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RCB MS 1111: Sir John Stevenson’s Music for the Installation of the Knights of St Patrick

In memory of the Revd A. M. Cannon (died June 2022).

 By Dr David M. O’Shea


Te Deum & Jubilate

In the Key of C

Sung at the Instalation [sic.] of the

Knights of St Patrick


Composed by

Sir J A Stevenson


This musical score was donated to the RCB Library by Sarah Cannon in June 2021, after Sarah contacted Stuart Kinsella, archivist of Christ Church Cathedral. The provenance of the document is a bit of a mystery. It was given to Sarah by her father, the late Revd A. M. Cannon of Penrith, Cumbria, in the diocese of Carlisle, but it is not known how the manuscript came to be in his possession.

The cover of RCB Library Ms 1111.
The cover of RCB Library Ms 1111.

The manuscript (which has been accessioned to the Library’s manuscript collection as Ms 1111) is a fair copy of a Te Deum and Jubilate in C by Sir John Stevenson, which is called in some sources the ‘Royal’ or ‘Long’ service, to distinguish it from the so–called ‘Short Service’ in the same key. According to Elaine Sherwin’s An Edition of the Cathedral Works of Sir John Andrew Stevenson (vol. i, p 128 and vol. iii, p 127, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 2012) his service was composed in or prior to 1807, hence the wording on the title page that it was ‘sung at’ rather than composed for the installation of the Knights of St Patrick in 1819 (see The Choral Foundation of the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle, 1814–1922 by David O’Shea, Trinity College Dublin: PhD diss., 2019, vol. i, p190–191).


Stevenson’s ceremonial music

The installation of new Knights of St Patrick was a frequent spectacle in Dublin from the time of the founding of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick by King George III in 1783. In 1819, the installation of Knights took place in St Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday 27th May. The following notice appeared that day in Saunders’s News–Letter (27 May 1819):


The splendid ceremonial, which involved a procession of the Knights and the members of the Lord Lieutenant’s household from Dublin Castle to the cathedral for a special service of Morning Prayer, is recorded in detail in the newspapers of the day. These accounts provide, however, only scant details of the music at the service, and the only specific mention of a piece of music is found in Saunders’s News–Letter of the following day:


When all had terminated, the Choir sung the beautiful Anthem of “O Lord our Governor,” as arranged by Sir John Stevenson, with a very sublime effect. (28 May, 1819)

‘O Lord our Governor’, a setting of Psalm 8 for choir and soloists, was one of Stevenson’s most popular anthems. This is one of the earliest recorded performances of this anthem, and so it may have been composed for this occasion.

Sir John Stevenson was a long–time favourite of the Dublin Castle government, and had since his knighting in 1803 become a sort of de facto court composer. Stevenson composed services and anthems for many ceremonial occasions, including the opening of the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle, on Christmas Day 1814. It is not known for what occasion he composed the so–called ‘Royal’ Service; the origin of this epithet is often ascribed to an association with the Chapel Royal, but this is unlikely as the service dates from prior to the opening of the Chapel.

In Sir John Stevenson: A Biographical Sketch (London: T. B. Bumpus, 1893), pp 27–28, John Skelton Bumpus records two works that Stevenson composed for installations of Knights of St Patrick: the service in E–flat major, and the anthem ‘Blessed be the Lord my strength’. Elaine Sherwin gives the date 1808 for both these works (see Sherwin’s previously mentioned dissertation, vol. iv, p 337 and 339): there is no evidence to suggest that any installation service took place in that year, although an installation did take place on 29th June 1809, at which ‘a Te Deum, composed for the occasion by Sir John Stevenson’ was performed (see Saunder’s News–Letter, 4 July 1809). ‘This may well have been the E–flat major service, but since the claim originates from the notoriously unreliable Bumpus, it is difficult to establish for certain.


On 7th June 1819, less than two weeks after the installation service at which the music in RCB MS 1111 was sung, a so–called ‘Grand Te Deum with accompaniments for a complete Instrumental Band, as composed by Sir John Stevenson, for the Installation of the Knights of St Patrick’ was performed at a charity concert in St Patrick’s Cathedral by a ‘grand chorus’, six soloists and a ‘double orchestra’, including wind instruments. The musical outline of the piece given in the advertisement mentions the singers who would sing the various solos, duets, and quartets in this work (Saunder’s News–Letter, 4 June 1819).


