Bach’s Mass in B minor Some personal reflections by our Conductor, Dr Simon Lindley
Simon Lindley’s first experience of the Mass in B minor was as a small boy hearing the work under the direction of Sir Thomas Armstrong in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre; that account made an impression that has remained entirely undimmed through the years and has only very rarely exceeded in the impact it created upon him.
Student days in London, and early in his professional career at St Albans and Tilford deep in the Surrey countryside near Farnham, he came to know the work especially well as répétiteur to the famous Tilford Bach Festivals and from a number of memorable performances with St Albans Bach Choir under the direction of the legendary Bach interpreter Dr Peter Hurford OBE.
Since conducting the work for the first time almost thirty years ago, Dr Lindley has presided over at least two dozen performances of the piece and played harpsichord and/or organ in at least a further twenty accounts.
He regards the Mass in B minor as, arguably, the greatest musical work ever written and agrees whole-heartedly with the widely held assertion that the piece comprises the most magnificent posthumous legacy left by any composer.
There is some historical evidence to suggest that Bach intended the work to be a kind of musical “last will and testament” and there is nothing to suggest that he ever heard the work in full as it is now given, though some parts of the masterpiece were certainly performed by him – notably, of course, the so-called Missa sections comprising the three movement Kyrie eleison and the lengthy setting of Gloria in excelsis Deo consisting of seven or eight movements depending on how you count them!
He also would have directed the Sanctus, written for the re-opening of the Saint Thomas School in Leipzig, while other movements such as the alto Agnus Dei [a shortened version of an aria in Cantata 11] and Dona nobis pacem [utilized also as Gratias agimus tibi within the Gloria earlier in the work] “doubles” as the opening chorus of Cantata 29. The Creed [described by the composer as the Symbolum Nicenum] almost certainly represents a totality of compilation rather than a set of movements intended for performance during the composer’s lifetime.
The Mass in B minor enjoys very special historic associations with the West Riding by virtue of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s advocacy of the piece towards the end of the century before last; it was Sullivan’s 1886 performance at the Leeds [Triennial] Festival that is believed to have comprised the first complete presentation of the work in Great Britain outside London.
Sullivan’s edition is still in print and sells thousands of copies each year. There are surprisingly few errors in his version of the vocal score, even if more scholarly and up-to-date editions are now readily available.
Furthermore, Simon Lindley’s great precursor Dr Melville Cook’s presentation of the work in 1950 at Leeds Parish Church and his subsequent performances with Halifax Choral Society brought the county fully aware of the vigour and vitality, as well as the great beauty, of the score.
It is universally agreed by music-lovers county-wide that these qualities were often exploited, too, by his immediate predecessor at the Parish Church, Dr Donald Hunt OBE, a hugely distinguished and influential musician widely regarded as one of the finest choral trainers and conductors that Britain has ever produced, and an individual who has enjoyed many happy collaborations with St Peter’s Singers in recent years.
Dr Lindley is Conductor of Sheffield Bach Society, of Doncaster Choral Society and also of Overgate Hospice Choir in Halifax and Leeds College of Music Choral Society. In both the Sheffield and Doncaster appointments, Dr Lindley follows in the steps of his great friend and colleague the late Dr Roger Bullivant MBE with whom he enjoyed such close artistic partnership over very many years.
Simon is widely known, too, as Music Director of St Peter’s Singers – the acclaimed chamber choir based at historic Leeds Parish Church where rehearsals are held weekly on Sunday evenings – since the Choir’s foundation by the late Harry Fearnley in 1977.
Since the mid-1970s Dr Lindley has served in the West Riding in a diversity of musical capacities – principally as Organist of Leeds Parish Church and, as City Organist, as Curator of the Organ at Leeds Town Hall. From 1976 to 1987 he was Senior Lecturer in Music at Leeds Polytechnic and from 1988 to 2011 Senior Assistant Music Officer for Leeds City Council.
During the 70s and 80s, Simon also worked for extended periods as Chorus Master to Leeds Philharmonic Chorus under Meredith Davies and Halifax Choral Society with Dr Donald Hunt; Simon is now a Life Vice-President of both choirs and also Honorary Life Vice-Patron of Doncaster Choral Society.
In December 2011 he was made an Honorary Life Member of Colne Valley Male Voice Choir.
As an organist, he is busy equally as soloist, continuo and orchestral player, and accompanist. His recent concerts have taken him to many prestigious venues within the past few months including the Cathedrals of Bradford and Liverpool, Bridlington Priory, St Michael’s Cornhill in the City of London, the Royal Parish Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, the Parish Churches of Bury, Grimsby and Chesterfield and, notably, at the National Musicians’ Church [St Sepulchre-without-Newgate – the Church of the Bells of Old Bailey in the children’s song – where Simon is Churchwarden and Chairman of the Friends of the Musicians’ Chapel]. In the closing weeks of 2011 he accompanied Elijah and Messiah twice apiece in performances given with organ only and thus without benefit of orchestra –an undertaking requiring much energy and stamina.
This term, additional to weekly recitals at Leeds Parish Church on Fridays in January and April, he gives special concerts to the Edinburgh Society of Organists and accompanies acclaimed soprano Sally-Ann Shepherdson at a lunchtime concert in Leeds Town Hall; he is also the Organist for the Parish Church Choir’s performance of Lloyd Webber’s The Saviour on the Monday before Easter.
On the national musical canvas, Dr Lindley has served in turn as President of the Royal College of Organists and of the Incorporated Association of Organists. In his capacity as a long-serving director of the English Hymnal Company, he is Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Music Trust. He is also President of the Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir, in which role he succeeded Dr John Sanders OBE.