Newman and Music

Newman’s love of music is not in doubt: it was encouraged and fostered in his family circle; he took up the violin at the age of ten. His two brothers, Frank and Charles, used to accompany him in trios. At Ealing School he composed plays and then music for them. In 1815 he wrote a burlesque opera, composing tunes for the songs and in 1821 wrote to his mother: 'I am glad to be able to inform you that Signor Giovanni Enrico Neandrini has finished his first composition. The melody is light and airy and is well supported by the harmony'.

    On going to Oxford he kept up his music and was a playing member of the music club at S. John’s which enjoyed weekly private concerts in the music room. Newman said in 1820: 'I was asked by a man yesterday to go to his rooms for a little music at seven o’clock. I went. An old Don … played bass and through his enthusiasm I was kept playing quartets on a heavy tenor from seven to twelve. Oh my poor eyes and head and back'.

    Newman composed instrumental trios at Littlemore, which he played together with John Walker and Mr Bowles.

    Beethoven was his favourite composer and his preferences were for Handel, Romberg, Haydn, Mozart and Corelli; Palestrina, Animuccia and Cherubini he held in high regard. Gregorian chant he loved in the Mass but he wrote: 'the only fault will be that it admits no change, but is the same through the fifty-two Sundays of the year'. He was not attracted to Wagner, Brahms, Schubert or Schumann, having grown up with the music of the great 18th century composers. The Cardinal was fond of operatic music, but heard little of it, and when he had to make a choice as to what performances he would attend at the 1879 Festival, said: 'I shall go once and I choose 'Mose in Egitto'.

    Those who read the late Mr Frank Hayward’s research into the Cardinal’s hymnology in this magazine in 1998/9 will be aware that of the seventeen hymns listed, six of the settings were Newman’s own compositions and five were adaptations he made from other composers.

    In 1877 at the opening of the new organ he preached a beautiful discourse upon the event of the day, and on music, first as a great natural gift and then as an instrument in the hands of the Church. After a performance in the church of Cherubini’s First Requiem in C Minor in 1886, he said: 'It is magnificent music…but when you get as old as I am, it comes rather too close to home'.

Mr Philip Crossley