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Music and Freemasonry

Music has always been integral to English Freemasonry from the early years of the 18th century and the inclusion of songs set to music in James Anderson’s first Book of Constitutions (1723) is clear evidence for this. Early Lodge music generally took the form of singing either unaccompanied or with portable instruments, as the Lodges were meeting in the private rooms of inns and taverns which had to be cleared at the end of a meeting.

During the 19th century dedicated Masonic halls were built and a pipe organ was often installed – mainly a reflection of the Victorian vogue for pipe organs, which by then were installed across England in every ambitious church, chapel and meeting hall.

The previous century’s tradition of Lodge music, with its echoes of tavern culture, was ill-suited to the new Lodge environment, and so the process of appropriating a new musical repertoire from the unimpeachable sources of church and chapel began.

Christian hymns and psalms, and new music inspired by them, expressing sentiments thought to validate Freemasonry’s fraternal tenets, began to dominate. A profusion of such material appeared in inexpensive, commercially-produced editions of Lodge music from the middle of the 19th century until the zenith of such publications in the early decades of the 20th.

The latest exhibition at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in London called The Freemason’s Liber Musicus explores this development of Masonic music drawing on its unique collection of music which is currently being catalogued. The Freemason’s Liber Musicus is the work of Dr William Spark, a Leeds organist whose own musical and Masonic career illustrates many aspects of this development.

In the 19th century many provincial English cities established music festivals whose profits were used to provide finance for hospitals and other community facilities. The festivals also enhanced a city’s status.

As leading citizens were involved with these festivals, it is not surprising that we can find a number of musical Freemasons playing their part. One such case is Dr William Spark at Leeds.

The growth of banking and trading services to support the wool trade had led to tremendous growth in the population of Leeds in the early 19th century: the population increased by a factor of three between 1800 and 1841.

The origins of the Leeds Music Festival can be seen in two events: the building of the town hall and the revival of Anglican church congregations in the 1830s when W F Hook, as Vicar of Leeds, redesigned the Parish Church, St Peters (with the assistance of Wakefield architect and Freemason, R D Chantrelli) and brought to the city a leading cathedral organist, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, in 1842 ii.

In turn, Wesley brought with him from Exeter, a trainee organist, William Spark. Dr Spark, as he was to become, was one of the major figures in Leeds musical life until his death in 1897. He was organist at two churches and was appointed Borough Organist in 1859.

Liber Musicus by Dr William Spark
The Freemason’s Liber Musicus (illustrated here) was a much reprinted compendium of music for all lodge occasions, compiled by Dr William Spark,

In this role he helped (with Henry Smart) to design the organ for the new town hall. This cost £5,000 and was deemed to be the reason why the city did not need a local orchestra: “The organ would do all that an orchestra could … and less expensively”.

Spark played at the first Leeds Music Festival in 1858 and at every festival from 1874 to 1886. He was also a very prolific composer of both sacred and secular music.

Amongst the 90 or so entries against his name in the British Library catalogue are pieces such as The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir: a descriptive fantasia for the piano, The blazing hearths of England, Cheer, cheer for all the sons of toil, a funeral march, adaptations of music by Haydn and Bach and, of course, his Masonic music, collected in the much reprinted The Freemason’s Liber Musicus.

Spark was initiated in the Lodge of Fidelity (now No. 289) in Leeds in October 1853 at the age of 30 and, apart from a two-year hiatus in the 1860s, remained a member for most of his life.

In 1819 the Lodge of Fidelity first occupied its own Masonic hall in rented premises in Sterne’s Buildings, Green Dragon Yard, Briggate. These premises included an organ and, although the Lodge had moved from these premises by the time that Spark joined, the occupation of these premises prompted the Lodge to begin a tradition of attracting to its membership competent organists.

These included John White, organist at Harewood Church and at Wakefield, and John Hopkinson, whose sons later established a piano manufacturing and music publishing business iii.

The move by this Lodge towards greater use of organ music is just one example of the growing use of pipe organs to provide music in Masonic Lodges that continued throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the time that Spark joined the Lodge, it had a broadly based membership of local businessmen and professionals which included the Rev Augustus Perring, curate of St Paul’s Church, where Spark was organist. Spark was Master of Fidelity in 1875 and was appointed Provincial Grand Organist in 1858 and 1861.

Following the Lodge “tradition” he recruited a number of musicians including John Pugh Bowling, later Principal of the Yorkshire Training College of Music, George Haddock, a skilled amateur musician and collector of old instruments, the singers, Thomas Dodds, who later became the Lodge tyler, and Charles Blagborough, the latter a member of the Lodge for almost 50 years.

