Richard Terry (musicologist)

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Sir Richard Runciman Terry (3 January 1865 – 18 April 1938) was an English organist, choir director and musicologist. He is noted for his pioneering revival of Tudor liturgical music.

Early years[edit]

Richard Terry was born in 1865 in Ellington, Northumberland. At the age of 11 he started playing the organ at the local church. Educated at various schools in South Shields, St Albans and London, Terry then spent a year at Oxford (1887-88) and two years at Cambridge (1888-90), where he went as a non-collegiate student but became a choral scholar at King's College, Cambridge.[1] There he also became a music critic for The Cambridge Review. At Cambridge, he was much influenced by the Professor of Music, Charles Villiers Stanford and the King's Chapel organist Arthur Henry Mann who taught him the techniques of choral singing and the training of boys' voices.[2]

Musical career[edit]

After leaving Cambridge in 1890, without a degree, he became organist and choirmaster at Elstow School near Bedford, then at St John's Cathedral, Antigua in 1892, and director of music at Highgate School in 1895. After his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1896 he was appointed organist and director of music at the Roman Catholic Benedictine Downside School in Somerset. It was here where he began the massively important work of reviving the Latin music of Tudor English composers such as William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. He was greatly inspired by the revival of Gregorian chant by Dom Prosper Guéranger at Solesmes Abbey in France, which was to be an important part of the Downside musical repertoire.

In 1899 Terry took his Downside choir to Ealing, for the opening of the new Benedictine church, where they sang William Byrd's Mass for Five Voices and motets by Palestrina, Philips and Allegri. Cardinal Herbert Vaughan was the preacher on the occasion and he decided that he would have Terry as his Master of Music at the newly built Westminster Cathedral.[3]

Terry's time at Westminster Cathedral was marked by admiration and praise, as well as frustrations. In 1911, he received a honoris causa degree of Doctor of Music at Durham University, and in the same year, during the International Music Congress, a special session was held in the Cathedral of early English church music, sung by the Cathedral Choir.[4] He was awarded a knighthood for his services to music in the 1922 Dissolution Honours.

While Terry's relation with Cardinal Vaughan was excellent, it was less so with his successor, Cardinal Francis Bourne. Bourne's different view on church music, a continual shortage of financial means to support the choir, the decrease in the number of lay clerks during and after the Great War, together with Terry's engagements in other things outside the Cathedral led to a prolonged period of tension.

Terry resigned from the Cathedral in 1924, after coming under increasing criticism for his erratic behaviour and neglect of duty (including neglecting administrative work, taking off without leave for weeks at a time, cancelling choir rehearsals without notice, dismissing Lay Clerks without proper procedure, taking on too many engagements outside his Cathedral work and tensions due to his inconsistent approach to congregational singing at the Cathedral).[5] Nonetheless, during this time he was able to establish a choral tradition of great merit at the Cathedral, developing a repertoire of both Gregorian chant and polyphonic music. The choir's particular focus on renaissance polyphony is believed to have influenced the emerging school of 20th century English composers and on the performance of church music in England. Following his resignation from Westminster Cathedral he went on to work as a musical editor, journalist and academic. He was the initial editor of the Oxford University Press series Tudor Church Music, although by the time this series was completed he had been ousted from the editorship.

Contribution to church music[edit]

The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians credits Terry with the revival of much English church music, including Peter Philips' Cantiones sacrae, Byrd's three and five part masses and Gradualia and Cantiones sacrae, Tallis' mass and lamentation, William Mundy's Mass Upon the Square and many motets by Thomas Morley, Christopher Tye and others. Much of this work resulted in his editing and publishing performing editions of this music including 24 motets in Novello's series of Tudor motets. He also published the first modern editions of Calvin's first psalter of 1539 and the Scottish Psalter of 1635. In 1912 he edited the Westminster Hymnal.

Terry was also a composer of church music, most notably of hymn tunes, several of which are in use today, such as the popular Christmas carol Myn Lyking.

Select bibliography[edit]

  • Catholic Church Music, 1907 (enlarged in 1931 as The Music of the Roman Rite)
  • Still More Old Rhymes with New Tunes, Longmans, Green & Co, 1912 (illustrated by Gabriel Pippet)
  • On Music's Borders, 1927
  • Voodooism in Music and Other Essays, a collection published in 1934


  1. ^ "Richard Runciman Terry". Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Retrieved 5 June 2016. 
  2. ^ Patrick Rogers, Westminster Cathedral. An Illustrated History, London, 2012, p. 164
  3. ^ Peter Doyle, Westminster Cathedral 1895-1995, London, 1995, p.53
  4. ^ Patrick Rogers, op. cit., p.166
  5. ^ Peter Doyle, op. cit., pp. 57-58

External links[edit]