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Music at Buckfast Abbey

‘I will sing and make music for the Lord’. (Psalm 26)

Introduction

Music plays a fundamental role in the life of the Abbey, whether it be Gregorian Chant sung by the Monastic Community at the Daily Office, or choral music sung by the Abbey Choir at Solemn Mass & Vespers. The Abbey is a vibrant centre of musical activity in Devon that hosts a diverse and popular series of concerts and organ recitals.

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Music List

A current music list is available to download here.

Abbey Musicians

Matthew Searles — Master of the Music

Matthew Searles is Master of the Music at Buckfast Abbey. He is responsible for all aspects of the musical life of the Abbey, including the daily Mass and Office, direction of the Abbey Choir, and is Executive Producer of the in-house record Label, Ad Fontes. Matthew joined the Abbey in 2018 as Assistant Master of the Music, during which time he helped to re-establish a treble line of choristers, and played for Midnight Mass, televised live on BBC One. Prior to moving to Buckfast, Matthew was Sub-Organist of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. He is a prizewinning graduate of Royal Holloway, University of London, where he received First Class Honours and the Driver Prize for ‘outstanding musical performance’. Matthew continued his studies at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Poitiers, France. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists.

Robert Pecksmith — Assistant Master of the Music

Robert Pecksmith is Assistant Master of the Music at Buckfast Abbey, where he is responsible for the training of the Abbey choristers and shares in the organ playing for the daily Office and at the daily Mass in the Abbey. Previously, Robert held appointments at St James’ Cathedral in Toronto, Wakefield Cathedral, and the York Oratory, where he was Assistant Director of Music between 2015 and 2020. Robert trained as an organist at the junior department of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and later as organ scholar at Somerville College, Oxford, where he read history. He is an Associate of the Royal College of Organists.

Charles Maxtone-Smith — Organist

Charles Maxtone-Smith is Organist of Buckfast Abbey. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 2023 with the Advanced Diploma, MA Distinction and the DipRAM award, as a student of David Titterington, Bine Bryndorf, and Richard Pinel. He won the Musicians’ Company Award for Organists in 2023, which provides generous funding for two years of further study. He currently takes lessons with Christophe Mantoux at Saint-Séverin, Paris, studying French Baroque and Romantic literature. He successively held organ scholarships at Hereford Cathedral, New College, Oxford, Westminster Abbey, Royal Hospital Chelsea, and King’s College, London. Since 2014 he has been one of the Festival Organists at the annual Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy, and has played for several BBC Radio 3 broadcasts.

The Abbey Choir

The present incarnation of the Abbey Choir was founded in 2009. The choir has since established a broad liturgical repertoire, ranging from polyphonic music of the sixteenth century and Masses of the Viennese school, through to music of the French Romantic tradition and contemporary music by James MacMillian, Matthew Martin and Dom Sebastian Wolff OSB. In 2024 the choir gives the premiere of a new Mass for Corpus Christi composed by Martin Baker.

The choir sings Solemn Mass and Vespers on Sundays, and Mass on Holy Days of Obligation during the week. A smaller schola supports the singing of the Monastic Community for Mass on weekday Solemnities and during choir holidays. The choir gives several concert performances each year, with recent and future highlights including Charpentier’s Messe de minuit with Noxwode Baroque and the Duruflé Requiem with the Southern Sinfonia. The choir recorded its first album in 2014 and has subsequently made several recordings on the Abbey’s in-house record label, Ad Fontes. In 2018 the choir sang Midnight Mass at the conclusion of Buckfast’s millennium year, which was televised live on BBC One.

There are currently vacancies in the choir for one alto (contralto, countertenor, or mezzo-soprano), one tenor and one bass. For more information, click here. Prospective applicants for the choir should contact Matthew Searles (Master of the Music).

 

Choristers

In 2018 Buckfast Abbey celebrated 1000 years since its foundation. As a lasting legacy, the Abbey founded a choir of choristers offering the opportunity for boys and girls aged between 7 and 14 to enhance the glorious surroundings of the Abbey through their singing at regular mid-week Masses, as well as to perform in concerts and an annual overnight tour. Each chorister receives a scholarship from the Abbey for individual vocal and piano tuition, and works towards exams in singing and piano for the Associated  Board of the Royal School of Music.

Becoming an Abbey Chorister is a unique, life-changing, opportunity for children who are interested in participating in a professional choir. The Abbey Choristers sing in a distinctively Catholic tradition rooted in Gregorian chant. Typically choristers start as Junior Choristers in Year 3 as pupils of St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Buckfast. However, the Abbey is also keen to widen access to this opportunity as broadly as possible, and it also offers spaces for a small number of children from any school to become a chorister from Year 7 as Senior Choristers.

There are currently a couple of spaces to join the Abbey Choristers as a Senior Chorister, for any child who is in school years 7 or 8. For more information, including details on signing up for an audition, please click here.

Concerts

The Abbey is a vibrant centre of musical activity in Devon that hosts a diverse and popular series of concerts and organ recitals. Several world-class musicians have performed here, and the annual schedule of musical events also creates opportunities for local groups to enjoy making music in the Abbey Church, alongside concerts given by our own musicians.

Our Concerts & Organ Recitals 2024 brochure is available to download here.