It was the Mayor, Peter Fairbairn, who, prompted by rivalry with Bradford, in 1858 initiated the first Festival, the profits of which were to go to Leeds General Infirmary, and established an organising committee comprising local aldermen and businessmen.

A detailed comparison between membership of Leeds Lodges and the membership of the various organising committees remains to be undertaken, but there was certainly some involvement from an early stage.

Martin Cawood, owner of a flax spinning factory and member of both Lodge of Fidelity and Alfred Lodge was on the first committee as was J N Dickinson, brush manufacturer, Thomas Eaglund, surgical instrument maker, James Ostler, leather factor and Samuel Walley, wool merchant.

They were all members of Lodge of Fidelity. Frederick Spark, William’s brother, was appointed secretary.

There was an abortive attempt to organise another festival in 1861 which failed due to the rivalry between the city’s two choral societies, the Leeds Choral Society led by  William Spark’s own Madrigal and Motet Society, and so it was not until 1873 that another festival got underway.

The musical director of these first festivals was the eminent London conductor (and Freemason) Sir Michael Costa. He and William Spark first met in 1852 in Bradford when the foundation stone of St George’s Hall was laid, an event conducted with full Masonic ceremonial.

They met again at the first Bradford Music Festival in the following year. Spark was the younger of the two men by about 10 years and admits in his book Musical Memories that he felt somewhat frightened by Costa’s austere manner and sharp conversation.

A shared love of music and possibly also their Freemasonry brought the two men closer: Spark was later invited to dine with Costa at his house in Eccleston Square in London and Costa travelled to Leeds for Spark’s installation as Master. Spark believed that Costa was “the most popular chef d’orchestre that ever resided in England”.

The exhibition also addresses the question of what is the future of Lodge music. Pipe organs are steadily disappearing from Masonic halls to be replaced by electronic keyboards and the declining number of organists means that even these keyboards become redundant and are replaced by a CD player.

Although the pipe organs installed in Masonic halls were often modest affairs designed to support corporate singing, a modern researcher has recently called for them to be recorded on the National Pipe Organ Register even if they cannot be retained.

“The tonal consistency of these modest English instruments, by whichever organ builder, across many decades and in all parts of the country, makes it possible to view these Masonic pipe organs of the 19th and early 20th centuries as a distinct type. They not only represent a significant part of English Freemasonry’s cultural heritage but, arguably, they also make a distinctive contribution to the nation’s wider cultural heritage.

However, as a consequence of their private location and their modest scale, these instruments have been overlooked by the organ cognoscenti, and are unlikely to compete successfully for public funding towards the cost of their maintenance or restoration. Indeed, it is the costs of maintaining these otherwise modest and unremarkable instruments that has led to many being removed and replaced by electronic alternatives, without any systematic attempt to record what is lost” Some pipe organs have been preserved.

One example is the organ by Norman and Beard Ltd of London (1912) in the Lodge room known as The Greek Temple, at the Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street Station, London. This imposing and highly decorated Edwardian space is Grade 1 listed and so the survival of its otherwise typically modest Masonic pipe organ has been guaranteed by its being integral to the Lodge room’s original design.

Despite the completeness of the furniture and fittings in this Lodge room it is no longer used for Masonic meetings, but the instrument is intact and playable. At Freemasons’ Hall itself, a fine one-manual chamber organ c. 1793 in an attractive mahogany case, by Robert & William Gray of London, restored carefully by Michael Broadway for use in Lodge Room 3.

i. Robert Dennis Chantrell (1793-1872) was briefly a member of Lodge of Fidelity in 1838-39, then Savile Lodge (then No. 677) from 1839-45, joining from Lodge of Unanimity No 179 in Wakefield.
ii. Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) was initiated in Palladian Lodge No. 141 (now No. 120), Hereford on 17 September 1833 (shown as Westley in the register) and joined St George’s Lodge No. 129 (now No. 112) in Exeter on 10 December 1835. He resigned in 1840. No details of any Lodge memberships in Leeds are known.
iii. J W Reddyhoff, History of the Lodge of Fidelity No 289: 1792-1992, (Leeds, 1994).
iv. Robert Senior Burton (1820-1892) was initiated in Lodge of Fidelity in 1845 but his membership appears to have lapsed the following year.
v. Andrew Pink, English Masonic Lodges, Pipe Organs and National Heritage 2007