Michael Jamieson Bristow

composer

Dom Gregory Murray

DOM GREGORY MURRAY (1905-1992)

Born: Fulham London (England), February 27 1905 - Died: Downside Abbey Bath (England), January 19 1992

Based on an Obituary in 'The Times', dated January 30 1992

DOM GREGORY MURRAY, OSB, MA, FRCO, organist and composer, enhanced the music of the Roman Catholic Church, and latterly that of other denominations, almost by stealth. His music is sung every Sunday in thousands of churches throughout the English-speaking world: a case of everybody knowing the tune but few knowing the name of the composer.

His influence through such simple music as 'A People's Mass' (with sales of over two million copies), his psalm tones, organ music and hymn tunes reached far, although he had more or less withdrawn from public life half a century ago.

Anthony Gregory Murray was educated at Westminster Cathedral Choir School when Sir Richard Terry was Master of the Music, and St Benedict's, Ealing. In 1923 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and read for the historical tripos at Cambridge University, graduating in 1929. He was ordained in 1932 for Downside Abbey and spent most of the rest of his life there except for periods at Ealing during the war and as parish priest of Hindley, Lancashire, from 1948 to 1952. He was parish priest of St Benedict's, Stratton-on-the-Fosse, from 1952 to 1987, a position he combined with his domestic duties.

Dom Gregory Murray was a brilliant organist, regular broadcasts from the Compton organ at Downside Abbey led to the folk tale among musicians that the abbey was permanently hooked up to the BBC. He was particularly noted for his skill at improvising. Those with acute hearing and their wits about them would frequently detect a musical quotation from another work, not necessarily sacred in nature.

He was an authority on Gregorian Chant, publishing two books on the subject. It was a measure of his honesty that, once he had changed his mind about the rhythmic basis of plainsong, the second more or less contradicted the first. He disowned his 'Gregorian Rhythm: a Pilgrim's Progress' (1934) in the October 1957 edition of 'The Score', later giving his reasons in 'Gregorian Chant According to the Manuscripts' (1963). Two of his hymn tunes were published in the widely esteemed 'Hymns Ancient & Modern (New Standard)'.

Outside of music his interests encompassed the Gospel of St Matthew, football, cricket, tennis and chess. He complained during his last illness that the greatest privation of being sick was his inability to play the latter four, especially football. The sharp wit of his early years had mellowed to a delightful humour which he retained to the end.

His over-riding interest as a musician was to provide music that would enhance the Roman Catholic liturgy (when the Church of England later took to his music with enthusiasm he was delighted). His reflections on the place of music as a servant of the liturgy are recorded in 'Music and the Mass' (1977). He wrote for the old Latin liturgy, but as a keen vemacularist he seized the opportunities offered by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and continued composing until a few months before his death. He was always threatening to stop writing, once describing music to his publisher as "a bore and a chore", but he never did and his 'Chorale Prelude on Marienlied' was published on the day his death was announced.

His seven books of Short Organ Interludes for Liturgical use (published by Rushworths Music House Limited in Liverpool) are a blessing for parish organists:

FIRST BOOK: Interludes I - XIV
Downside Abbey, Bath (November 22 1935)

SECOND BOOK: Interludes XV - XXVIII
Downside Abbey, Bath (March 12 1937)

THIRD BOOK: Interludes XXIX - XLII
Downside Abbey, Bath (March 12 1946)

FOURTH BOOK: Interludes XLIII - LVI
St Benedict's, Hindley (February 27 1952)

FIFTH BOOK: Interludes LVII - LXX
Downside Abbey, Bath (February 12 1986)

SIXTH BOOK: Interludes LXXI - LXXXV
Downside Abbey, Bath (March 19 1987)

SEVENTH BOOK: Interludes LXXXVI - C
Downside Abbey, Bath (June 01 1987)

 

September 16 2009 11:54 GMT