Informator Choristarum at Magdalen College from 1957 to 1981, Bernard Rose was hugely respected as a choral director, composer and academic. To mark the centenary of his birth, his family organised a concert in St Mary's Church, Bampton, performed by choristers, clerks and students from Dr Rose's time at the College. The programme consisted entirely of works written by Dr Rose, some sacred, others secular; all were for unaccompanied choir, which was conducted by Dr Rose's son Gregory.
Some 20 former choristers - and thus all Old Waynfletes - took part in the event, either in the choir or in the audience. It was a splendid occasion, which also helped raise funds for the Bampton Church Organ Appeal and the Dr Rose Benefaction Fund (supporting choristers at Magdalen College). Over £6,000 have been raised with donations still pouring in.
Below is the speech given by former Magdalen College Organ Scholar and Master of Music at Peterborough Cathedral, Christopher Gower.
It is not known for service music lists to create misprints. Last term, one of Canterbury Cathedral's Sunday sheets acknowledged me as the composer, but listed me as having died three years ago! It was a feature of Bernard's time at Magdalen that we sang music from a wide range of periods. For example, from time to time Mendelssohn choruses were aired. It was not surprising that Bernard snorted with laughter (and he did 'snort'), at the listing of 'How Lovely are the Messengers' as 'How lovely are the passengers'. In light of that, and in our over-regulated days, he would have been equally amused, but at the same time typically infuriated, to read in a recent pamphlet from a bus company that it is 'recommended that you wait until the bus stops before trying to board it'.
This unique occasion has been meticulously organised by the family, and our thanks go to Molly, Graham and Judith, Greg and Heather and Nigel and Wendy. It is particularly special for those of us who word, studied and sang with Bernard. In our undergraduate days it was, of course, and quite rightly, Dr Rose, for he was the last candidate to achieve an Oxford D Mus by examination.
In this concert, we are celebrating his life and rejoicing in so much that he gave to the world of music, and particularly church music, in which he spent his entire professional career. He was the finest choir-trainer of his generation and today a number of our foremost ensembles owe much to him. With us tonight, with friends and relatives, we have former Magdalen Academical Clerks, old choristers and some of Bernard's past music students. For you all to want to come together, from far and wide, bears testimony to the high regard in which you hold your former choirmaster, tutor, lecturer and friend. All of us will have our own memories of Bernard, but some in the audience may have only a limited knowledge of his career and significance.
In 1925 he became a chorister, and subsequently head chorister, at Salisbury Cathedral. He studied at the Royal College of Music before moving on to become Organ Scholar at St Catherine's College, Cambridge. Important mentors were Patrick Hadley, Edward Dent, Adrian Boult and Ralph Vaughan WIlliams. Before the war began, he was appointed organist and tutor in music at the Queen's College, Oxford, but much more significantly, he married Molly.
Once his distinguished war service was over, he returned to Queen's and in 1957 moved on to Magdalen as Informator and fellow, where he remained for twenty-four years. I was interviewed by him early the following year, and I succeeded Dudley Moore as organ scholar.
In the long vac, prior to going up to Magdalen, my first task was to pencil in changes of pointing in the psalters. Bernard had particularly forthright views on the singing of psalms and wrote a paper on the subject for the Royal College of Organists. He aimed for a flow of words akin to normal speech patters and we had to keep our wits about us for the run-on verses and omitted chords! That care for detail was just a small part of the transformation he achieved in the choir's singing at Magdalen. The three lay clerks who were still in the choir when I became organ scholar were singers of varying vocal ability. The voice of one was described by Bernard as sounding like 'blowing down a drainpipe'. They were quickly replaced with a full team of choral scholars - and academic clerks.
The transformation was achieved in a very short time. Precision in diction and in intonation were the hallmarks of his direction, but everything he dealt with had colour and phrase, alternatively sensitive and robust. I can truthfully say that every rehearsal and every service were memorable occasions. He had a fine command across all periods of church music, but especially of Tudor music. He always conducted next to the chorister at the end of Decani, never in the middle. I am not sure whether the chorister next to him wore shin pads! At the end of a harmony and counterpoint tutorial (and what a gifted teacher he was), sherry glasses in hand, he would delight in showing you his latest work of editing a Tomkins verse anthem - and all done in pen and ink - black ink. No sooner than his manuscript was finished, we would be singing the anthem in Chapel. His work on Musica deo Sacra is a lasting testimonial to his scholarship. Evensongs were always focused on one particular period of church music so that the service had musical cohesion. His responses, for which he is best-known, arose from a set he found at Magdalen, composed by one of his predecessors, H C Stewart. Stewart's were quite straightforward, but they were the first set composed since Tudor times and inspired Bernard to compose his own. We sang them in first manuscript. His sense of history and interest in his predecessors at Magdalen brought him into close touch and performance of the works of John Sheppard and renewed interest in Daniel Purcell, Sir John Stainer and Sir Walter Parrott. Copies of some fine Victorian anthems were dusted down and were found room for on service lists, most notably 'Remember Now Thy Creator in the Days of Thy Youth', sung close to the beginning of every academic year.
Few today would cope with the amount of work that Bernard sustained during his time at Magdalen, and in my time the choir terms far exceeded the academic terms, and we still sang at Christmas. He managed to be there for most of the early morning practices (if he couldn't, he would leave me detailed notes about what needed to be rehearsed), tutorials, lectures, editing, solo singing (he had a fine bass voice), composing (and this concert gives you some idea of his gifts in that direction), membership of committees in university and college (he was Vice President of Magdalen from 1973 - 1975) and also President of the Royal College of Organists from 1974 - 1976. It gave him special delight to be President for ten years of the City of Oxford Silver Band.
Through all of this, there was - and thankfully still is - the remarkable and redoubtable Molly. Together they gave us so much of themselves and entertained us most generously at Bampton and Appleton. Their hospitality, care for all of us and their superb planning of events did so much to help to weld together the team of musicians in Chapel - choristers, clerks and organ scholars. We owe them both, in the here and in the hereafter, our gratitude, love and warm affection.
Bernard cut a debonair figure - the bow tie, the suede shoes and especially so seated at the piano in the Song School with a cigarette holder in his mouth. He was forceful by nature, fiery, sometimes severe, at times incisively critical of people, but always warm-hearted with those he worked with. There was something of the showman there (as there is in all musicians), and he was a keen wit. At the dinner table, when he was giving a lengthy account of a particular event in the North Africa campaign, in which he of course served, it could be necessary for Molly to curtail the story, but he was - nevertheless - a great raconteur. He had high ideals and we would have done anything for him. He inspired us.
He always felt, and rightly so, that particular colleges at the other university received undue attention and adulation. But we all knew that something special was happening at Magdalen. Broadcasts and recordings quickly came, but it was the chapel services that mattered most and for which he gave his all. Tonight, we are marking the centenary of his birth and the twentieth anniversary of his death. In his setting of the Three Addison anthems that have just concluded the first half of the concert, the final lines of the third anthem which he set so imaginatively could not be more apt:
'they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
For ever singing as they shine,
The hand that made us is divine'.