John Scott Commemoration
St Paul’s Cathedral. 6 May 2016
The untimely death in August 2015 of the eminent organist and choral director John Scott was a shock to many. Organist and Director of Music of St Paul’s Cathedral from 1990 to 2004, and then at St Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, New York, John’s reputation as solo organist and choir director seemed to be on a perpetual rise. His memory remains strong in St Paul’s Cathedral, as was evident from the packed Service of Commemoration and Thanksgiving to mark his life, held in place of the usual Evensong on Friday 6 May.
Unusually for English cathedral services, the commemoration was prefaced by 35 minutes of organ music, played by two of John’s former Sub-Organists (Andrew Lucas and Huw Williams), including the 1993 Toccata that Jiří Ropek composed for John. Equally unusually, the entire congregation stayed silent and seated throughout the final voluntary, Bach’s monumental ‘St Anne’ Fugue, played by the current St Paul’s organist, Simon Johnson. During the service, James O’Donnell (currently at Westminster Abbey) played Messiaen’s Alleluias sereins d’une âme qui Désire le ceil.
Other music during the service included Patrick Gowers’ extraordinary Viri Galilaei (with its complex part for two organists), composed for St Paul’s and recorded by John Scott with the Cathedral choir in 1991 (extract here), John’s arrangement of the song ‘My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations’, Lobet den Harren by John’s beloved Bach, and hymns arranged by John. John’s two sisters and his daughter Emma Scott gave readings, the latter most touchingly, and with extraordinary composure, with WB Yeat’s poem ‘When you are old’, with the most appropriate line: ‘How many loved your moments of glad grace’.
On personal note, it was an honour for me to sit with my late father’s 100 year-old cousin, Maurice Sills, a long-term volunteer at St Paul’s and the cathedral choir school, who knew John well (see here and here).
All the St Paul’s Cathedral Sunday organ recitals during May are In memorium John Scott, and are played by his former colleagues (details here).