A new exhibition celebrating 750 years of music at Hereford Cathedral opened on Monday 28 May. ‘Sounds Divine’ is presented by the cathedral’s library and archives in the Mappa Mundi exhibition. It features artefacts and documents which explore the lives and work of the people who have helped to fill the cathedral with wonderful music, including original manuscripts of works by Sir Edward Elgar, Samuel Sebastian Wesley and Dame Ethel Smyth.

The Hereford Breviary, a unique medieval manuscript which records how the daily round of services was sung at the cathedral in the Middle Ages, will form a key part of the exhibition as it celebrates its 750th anniversary. Another early treasure of the collection to be included is a fifteenth-century illustrated copy of ‘Aesop’s Fables’ from the library of the College of Vicars Choral, with drawings and doodles added by choirboys over the centuries. Exhibits dating from the sixteenth century include records from the cathedral’s Act Books of the appointment as chorister in 1573, organist in 1582 and master of the choristers in 1583 of the composer John Bull, who went on to become a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal (where he had also spent some years as a chorister) and in 1596 became the first professor of music at Gresham College, on the recommendation of Queen Elizabeth.

Musical scores on display include the Organ Concerto in A major Op. 1 No 3 by William Felton, a vicar choral at the cathedral 1741-1769. Felton was an influential figure in the musical life of Hereford, responsible for developing a subscription concert series and transferring it from the cathedral’s College Hall to the coffee house in St John Street. A better-known figure is Samuel Sebastian Wesley, organist 1832-1835, whose most famous anthem, ‘Blessed be the God and Father’, was written for Hereford at a time when the cathedral was in dispute with its vicars choral, who were neglecting their contractual obligations to sing at services. Anticipating that he would not have a full complement of altos, tenors and basses for Evensong on Easter Day, 1834, Wesley wrote his setting of Biblical texts for the boy choristers and one bass, reputedly John Constable, the Dean’s butler. The autograph manuscript of the anthem can be seen in the exhibition.

Memorabilia relating to Sir Edward Elgar, who lived in Hereford for several years and was associated with the cathedral for most of his life through his links with the Three Choirs Festival, includes an autograph score of a short work called ‘Christmas Greeting’, several items of correspondence, photographs, and the Visitors’ Book of Elgar’s close friend George Robertson Sinclair, cathedral organist from 1889 until his death in 1917, in which Elgar wrote musical autographs depicting the moods of Sinclair’s bulldog Dan. Dan, whose statue can be seen on the south bank of the River Wye opposite the cathedral, also features in the musical portrait of Sinclair included as one of the ‘Enigma’ Variations.

The score of the Mass in D by Ethel Smyth, a gift from Dame Ethel to the conductor Sir Adrian Boult, is on loan to the cathedral for this exhibition from the composer Anthony Powers, who lives in Hereford. The work was premiered by the Royal Choral Society at the Royal Albert Hall in 1893. It will be performed in Hereford Cathedral this summer on the opening night of the Three Choirs Festival, Saturday 28 July, acknowledging Ethel Smyth’s prominent links to the women’s suffrage movement in this centenary year of the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

‘Sounds Divine’ will also feature photographs and artefacts relating to the cathedral organ, bells and bell-ringers.

Hereford Cathedral Library and Archives present a wide variety of changing exhibitions and displays throughout the year, drawing from the cathedral’s extensive collections of manuscripts and early printed books, archive documents, artefacts and loan items. These exhibitions take place within the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library exhibition and entry is included within the Mappa Mundi ticket price.

The ‘Sounds Divine’ exhibition is open within the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library Exhibition from 28 May – 8 September, Monday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm. Normal admission charges apply.