The music at St. Matthias’ Church was launched in style. The first Director of Music was Dr. W.H. Monk, a distinguished musician who composed and adapted many hymn tunes still popular today. The tunes for ‘Abide With Me’, ’Soldiers of Christ Arise’ and ‘Hark! a Herald Voice is Calling’ are only three of many favourites. Dr. Monk was also an early editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern and a professor of music at King’s College, University of London. He remained at St. Matthias’ Church for 37 years, until his death in 1889.
The original organ in the church was built by Henry Willis in 1853. It was enlarged by A. Noterman, first in 1914 and then again in 1952 after damage to the church during World War II. It is a large, four-manual instrument with a concave, radial pedal-board, and consists of 39 stops, not including sub-octaves, super-octaves and extensions.
At least thirteen ranks are from the original Willis organ. The pipes are high on an unenclosed platform at the west end of the church, so that the sound travels unimpeded through the resonant acoustic of this lofty building.
This powerful instrument provides strong choruses to support hymn-singing and other service music, and can also produce delicate, soft sounds when appropriate. The Tromba is strong and well-rounded, while the Vox Humana and Clarinet are both characterful and the Horn blends well into choruses. The Oboe is mysterious and quietly effective. The pedal division provides a substantial foundation to the manuals, and has an identity of its own. The large console is in the south chancel aisle and has easily accessible tab stops. The action is electric and the touch relatively light.
On 13 June 2009, The British Institute of Organ Studies awarded a Certificate of Recognition to the organ, citing its ‘important archaeological material’, including the pipework by Willis and Noterman, the console by Travers and the association with W.H. Monk as significant features. It was certainly one of Noterman’s major post-war projects.
The organ is a joy to play and, while effectively encouraging congregational singing, it is ideally suited to the Romantic and modern organ repertoires, though Baroque and early music can be equally effective with judicious registration.
During his time at St. Matthias’ W.H. Monk formed an amateur choir to sing his own arrangements of plainsong settings for psalms and canticles for use at the daily evensongs. The practice of singing plainsong offices was extremely rare in Anglican parishes at the time.
Choral music has gone through many phases at St. Matthias’ since then. Today a talented young cantor sings the responsorial psalm in plainsong after the first lesson at Mass, and the church enjoys the singing of a lively and enthusiastic group of young people at feasts and festivals.
Stephen Jasper – Director of Music