Sheffielder’s family link to choir concert composer

JULIA ARMSTRONG Published: 17:10 Friday 01 June 2018

John Barnard, a keen mountain climber and skier living in Stannington, who is also researching his family history, is looking forward to hearing a rarely-performed Requiem composed by his grandma’s great-grandfather, to be sung this June by Sheffield Bach Choir.

John, who was brought up in London but came to Sheffield 40 years ago, was a researcher at the university before starting a scientific software business with a colleague whose wife sings with the choir, writes Anne Adams.

image“I’m very much looking forward to hearing the Bach Choir’s performance,” said John “I have only heard one previous performance, given by the Bristol Chamber Choir, which my ancestor Robert Pearsall helped to found”.

Pearsall (1795-1856) was brought up in Bristol but lived and died in a mediaeval Swiss castle he bought and restored while pursuing his musical interests. His son Robert was a cavalry officer and fencing master who drowned in mysterious circumstances in a London canal. One of his daughters eloped aged 16, her husband later unexpectedly becoming Earl of Harrington; his other daughter painted a portrait of her father which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Pearsall composed his Requiem to commemorate the Abbots of the St Gallen monastery in Switzerland, but sadly a civil war intervened and Pearsall never heard his work performed. The manuscript was largely forgotten until 2005 when it was finally published by the Church Music Society.

Sheffield Bach Choir will sing the Requiem on Saturday, June 9 as part of their commemoration of the 1918 Armistice, and in support of the annual Broomhill Festival. “We are pleased and proud to present this expressive and beautiful Requiem by one of the greatest English musicologists of his day.’ said the choir’s music director Dr Simon Lindley. “His setting of the mediaeval carol, In dulci jubilo, remains very popular, and is frequently included in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge”.

Baritone Quentin Brown from Leeds will sing a group of George Butterworth’s songs to texts from Housman’s famous A Shropshire Lad, as well as a number of popular ballads including Yorkshire-born composer Haydn Wood’s Roses of Picardy. Wood famously related that the melody came to him as he was going home on a London bus one night, and he jumped off the bus and wrote down the refrain on an old envelope while standing under a street lamp.

Also on the programme at St Mark’s Church.are Parry’s Songs of Farewell and Blest Pair of Sirens, Vaughan Williams’ Te Deum and Bairstow’s Lord, Thou hast been our refuge. The choir will be accompanied by organist David Houlder on the St Mark’s Organ, now magnificently restored by Wood of Huddersfield.

Tickets cost £12 (£10 concessions), available from or at the door on the night. John will be rushing back to secure his seat after chairing a meeting of his ski-mountaineering club in Hathersage. As for Pearsall’s castle – it’s now the Schloss Hotel Wartensee, a hotel and gourmet restaurant in Rorschacherberg, Switzerland.

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