Touching the Divine

Matthew Schellhorn discusses his work with Sacred Music ahead of a working pilgrimage to Rome.
Can you introduce yourself – your background and your current activities?
I am a musician living in London, originally from Yorkshire. I went to school in Manchester and then read Music at Cambridge, where I still work. I am a pianist by training and my professional activities include teaching and giving recitals on my own and with others. Singing has always been part of my life and is the heart of my music making, even at the piano. After I converted to Catholicism in 1999, I realised that the Sacred Liturgy needed to be serviced with a much higher standard of music, both in terms of performance and repertoire. The traditional liturgy and the movement surrounding its promotion provides rich opportunities for chant and polyphony, and it is a great privilege to be involved with so many celebrations in the UK and further afield.

You will be in Rome in late October for both the General Assembly of Una Voce and for the pilgrimage Summorum Pontificum. Can you explain the musical programme that you will perform during these two events?
My colleagues and I will be providing the music for several celebrations, including the Eucharistic Adoration in San Lorenzo in Damaso (before the procession to St Peter’s) and for the Sunday Mass in the historic church of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. I wanted to programme works that highlight our British provenance and the international nature of the events. So, we have music by Robert Parsons and William Byrd, both English composers who worked at the Chapel Royal and were  most probably teacher and pupil respectively. We also have music by the great English Catholic composer Sir Edward Elgar, Master of the King’s Musick from 1924–34; his music is considered nowadays the epitome of “Englishness” or “Britishness”, but in fact owes more to continental Europe. I have also included a motet by my friend Sir James MacMillan, a potent musical voice who does much to represent Sacred Music and who is a Patron of The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, which is sponsoring our work in Rome. To reflect the international dimension, I have programmed works by Josquin, Lotti, Viadana, Victoria, Palestrina, Mozart, Robledo and Franck. This will be a grand tour of Sacred Music!

You have assembled a choral group especially for this purpose: can you introduce it to us and tell us if it will continue in the future?
I founded Cantus Magnus as a small professional vocal ensemble in 2011 to fulfil the objective of performing Sacred Music in the context for which it is composed – the worship of God during Solemn Mass. We give no concerts, make no recordings. I do not believe in hearing Sacred Music in the concert hall. We have been fortunate to be supported by the Latin Mass Society, assisting with its events including national pilgrimages and cathedral celebrations. Since 2012, we have provided the music for the Sacred Triduum held at St Mary Moorfields, London, where we also gave what we believe was the UK premiere of the Tenebrae Lamentations and Responses by Italian cleric and composer Pietro Amico Giacobetti (fl. 1579–1616). I very much hope this work will continue, allowing the faithful to hear such beautiful music in the manner it was intended.

What is the link between your musical calling and Catholic faith?
Good music can draw people into the mystery of worship and therefore I see being a musician as primarily a vocation of service. Beyond that, I can only explain in general terms. I am a Catholic musician, but all Catholics are musicians in the sense that our patrimony includes music because music is an essential human quality. As Cardinal Ratzinger explained: "When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough.”. Or, to use St Augustine’s phrase: “Cantare amantis est” – singing is a lover’s thing. This truth, then, is the link for me and for others. We sing because we have faith; and we have faith so we sing.

This interview was published on on 25 September 2015