He was born in London (second son of Charles Nicholson) and educated at Rugby School, New College, Oxford and the Royal College of Music. At this last-named institution, he studied the organ. He then served as organist at Barnet Parish Church (1897–1903), Carlisle Cathedral (1904), Lower Chapel, Eton College (1904–1908), Manchester Cathedral (1908–1919), and Westminster Abbey (1919–1928). Along with maintaining his organist posts, he edited the Hymns Ancient and Modern supplement that was published in 1916; he did not live to see the 1950 revised edition.
Something momentous would have to occur to persuade most away from playing the organ at the prestigious Westminster Abbey, but such was the case with Nicholson who was so concerned at the sad state of choral music in the parish churches throughout the country that in 1927 he founded the School of English Church Music (now the RSCM), in the hope of rectifying the problem. The School's members initially met at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.
One of Nicholson's most successful compositions for parish choirs was his Communion Service in G, which was widely sung, especially in Anglo-Catholic churches, until recent times. He was warden of St Nicholas College, Chislehurst (1928–1939).
In addition to having edited Hymns Ancient and Modern, still the standard hymn book in many Anglican churches today, Nicholson wrote several hymn tunes. Of these, the most famous is Crucifer for the popular processional hymn Lift High the Cross. In 1928 he received the Lambeth DMus, and a decade later he was knighted for his services to Church music. He died at Ashford, Kent at the age of 72, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Books on Church Music: Church Music A Practical Handbook (1927) London The Faith Press
- The American organist - Volume 22 - Page 162
- The Musical herald - Issues 658-669 - Page 40. John Spencer Curwen - 1903
- In Tuneful Accord: The Church Musicians. Trevor Beeson. Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd, 1 November 2009
- Armstrong Siddeley Motors: The Cars, the Company and the People in Definitive Detail. Bill Smith. Veloce Publishing Ltd, 2006
|Church of England titles|
| Organist and Master of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey