The man who taught three geniuses

Cotswold Life|May 2020

The man who taught three geniuses
When the organ loft at Gloucester Cathedral became the training ground for three iconic composers
Simon Carpenter

For a few months between 1909 and 1910 the organ loft of Gloucester Cathedral was simultaneously the training ground for three of the 20th century’s most iconic cultural figures. These were the composer and poet Ivor Gurney (1906-11), composer Herbert Howells (1909-12) and Ivor Novello (190910), whose place in musical history would have been assured if he had just composed the song Keep The Home Fires Burning, but who went on to be a major composer, actor, playwright and impresario.

All three were among the teenage articled pupils of the cathedral organist, Sir Herbert Brewer. He would generally have had a few at any one time, generally ex-cathedral choristers, the sons of local lower middle class families. However of the three stellar pupils of Brewer at this time only Gurney fulfilled all those criteria. Howells was from the Grammar School at Lydney and Novello from Cardiff via Magdalen College School Oxford.

By the time Brewer was taking on these young pupils at Gloucester Cathedral that training method had been evolving over several centuries, having grown out of the apprenticeships available for membership of the medieval craft guilds. Over the course of the 19th century the system, as it was used by organists, became progressively more flexible as regards the length of time a pupil might spend with a master and also the legal arrangements behind the relationships. Typically organists would advertise vacancies they had for pupils in the trade journals of the time.


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May 2020