Peter Moorse was a champion of church music. He was a musical mover and shaker. He moved us, he shook us. He took us through a hundred shades of every emotional colour of the rainbow and brought us to a peak of performance practice that few have ever or will ever match.
Peter was a complicated and amazing musician. His characteristics were many, at least one for every letter of the alphabet. We could start with affectionate, belligerent, caring, daring, effusive, fiery, garrulous – you may continue in like mind.
I first met Peter in 1970 as a first year undergraduate at Goldsmiths’ College. As a fellow organist and steam train buff, we had a lot in common and he took me under his wing. As well as rebuilding my organ technique, he upgraded my social skills and with fellow students introduced us to fine food, fine wines and fine musicians. He was ready and able and willing to share his wide knowledge and expertise in and out of lectures, and we were in awe of him.
As a choral conductor he excelled. It was said that Martin How, a good friend of his, could get a flock of sheep to sing. Peter also took a menagerie of students and by a multitude of methods had us grafted into a fine chorus. My first Goldsmiths’ College Music Society Choir concert was ‘Hodie’ by Vaughan Williams, his favourite composer whom he had met in person. Verdi Requiem, Gordon Crosse Changes, Elgar Dream of Gerontius and many more followed.
At the end of my first year, I joined other students in the Music Society Choir to take part in the first performance of the BBC Commission ‘Arena’ by George Newson, lecturer in Electronic Music at Goldsmiths’. The list of performers was dazzling – Cleo Laine, Jane Manning, Alan Hacker, Joe Melia, Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and more, all under the baton of no less than Pierre Boulez. We were dazzled! Peter had met Cleo as he was involved in the first performances of Johnny Dankworth’s Folk Mass. The rehearsals did not go smoothly. Michael relates the moment when Peter and Cleo met in the bar at the Roundhouse during a break in the rehearsal she said “Peter, what the fuck are we doing here”! (not a word that Peter often used….) But all went well in the end and the concert was on Live BBC TV.
Peter’s teaching career started at Repton School, and then became involved with teaching at Goldsmiths’ College, rising to the position of Senior Lecturer and Director of Practical Studies. In a long career in church music, Peter held posts including sub-organist of Guilford Cathedral, Director of Music at Maidstone Parish Church, Assistant at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, and Director of Music at St John’s Wood Church.
Seated one day at the organ, playing for a Choral Evensong, he demonstrated his unique way of psalm accompaniment. Every colour of the organ was used, often using the most unlikely combinations, and any moment of word painting or double-entendre in the words were given treatment according to the Moorse code. His improvisations were legendary and Barry Rose writes “those who remember his playing still talk with appreciation of his amazingly inventive improvisations in and out of Evensong, even if they did not always appeal to the Dean!”
In my final year at Goldsmiths’, Peter brought some of his very many musical friends together to form the ‘London Cantata Choir’. Based at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, I was honoured to be the organist for their first concerts and on many other occasions. The choir performed in many London venues including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and St John’s Smith Square and became recognised as one of the finest smaller choirs in London, attracting significant funding from the NFMS and Performing Rights Society. The tradition of the annual performance each Good Friday of Bach St Matthew Passion started in St Martin’s but then moved for a ten-year run to St Paul’s Cathedral, featuring some top musicians.
Peter was very involved for many years with the RSCM, acting as housemaster and director for very many chorister courses. In 1984 he was asked to direct the prestigious week-long Adult Summer Course at Salisbury Cathedral. This was a well deserved honour. Gordon Stewart was booked to be organist but had to withdraw at fairly short notice. With the timetable printed with staff initials, Peter called upon me, possibly as the only other organist with the same initials. I went through the most tortuous grilling ever to make sure I was ready and able to cope with the burden of the challenging music, the daily services, and the rigour and demands of the course director. It evidently worked, as we were called back for 3 more glorious years, including Radio 3 broadcasts. Many of the course members have become very close friends. On the strength of these courses, Peter encouraged me to apply for Cathedral posts and eventually, against the odds of age and background, I was appointed as Assistant Master of Music at Peterborough in 1986, solely on the strength of Peter’s teaching, encouragement and his gift of opportunity and experience.
Peter was rightly proud of the success of the London Cantata Choir. Performances blossomed and the choir started a regular round of English Cathedral visits, including St Paul’s, Canterbury, Salisbury, Norwich, Derby, Gloucester, Hereford, Westminster Abbey and York Minster. Many performances were of works by living composers who became good friends. Performances were electric – thunder and lightning mixed with spring sunshine – no other choir sang quite like the LCC, thanks in full to Peter.
But it was not always a smooth ride. Peter did not suffer fools gladly and 100% commitment, concentration and dedication was the minimum requirement from all concerned. When matters went against Peter’s requirements, he was ready to take on anyone, the lowly and the mighty, from a trembling first year student, or a maître d’hôtel or chef, through to Cathedral Precentors and Deans and beyond. Yes, there were some upsets and blacklistings but all part of the nature of such a creative genius.
In more recent years, Peter has throttled back. LCC outings became fewer and there were a number of ‘last performances’ over the last few years. Peter kept bringing us back for more, and we were ever grateful. But in the end the baton was given up, and the London Cantata Choir and its creator and sole director, hung up their cassocks for the last time.
But there has been SO MUCH music making, so many memorable experiences, tears, laughter and anecdotes. There is so much more to say, and those very many who have been touched by Peter’s love and attention over so many years need to reward him by keeping these thoughts alive and by continuing to make music in his memory. He deserves nothing less than that.