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. On Sunday afternoon last, at a few minutes after four o’clock, and therefore daring the performance of Divine service, died Robert Janes, Esq., organist, for the last thirty-five years, of the Cathedral Church.
The simple announcement of his death would be but an inadequate memorial of one whose services were rendered to the Church throughout this lengthened period. To many private friends, as well as to members of his own profession, a more detailed notice of the deceased gentleman may be not unwelcome.
The early years of Robert Janes were spent in the College of Dulwich; and he was wont to refer, in after life, with expressions of honest gratitude, to the educational advantages which he enjoyed as a "poor boy of Dulwich," in the school founded by the munificence of Alleyne, the actor.
At the age of 14 he was articled to the organist of Norwich Cathedral, the same well-known and able musician who still maintains the high reputation of that choir for pure style of vocalization. As the first pupil of Dr. Buck, he exhibited qualities which greatly endeared him to his master, and which laid the foundation of a friendship only terminated by his death. That he was ever most steady, honest, careful; that he was always punctual, always trustworthy; that word of reproof was never needed—this is the testimony borne to his early character by Dr. Buck. To this extreme regularity of habit and steadiness of deportment Robert Janes probably owed his promotion, the early age of twenty-one years, to the office of organist in the Cathedral of Ely. Qualities so valuable might well be regarded by the Dean and Chapter of Ely as of higher importance than mere executive skill, though we believe that the powers of the young musician as a player were not of an inferior order.
It must be remembered, however, that in 1831, when he entered on his duties, the art of organ playing was greatly trammelled and circumscribed the defective construction of the instruments. Holland and Germny had possessed noble and complete specimens of the organ-builder’s craft for a century, at the least, before our English artists bethought themselves of adding pedals to their organs; and even this great step in advance was robbed of half its value by adherence to faulty compass, which threw insuperable difficulties in the way of an intelligent performance of the masterpieces bequeathed to organists by the great German masters.
The old organ of Ely Cathedral, still used in 1831, was in a state so crazy that some of the front pipes were only prevented by cords from falling on the head of the performer; and though a new instrument by Messrs. Elliott and Hill soon replaced this dangerous relic of antiquity, it was deficient in the admirable qualities which distinguish the noble organs now built by Messrs. Hill and others, and exemplified in the externally beautiful but internally unfinished instrument which adorns the north side of the quire at the present day.
If Mr. Janes found a miserable organ, it is not less certain that he found an imperfect choral service in the grand Cathedral of the Fens. The chanting of the prayers had been intermitted for many years. The anthems were not appointed according to any fixed system or definite rule, but were chosen each day by the Prebendary in residence, after the service had actually commenced, a chorister attending him in his stall to receive his orders. There were no regular rehearsals of the music, and the attendance of the members of the choir was most uncertain. Such was the low condition into which the choral service of the church had been suffered to fall at Ely, a church which Tye, Amner, Barcrofte, Fox, Tarrant and Hawkins had adorned by their talents and enriched by their writings, It is said that a senior minor canon had deliberately proposed to the capitular body the abandonment of daily choral service and the substitution for it of service twice In the week only! A tradition so painful and humiliating would not here be noticed if it were not explanatory of other difficulties with which the newly appointed organist had to contend. His efforts to raise the character of the musical ritual were met with open hostility by the officiating clerical body; his harmonised inflections to the Confession were declared to be an unpardonable protraction of the length of the service. The expostulations of the reverend economists of time became so clamourous that he abandoned his design of harmonizing the rest of the Preces and Versicles. His General Confession, however, has remained in daily use up to the present day, and is thoroughly identified with the order of Morning and Evening Prayer at Ely. It has been adopted (too often without permission or acknowledgement) by many other choirs, and its devotional solemnity has been abundantly recognised. It was published in 1864.
On the accession of Dr. Peacock to the Deanery at Ely, Mr. Janes at once found himself supported and encouraged by that distinguished man. Regular weekly combinations of services and anthems were now introduced; the stipends of the choir having been raised, a judicious system of fines ensured constant attendance; rehearsals were held at frequent intervals; the practice of secular music, without which no choir can attain high state of efficiency, was diligently pursued; and though the prayers were still unsung, the music of divine service, as the present writer heard it just twenty-five years ago, was executed with accuracy and effect.
It would be an act of gross injustice to the deceased musician to forget or overlook these exertions of his early life. If, in his later years, the vast progress made the artistic construction of organs, and the increased demand for executive skill as well as for personal energy in the management of all that relates to the musical art overtook him and passed him by: if failing health disposed him to leave to others the further development of the choral service in his cathedral, he was, nevertheless, always ready to give his counsel and his aid to those on whom the work devolved.
The last occasion on which Mr. Janes appeared in public as musical director of the choir may be said to have been that of the Wedding-day of the Prince of Wales, March 10th, 1863. By express desire, Mr. Janes exerted himself to conduct the performance of Handel's Dettingen Te Deum, which was sung in the cathedral at noon, in the presence of an exceedingly numerous concourse of persons of all ranks.
His health, soon after this effort, became very seriously impaired ; he was unable to ascend his organ-loft, or to reach the music-room of the choir school. Latterly his infirmities were such as to give the most lively concern to his friends; and when, on Sunday, during evensong, as the echoes of his own music to the Confession had but just died away in the cathedral, he ceased to live, there were many who beard, with sigh of relief, that his sufferings were over.
Mr. Janes never published any original compositions (the confession excepted), though several pieces of church music, the production of his pen, remain among the MSS. in the library of the choir. He was an indefatigable collector, however, and has left behind him a remarkable number of secular vocal compositions, transcribed by his own hand.
He bad been an amateur printer, and partbooks composed and worked-off his own press, are still in use. His chief work, however, was an addition of the Psalter, pointed for chanting, which has gained large measure of public favour.
We cannot conclude these remarks without giving expression to the doubt whether the position of church organist will ever be filled with more becoming remembrance of its associations and antiquity, a more reverent recollection of its close connection with religion, a more uniform courtesy once towards the ecclesiastical rulers and towards the subordinate musicians of the cathedrals, than by that race of professional men, whose ranks have been recently thinned by the deaths of Mr. Amott, of Gloucester, Mr. Corfe, of Salisbury, and Mr. Janes, of Ely, These were men, who, if undistinguished by brilliant genius, nevertheless upheld the true dignity of their office. We cannot doubt, nay, we earnestly trust that in the hands of their more brilliant successors the services of our cathedrals will be celebrated with vigour, style, and completeness unattainable in that apathetic period of church history, when these and other eminent musicians still living commenced their labours; but we are quite sure that the social status of the Organist, founded, as it always must be, on personal character, will never be more worthily maintained than by those whom death is so busily removing from among us.
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Extract british newspaper archive
Cambridge Chronicle and Journal - Saturday 16 June 1866