between himself and Aldrich that goes beyond the music.
“He was passionate about connecting architecture, logic, and math through music to both teach and inspire,” reflects Jobin-Bevans. “His work has been an inspiration to me and has kept me engaged in new ways to teach, lead as a principal, and continue building this lasting digital archive of his legacy.”
Dr. Dean Jobin-Bevans’ research is a partnership with the Christ Church Library, Oxford. Samples of the music are available at:https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/library-and-archives/henry-aldrich-project. The full album, Henry Aldrich: Sacred Choral Music, can be purchased on iTunes or borrowed from the NAXOS Music Library through your local library.