Coronavirus (Covid-19) Information

Historical research in Sacred Music

Early Organs in Britain: The Early English Organ Project

The reconstruction of two early 16th-century English organs is, at this stage, the main outcome of the Early English Organ Project (EEOP): the Wingfield organ (2001) and the Wetheringsett organ (2002), whose originals date from around 1530. Details of the organs may be found at

John Harper (director, ICSMuS) and Dominic Gwynn (honorary research fellow, ICSMuS) have been key players in the EEOP – Harper as chairman and research director of the project, and Gwynn as the organ builder leading the investigation and building of two reconstructed instruments by the firm of Goetze and Gwynn.

Through a series of residencies, workshops and two major conferences, the reconstructions have stimulated a series of revaluations of the nature of the early English organ and its use in the liturgy, and of 16th-century pitch and choral practice. Some of the practical outcomes of these investigations may be heard on the recording made with the Wingfield and Wetheringsett organs by Magnus Williamson and the Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, directed by Geoffrey Webber (OXCD 101).

In May 2005 the ownership and management of the organs passed to the Royal College of Organists, whose website also includes details of the instruments.

Early Organs in Britain: ongoing and future initiatives and research

Extending from EEOP, ICSMuS will seek to coordinate and promote ongoing initiatives and research in the field.

The feasibility of the reconstruction of other instruments is being evaluated, especially those for which either archaeological or significant archival evidence survives – e.g. Old Radnor (before 1540, anonymous), St Edmund, Salisbury (1567, Chappington), Magdalen College, Oxford (c. 1630, Dallam), Chirk Castle (1632, Burward).

John Harper’s work on the relationship of organs, choirs and liturgy in Britain during the period 1480-1680 has occupied him over more than a decade, and will be brought together in a book, Sacred Pipes and Voices, due to be completed early in 2009.

Dominic Gwynn, who already has a substantial output of published research alongside his work as a builder and restorer of organs on historical principles, is completing a study of British organ building up to the middle of the 18th century. This is based on extensive examination of extant British organs (often requiring the unravelling of later alterations, or the interpretations of mere fragments) and archival research (including institutional records, inventories and wills).

In addition to Harper and Gwynn, there is an informal network of scholars that has formed through EEOP. These include Andrew Johnstone (Trinity College, Dublin), David Smith (University of Aberdeen), Geoffrey Webber (Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge), and Magnus Williamson (Newcastle University). Further details of research initiatives will be recorded here as the project programme develops.

Late medieval and early modern liturgy: projected development of online resources

The classic texts of the Use of Sarum, prepared in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries, have served scholars and students very well, even to the point of distorting the place of a regional Use in the broader context of the Western Latin Rite. The availability of resources such as Early English Books Online has enabled students to have first hand access to primary printed texts. This suggests other possibilities: the provision of an online, searchable edition of Frere’s Use of Sarum and the provision of a select group of liturgical manuscript sources.

John Harper’s Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy (1991) has now been in print for over 15 years. While this has proved an important tool for non-specialists in the field (both scholars and students), the advances in electronic publishing offer the opportunity for the development of a far more responsive and interactive resource. Revision of Forms and Orders and investigation of an interactive electronic publication will be taken forward as funds allow.

Late medieval and early modern liturgy: other studies in progress

John Harper                

  • The Use of Sarum: the relationship of rite, ceremony and public devotions to the setting of the new Cathedral
  • Unravelling the medieval Latin rites of England from the High Church agenda of the later 19th and earlier 20th century
  • East and West in Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River: Japanese Noh drama, Western medieval liturgical drama and plainsong hymns

Other historical research and publications

  • Richard Armitage (PhD in progress)
  • Parish church music in the diocese of Gloucester, c.1700-1900, with particular reference to gallery music

Other scholars at Bangor whose work includes research and publications in the field of sacred music studies

  • Dr Sally Harper
  • Dr Christian Leitmeir (profile)
  • Professor Thomas Schmidt-Beste
  • Professor Bruce Wood (profile)