By comparing this outline with the scores, it is clear that this ‘Grand Te Deum’ was neither the service in E–flat, nor the C major service contained in RCB MS 1111, nor any of the other service settings mentioned by Bumpus or edited by Elaine Sherwin. Thus, this Te Deum with orchestral accompaniment is evidently a lost and previously unknown work of Stevenson’s.

This appears to have been the only performance of Stevenson’s ‘Grand Te Deum’. The proximity of this performance to the installation of the Knights of St Patrick is curious. Perhaps the piece was written for the installation, but abandoned in favour of the ‘Royal’ Service in C; but why? Perhaps the large scale and length of the piece made its performance at the installation service impractical: the cramped quire of St Patrick’s had to accommodate not only the choir and clergy, but the Knights, various dignitaries and spectators, and would have left little room for the large orchestra and ‘grand chorus’ for which Stevenson’s work was intended.

The survival of a large amount of Stevenson’s church music is the result of the widespread popularity of his music in the cathedral and collegiate choirs of the Church of Ireland throughout the nineteenth century. His services and anthems were widely sung, and so survive in numerous sources, all of which informed Elaine Sherwin’s impressively extensive edition of Stevenson’s church music, completed in 2012. The loss of Stevenson’s ‘Grand Te Deum’ is perhaps not surprising, and it joins his oratorio The Thanksgiving as well as many of his theatrical works on the list of lost works of this prolific composer. This demonstrates the ephemerality of concert works, which enjoy a relatively brief spell of popularity, compared with the endurance of church works, performed repeatedly in the context of daily cathedral services.

St Patrick's Cathedral looking west, c. 1820, by John Cruise. Space was at a premium in the quire of St Patrick's Cathedral before the Guinness Restoration of the 1860s.
St Patrick's Cathedral looking west, c. 1820, by John Cruise. Space was at a premium in the quire of St Patrick's Cathedral before the Guinness Restoration of the 1860s.



Content of MS 1111

The manuscript of the service, written in open score for treble, alto (‘Contra’), tenor and bass voices (chorus and solo) and organ (on two staves) is mostly clean, except for a few pencilled annotations: dynamics, accent marks, decani and cantoris indications, and some cuts’. In the brackets at the end of that paragraph, I’d like to change the text to ‘since all the vocal parts are annotated, but the organ part is left clean. This variety of markings suggests that this may have been a conductor’s score, rather than a singer’s score or indeed an organist’s score (since the organ part is devoid of markings).


Of interest are several pencilled annotations on the front and back covers of the manuscript. Most of these are music, though there are a couple of sums and two addresses marked ‘Fantass[?] shops’: 66 Dame Street, and 85 South Great George’s Street. In the year 1819, both these addresses were of clothes shops. Of the musical annotations, the first at the top of the front cover is a sketch of a double Anglican chant, viz.:


Since this sketch contains only the outer parts and occasional inner parts (and is missing obvious accidentals, such as in bar 7), it may have been sketched in haste for the use of an organist accompanying a service—perhaps the very installation service at which the Te Deum and Jubilate were sung. Presuming that the psalms prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer for the 27th morning were sung at the installation service, this chant may have been used for Psalm 120 or 124 (it seems an inapposite pairing with Psalms 121, 122, or 125).

Whether or not this chant is also by Stevenson it is impossible to tell. It does not appear among the twenty–two double chants in Elaine Sherwin’s complete edition of Stevenson’s church music, although it shares certain musical characteristics with these, such as the arresting unison opening and the florid upper parts (although such characteristics are by no means uncommon in other Georgian psalm chants).

An example of one of the pages from the document. RCB Library Ms 1111.
An example of one of the pages from the document. RCB Library Ms 1111.

The other musical sketches on the cover are more difficult to identify. At the bottom of the cover page and in the middle of the back page appears to be a melody in 3/2 time in B minor, and at the bottom of the back page there is a fragment of a melody (upside down) in 2/4 time in E major as well as sundry other sketches.

The annotations to the score and musical marginalia demonstrate that this was a working copy of the piece, and not a souvenir fair copy like the Morning Services & Holy Communion Services Composed by Sir J. A. Stevenson (RCB Library P.0129.28.1). Why was it prepared as a single loose copy? By whom was it used? How did it come to leave Dublin and find its way to England? All of these questions for now remain unanswered.


The original score has now been digitized by the RCB Library and made available to a worldwide audience here.


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