A recollection of the Twentieth-Century Folk Mass

12 December 2007

From Mr Lance Haward


Sir, — As one who was present at the televising in October 1957 of the Beaumont Twentieth-Century Folk Mass (Arts, 30 November), I would diverge from Dr Arnold Hunt’s assessment that it was the imminent developments in pop music which were to turn Beaumont’s setting into a period piece. In fact, it was recognised as exactly that even while in rehearsal.

The public advertisement of it as something revolutionary was certainly not reflected in Fr Fitz-Gerald’s own description of it to me as “our sort of music, I’m afraid” — by which he intended the dance-band music of the generation of our then congregation of the retiring and the pensioned, by contrast with that supposed target audience of teenagers hopefully conjured in Chris Simpson’s quoted forecast.

The celebrant, at least, was clear that this piece had, as Dr Hunt rightly points out, no claim to be classified as “jazz”, nor yet (like the Holy Roman Empire) to be either uniquely 20th-century or folk by any realistic definition. To be precise, it was actually, introit apart, a highly contrived set of variations on the 1954 Lucas-Coates Dambusters’ March.

Slightly more revolutionary, in ecclesiastical terms, than the evening’s event was the artificial disposition of our own choir on ledges at the regular morning mass, for the better (that is, more televisual) delivery, at the producer’s behest, of the Gregorian Proper for the day. This alternative prospect was by way of introduction to the debate about the “dramatic event” that was the featured item on the following day’s Panorama.

The most colourful aspect of the day, which in purely musical terms was somewhat lacklustre, was probably the livery of the BBC admission tickets to the broadcast — pink or blue, not by reference to one’s juvenile gender, but according to whether one was an intending communicant or not.
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