Music at the Sacred Heart

The church of the Sacred Heart has a long tradition of musical excellence. Under the enigmatic Fr John Driscoll SJ (1865-1940), appointed choirmaster in 1904, the choir of boys and men (complete with choir school) gained a national reputation and sang in the first liturgical performance of the Vaughan Williams G minor Mass in Westminster Cathedral under Sir Richard Terry. The young George Malcolm, a pupil at Wimbledon College next door, attended some of Driscoll’s rehearsals at Farm Street (and occasionally at the Sacred Heart) and said that Driscoll’s way of training the boys ‘in the continental manner’ was a great influence on him; one would like to think that Driscoll is in part responsible for the ‘Westminster sound’!

Father Driscoll

Fr John Driscoll SJ: No choirboy would dare to sing out of tune!!

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Driscoll originally had the choir in the Sanctuary, as the original organ (by Bishop) was on the north wall of the choir (click here for the specification and see the archive photograph above with the pipework clearly visible on the left hand side). Indeed, one can still see in that wall the original door to the organ loft which now leads nowhere! But he persuaded the parish priest, Fr Kerr, to raise funds for a magnificent new organ in a west end gallery where he would place the choir. This instrument, with a large specification drawn up by Driscoll’s organist, Dr Henry Wardale, and built by JW Walker and Sons, was inaugurated in 1912, and remains one of the finest parish church organs in London (click here for details). Driscoll then had all he needed to create a musical tradition that received national acclaim. He spent many hours transcribing music by hand (some from the Vatican Library), often whilst hearing confession! Driscoll also adapted music from other denominations (Anglican, Lutheran etc) and superimposed Latin texts.

Another interesting character who was organist at the Sacred Heart and Farm Street is Fernand Laloux. Born in Belgium, Laloux also wrote music of all kinds in a highly individual style, with piquant harmonies and lush vocal writing. He was, for fifty years or so, first singing teacher then Director of Music atWimbledon College and for the two years before his death in 1970, Director of Music at the Sacred Heart. As Driscoll’s organist in the ’30’s, he must have had a formidable technique to play some of the accompaniments that Driscoll provided – many of them orchestral reductions.

The choir and choir school disbanded in 1939 and Fr Driscoll died in 1940. In 1945, the choir was restarted as a voluntary mixed group, and it remains that to this day. Subsequent directors of music have included Nicholas Danby and Colin Mawby. There has always been a strong connection with the Jesuit church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, Mayfair. Fr Driscoll was, from 1928, simultaneously choirmaster at Farm Street – often delegating to Laloux. Nicholas Danby (1963-65) and Martyn Parry (1981-1995) both left the Sacred Heart to take the post of director of music there.

The current director of music is Robert Rathbone and the organist and assistant director of music is David Gammie.

In addition to the choir that sings at the weekly Latin Mass, there is the Family Mass group with instrumentalists and Cantors, often with children from the Sacred Heart Primary School choir. Much of the music is home-grown, especially the Psalm settings. The 5.00 mass music group uses music from the contemporary worship-song repertoire, as well as traditional styles. We are fortunate to be able to offer styles of worship in music to suit all tastes and traditions.

These music pages will gradually grow to include a detailed history of music at the Sacred Heart. We hope you will find them useful and informative, but most of all, we hope that you will be encouraged  to join us for mass one Sunday, and perhaps many more in the future.

Sunday Masses with music:

9.45: Sung Family mass led by the Steinway piano, children’s choir, instrumentalists and cantor Rachel Marshall.

11.15: Latin mass with full choir: settings of the ordinary of the mass and motets; plainsong propers.

12.45: Mass with hymns and sung Ordinary.

5.00: Mass led by the 5.00 music group (contemporary liturgical music). Practices on Fridays 8-10pm and Sundays 4-4.30pm.

The choir rehearses on Wednesday evenings 7.30-9.30pm and at 10am on Sundays prior to mass. New members are welcome. Contact robert.rathbone@mac.com