‘Meeting a man through his music’ – Sidney Campbell

Last year I became acquainted with Dr Sidney Scholfield Campbell, lately organist and Director of Music at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Considering that Dr Campbell died in June 1974, this might seem rather remarkable, but I had taken on the project of sorting and cataloguing his large collection of organ music, now held in St George’s Chapel Archives.

As I worked my way through the stacks of dusty volumes recently cleared from the organ loft and choir library, I found myself feeling more and more like I had actually met Dr Campbell. His collection is not only an impressive record of the music he owned, acquired and played, but also a distinctly personal legacy of annotations, practice notes, and performance records contained amongst the dots and lines of Bach, Mendelssohn, Reger, Vierne, and many others.

The purpose of cataloguing is to assign reference numbers and descriptions to items in a collection in order to make it searchable and accessible to other users. I was struck, as I carried out this work, by the detail with which many of the items were marked up for specific organs in cathedrals around the country; each organ is unique and requires different marks of registrations (stops required to perform a piece of organ music). Dr Campbell’s post at St George’s comprised only the final thirteen years of a career which spanned almost half a century. He had worked with organ consoles at all levels of church hierarchy, from parish church to collegiate chapel and cathedral, in places as famous as Ely, Southwark, and Canterbury.

Dr Campbell’s annotations are consistent with contemporary accounts of how particular he was in his attention to musical detail and the clarity of sound for each building and acoustic in which he worked. He prioritised intelligibility to the listener, and this is apparent through his music. Performance timings are marked in abundance throughout the collection, showing a keen interest in personal development as a player and interpreter of each piece performed. For example, the Elgar Organ Sonata [SGC M.144/XVII/227] has notes on the first page, comparing timings for playing the first movement on several different occasions and places.

Dr Campbell was not only a gifted player; he became highly regarded as an editor and authority on authentic printed editions of organ music. This was perhaps encouraged by his friendship with Gordon Phillips, instigator and editor of the Hinrichsen Early English Organ Music series ‘Tallis to Wesley’. An almost-complete set of which resides in this collection [SGC M.144/XVII/826-849]. These were remarkable for being the first editions of early modern through eighteenth century organ music to be taken back to the source manuscripts wherever possible, and published without the heavy editing and additions to the score which characterised publications to that date.

Dr Campbell formed a close friendship and professional relationship with Gordon Phillips, and there are many items in the collection with personal dedications and notes from Phillips to Campbell. A note affixed to ‘Reger Chorale Preludes’ [SGC M.144/XVII/601] reads: To S.S.C. at No.13. Wednesday. Sorry this is such a grubby copy. I think it contains the prelude you talked about. Also the beautiful one on “Gott des Himmels_” Yrs. G.P.”.

There are also a significant number of items in the collection stamped ‘Complimentary’, ’Specimen Copy’, and ’Presentation Copy’, indicating that publishers would send Dr Campbell first editions for his professional opinion or in recognition of contributions he had made towards the publication.  Campbell’s personal opinions on editorial introductions or decisions are abundantly clear, and at times quite humourous. In scrawling handwriting across the front cover, Campbell dismissed an anthology of Selected Bach works for smaller organ, edited by Hans Keller, as “a misguided book” [SGC M.144/XVII/39]. The preface to Harvey Grace’s edition of Two Chorales No2 by Cesar Frank is annotated with comments such as “impertinence” and “ASS” [SGC M.144/XVII/258].

Dr Campbell’s brilliance as a player is obvious, and his mastery of the most demanding repertoire is awe-inspiring. Through this project, I felt that his annotations brought his character back to life.  Sometimes his distinctively neat and expressive handwriting would become rushed and scrawling, reflecting his mood at the time or the frustration he felt, which conveys a relatable and likeable humanity. Among my favourite of the comments he left behind are: “only one person cd. cook it up – e.g. Harold Darke, and where was HE in 1918?”; “Nice music which wd. Score v. well. Shows complete misunderstanding of the organ, for which it ought never to have been put down. Far more than one pair of hands can do!” (Howells’ Rhapsody Op.17 No.3); the single condemnatory word Rubbishscrawled on the front of Master Tallis’ Testament; and “The man won’t learnscribbled beneath the final bars of Howell’s Partita. [SGC M.144/XVII/358, 365, and 371]

The whole collection of Campbell’s organ music, now housed in 22 archival quality conservation boxes, numbers almost 1,000 items. As a relatively inexperienced beginner organist myself, the chance to sort and catalogue this collection of music was a great inspiration, and although I will never meet the man in real life, I feel that his legacy lives on through this collection, and that hopefully many generations of organists can also have the chance to meet with and learn from Dr Sidney Scholfield Campbell.

Becky Ryland-Jones, Sidney Campbell Project cataloguer, July 2017-March 2018.

The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.