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John Scott RIP

August 13, 2015

john_scottThe world of Church Music was deeply saddened yesterday to learn of the death of John Scott, the Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas’s, Fifth Avenue in New York. Before taking up his position there in 2004, he was Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral in London for many years. The last time I met him a few years ago he had just given a spectacular recital at Westminster Cathedral. At the reception afterwards, you would never have realised that he was the man in whose honour we were all gathered. Despite his international stature and towering reputation, he stood awkwardly to the side, speaking quietly and modestly, as though embarrassed by the attention. His famous choral CDs from St Paul’s are now considered benchmark recordings of the Anglican repertory, uniting one of the largest Cathedral choirs of the English tradition with the magnificent Smith, Willis & Mander organ, in the lavish (if preposterous) acoustics of Sir Christopher Wren’s crowning glory.

And although the word ‘inspiration’ is one we tend to overuse, it should be applied here with its fullest meaning in respect of the elevating influence he had on the liturgy and particularly on the young choristers who were fortunate enough to sing for him. Generations of boys have been coaxed to the highest of standards of music-making by his rigour and determination, and many of them have continued as professional church musicians in later life, making his influence and legacy, literally, immeasurable. In particular our thoughts should be with those boys currently in the Choir of St Thomas’s, his last choristers, as the sense of loss for them must be acute and incomprehensible. Above all, we pray for John’s family: his wife Lily, who is expecting their first child, as well as two children, Emma and Alex, from his previous marriage.

John Scott’s organ recordings are known for their flair and virtuosity. He was an immensely accomplished organist with a phenomenal repertoire and an unparalleled technique. His recordings for the Hyperion label can be seen here. One particular favourite of mine is his disc of organ music by Marcel Dupré which includes Placare Christe servulis which you can listen to below (courtesy of Hyperion Records). Based on the Vesper hymn for All Saints, it is a fiery toccata in which John deploys St Paul’s famous Royal Trumpets towards the end. We pray that he will soon be in the company of those Saints. May he rest in peace.

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