Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fortescue, a man of hidden talents

Perhaps best known as the author of The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, the Reverend Doctor Adrian Fortescue needs little introduction. Fortescue, as his famous book is more simply known, is required reading for any Master of Ceremonies and has been through a multitude of reprints since its original publication in 1917. This remarkable man also wrote a similar book for organists, and I was privileged to be shown the one and only manuscript copy:

The Liber Organi is an incredibly beautiful hand-written book which Fortescue wrote to provide the organist at his church, St Hugh’s in Letchworth, with everything needed to accompany the liturgies. The inside front cover contains a photograph of the church taken in 1916 and the inside back cover contains the author's dedication 'in perpetuity' to St Hugh's:

The neatness is breathtaking and the overall sense of care which has been taken almost defies belief; the handwriting is beautiful as is the engraving of the music, some of it copied from other sources, but much of it Fortescue’s own harmonisations of the Gregorian Chants. There are also alternative melodies taken from hymnody:

His liturgical sense and attention to detail come across particularly in the short organ interludes he has composed in the Vespers section to modulate seamlessly from the key of one antiphon to the next:

The book is incomplete, filled with many pages of immaculately ruled empty staves which await music. He evidently wrote everything in pencil before inking it in when he was sure it was perfect. In one unfinished pencilled harmonisation he has marked a set of undesirable parallel octaves to remind him to set about an alternative solution. This was a man of apparently limitless talents who toiled in the pursuit of perfection. His manuscript gives a very personal insight, the effect of which is most humbling.

Early on in the book is a four page description of how to accompany the Mass which you can download here. I am most grateful to Fr Nicholas Schofield, the Westminster Diocesan Archivist, for allowing me a rare glimpse of this precious treasure.

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