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Commemoration Weekend 2005

Information and programmes from the Peter Tranchell Commemoration Weekend: Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September 2005

From The Caian:

Peter Tranchell was a figure of major, if not always uncontroversial, importance in Cambridge music from his arrival back from active service to resume his degree studies at King’s in 1946 (becoming Musical Director of Footlights and Music Critic for Varsity in that year) until his retirement from Caius and the Music Faculty in 1989. Appointed Director of Studies in Music at Caius in 1959 (Precentor in 1962), his influence on successive generations of Caius musicians lasted thirty years and over that period he amassed a large following of devoted admirers and friends. Over a hundred were able to attend one or more of the events of the Commemoration held in Cambridge on 24 and 25 September 2005, close to the twelfth anniversary of his death. The proceedings began with a concert of a selection of his music in West Road on Saturday afternoon, followed by dinner in Hall; the celebrations finished on Sunday morning with Choral Mattins in Chapel.

There was enthusiastic performing support from a wide spectrum of Caian musicians, ranging from James Gibson (1944), through a succession of Organ Scholars – Martin Neary (1958), John West (1963), Norman Harper (1970), Trevor Blease (1978), Francesca Massey (2002) and Thomas Hewitt Jones (2003) – and Choral Exhibitioners: Roderic Keating (1960), Peter Brice (1962), Alan Opie (1963) Alex Kidgell (1999); to the current Caius Choir under Geoffrey Webber. Not only did the Choir sing Grace at dinner and lead Sunday Mattins, but they gave a dazzling performance of Peter’s ‘madrigals’ Five Thackeray Ditties, written for the University Madrigal Society in 1962. This was almost certainly the first complete performance and their rich harmonic language opened the concert to great effect.

The spectrum of performers was echoed by the spectrum of Peter’s music, though sadly there was not a suitable platform for any of his ‘after dinner’ cabaret songs – many dating from his years with Footlights, others suitable only for private performance in A3 (with the windows closed “because I don’t want the Dean to learn the words”). We heard a further example of his serious music in the closing scene of his 1951 opera The Mayor of Casterbridge, which made such an impression on those who saw it at the Arts Theatre in its original Festival of Britain context or at the 1959 revival. As a contrast in style there were three numbers from Zuleika, the musical comedy based on the Beerbohm novel, which had sparkled so brightly at its Cambridge premiere in 1954 but suffered a series of misfortunes on its way to its later London run at the Saville Theatre, conducted by a young Charles Mackerras.

After Peter’s election to a Fellowship in 1960 his compositional activities developed a more domestic focus. As well as continuing the succession of concert entertainments for undergraduate performance, he wrote part songs for secular use and a vast amount of liturgical music for chapel. We heard four examples of the former genre at the concert, performed by the ‘Chorus Caianorum’ (a motley collection of many generations of Caian singers, ably supported when required by the upper voices of the current choir): two songs, and two examples of newspaper cuttings set to psalm chants. Peter was entranced by stories of eccentric goings-on found in provincial newspapers, and he often extemporised songs for himself from a sheaf of cuttings. For a sample of an ‘entertainment’ we had two songs from His First Mayweek, first performed at St Catharine’s in 1963.

As Peter Marchbank wrote in his note for the programme he constructed, the availability of performers meant that none of the extraordinary range of Peter’s instrumental works could be heard, apart from several of his organ pieces played on Sunday morning by organ scholars past and present. The most substantial piece, the Sonata written for Peter le Huray in 1958, has also been played by Norman Harper in recent recitals at Westminster Abbey, King’s College, and in Germany. The choral highlight was the festal Te Deum in E written for the 1975 Annual Gathering Commemoration of Benefactors. The choir demonstrated it had lost none of the versatility of that era when two Choral Exhibitioners stepped out of the stalls and took up their violins – a choir just as adaptable but musically rather superior, thirty years on.

More than 120 sat down to dinner on the Saturday evening, and it is unlikely that the Carmen Caianorum has ever been sung with quite so much gusto. John Gwinnell had mounted an excellent exhibition of Tranchell memorabilia in the Combination Rooms, derived from research for his forthcoming biography, and there was much fascinating material.

It is a mark of the respect and affection people felt for Peter that so many managed to attend all or part of the weekend’s events. One former Choral Exhibitioner flew in from Arizona, others came from Germany and Switzerland. It was also good to see, on Sunday morning, Peter’s oldest surviving close friend Lord Kennet, who as The Hon. Wayland Young had been (at Trinity) a contemporary for Peter’s first, pre-Army year as an undergraduate at King’s. Wayland Young was the first of the very select few of Peter’s friends who could hold his own extemporising two-piano music with him. Elizabeth Jane Howard, another friend from the war years, was able to attend the whole weekend.

The event was initiated and supported by Peter’s two Executors, Dr John West (1963) and Dr Chris Henshall (1972), but the vast bulk of the detailed organisation was admirably carried out by Peter Marchbank (1961) with John Gwinnell providing technical support and advice with outstanding expertise and good humour. Thanks are also due to the Syndics of the University Library, who as copyright-owners gave permission for the reproduction and performance of Peter’s works. They (and the performers) have also given their consent for the production of a souvenir CD of some of the musical highlights of the weekend. This can be purchased by those who attended, or who wished to attend but were unable. Details are enclosed with this edition of The Caian, or may be found on [this website] or by post from John Gwinnell c/o the college.

John Gwinnell and Chris Henshall

Concert: Saturday 24th September 2005 at 4.00, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge - Music by Peter Tranchell

Thackeray Ditties (1962)

  • A Tragic Story
  • The King On The Tower
  • The Chaplet
  • To A Very Old Woman
  • A Credo

Choir of Gonville and Caius College,
Director, Geoffrey Webber

Closing Scene: The Mayor of Casterbridge (1951)

Henchard: Alan Opie (baritone)
Whittle: Roderic Keating (tenor)
Elizabeth-Jane: Alex Kidgell (soprano)
James Gibson and Thomas Hewitt Jones (pianos)

Songs from "Zuleika" (1954)

  • Someday he may
  • Zuleika's Travels
  • The Kind of Man for me

Alex Kidgell (soprano)
Martin Neary (piano)

Group of Part-songs

  • Christmas Shopping (SATB)
  • Once there was a bridegroom
  • Seven bullocks escaped
  • The dog that sat (ATBarBB) (1967, rev.1976)

Chorus Caianorum, conducted by John West

Music from "His First Mayweek" (1963):

  • Hadrian built a villa anyone’d envy

Alan Opie (baritone)

  • Just a toothbrush and pyjamas

Peter Brice (baritone)
Chorus Caianorum
Edward Pick & Geoffrey Weaver (pianos)
conducted by John West

Mattins, Sunday 25th September 2005

09.50 Prayer & Epilogue:  Four Voluntaries (1952)   (played by Trevor Blease)

10.00 Choral Mattins

Hymn: O God our help in ages past (last verse by PAT)

Virgoan Preces and Responses (Peter Tranchell, SATBrB 1987)

Psalm 126 (Peter Tranchell, Unison Voices & Organ, 1962)

Te Deum in E for AAAATBBB, Org, Piano & 2 violins (Peter Tranchell, 1975)

Jubilate Deo (to a psalm-chant by Peter Tranchell)

Anthem: My beloved spake (Patrick Hadley)


Hymn: Now thank we all our God (with last verse by PAT)

Sonatina for organ (1964)

Epilogue: My song is love unknown (Lenten Cantata) (Patrick Hadley)

Sonata for organ (1958)    (played by Norman Harper)