Forthcoming concerts:

Saturday 24th February, 19:30

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Vivaldi: Gloria

Saturday 9th March, 7:30pm

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Faith, hope and love

Saturday 23rd March, 7:30pm

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Bach: St John Passion
For a full list of concerts, click here.
Ad Fontes

Ad Fontes is a record label founded by Buckfast Abbey dedicated to presenting recordings of the finest sacred music. Given its roots within the Roman Catholic Benedictine tradition, the label specialises in choral and organ music drawn from that rich heritage, with a focus on the Choir of Buckfast Abbey and the new Ruffatti organ. The name of the label is taken from the Abbey’s motto, Psalm 41: Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus (Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God). For more information, visit www.adfontes.org.uk

Ruffatti Organ

Buckfast Abbey is delighted to have the first organ in the United Kingdom by the renowned Italian organ builder, Fratelli Ruffatti. The instrument consists of a substantial Quire Organ (four divisions and pedal) located on both sides of the Quire and the upper triforium, and a Grand-Orgue in the West Gallery (two divisions and pedal). The scale of the instruments allows a rich variety of tonal colour which encourages creativity in the accompaniment of the Monastic Community and Abbey Choir, as well as providing the versatility necessary for a wide range of organ repertoire. An exciting feature of the two spatially-separated instruments is the possibility of playing antiphonally, as well as the ability to play the instruments together (from one, or both, consoles).

A notable feature of the Quire Organ is an Italian-inspired Positivo division, which includes a number of special effects including a Nightingale, Zimblestern, Glockenspiel, Drum and Bagpipes; features common in Italian organs of the Renaissance and unique tools in improvisation and organ repertoire of the period.

The organ features two high-pressure reed stops: a bright Pontifical Trumpet en chamade, protruding horizontally from the West Gallery casework, and a darker, more tuba-like Abbatial Trumpet, located in the triforium.

The tonal character of the Grand-Orgue in the West Gallery is inspired by the French romantic tradition, and the scalings and manufacturing practices of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. The pipes feature the characteristic arched and protruding upper and lower lips. The instrument is contained in two cases and designed to be in harmony with the surrounding architecture, so as not to obscure the stained glass. Since the organ sings directly on the longitudinal axis of the building, it supports congregational singing well, and whilst the instrument can be used independently, its tonal qualities integrate well with the Quire Organ, forming one homogeneous, cohesive instrument.

Two, four-manual consoles control the instruments: one located in the West Gallery and a moveable console, with electronic height adjustment, located in the Quire.

The instrument is used daily to accompany the Monastic Services, and features regularly in our concert series.

Below are the specifications:

POSITIVO  Unenclosed  Manual I

Principale8’ 
Bordone8’ 
Voce Umana8’ 
Ottava4’ 
Flauto Veneziano4’ 
Decimaquinta2’ 
Decimanona1 1/3’ 
Sesquialtera II2 2/3’-1 3/5’ 
Ripieno III  (26-29-33)2/3’ 
Cromorno8’ 
Pontifical Trumpet8’Solo (unenclosed)
Abbatial Trumpet8’Solo (unenclosed)
Tremulant  
Glockenspiel 30 bells
Nightingale 5 pipes immersed
Cymbelstern 12 bells
Drum  
Bagpipe C4’ 
Bagpipe F3’ 
Bagpipe G2 2/3 

SWELL  Enclosed  Manual III

Flute à Cheminée8’ 
Gemshorn8’ 
Viole de Gambe8’ 
Voix Céleste8’ 
Prestant4’ 
Flûte Creuse4’ 
Nazard2 2/3’ 
Octavin2’ 
Tierce1 3/5’ 
Plein Jeu IV  (15-19-22-26)2’ 
Basson16’ 
Trompette Harmonique8’ 
Hautbois8’ 
Clairon Harmonique4’ 
Tremulant  
Sub Octave  
Unison Off  
Super Octave  

PEDAL  Unenclosed

Contra Bourdon32’ 
Contrabass16’ 
Subbass16’ 
Bourdon16’ 
Lieblich Bourdon16’ 
Quintf10 2/3’ 
Octave8’ 
Flûte Ouverte8’ 
Nazard5 1/3’ 
Superoctave4’ 
Flute2’ 
Mixture IV  (12-15-19-22)2 2/3’ 
Fagott32’ 
Bombarde16’ 
Basson16’  Swell
Trompette8’ 
Schalmei4’ 

GREAT  Unenclosed  Manual II

Bourdon16’ 
Principal8’ 
Bourdon8’ 
Spitzflöte8’ 
Octave4’ 
Blockflöte4’ 
Quint2 2/3’ 
Superoctave2’ 
Mixture IV  (19-22-26-29)1 1/3’ 
Terz Zimbel III  (29-31-33)1/2’ 
Trumpet8’ 
Clairon4’ 
Pontifical Trumpet8’Solo (unenclosed)
Abbatial Trumpet8’Solo (unenclosed)
   
Sub Octave  
Unison Off  

SOLO  Enclosed  Manual IV

Lieblich Bourdon16’ 
Orchestral Flute8’ 
Doppelflöte8’ 
Salicional8’ 
Unda Maris8’ 
Flûte Douce8’ 
Flûte Celeste 8’ 
Flauto d’Amore4’ 
Harmonic Nazard2 2/3’ 
Harmonic Piccolo2’ 
Harmonic Tierce1 3/5’ 
Bassett Horn8’ 
Vox Humana8’ 
Pontifical Trumpet8’ Unenclosed
Abbatial Trumpet8’ Unenclosed
Tremulant  
Sub Octave  
Unison Off  
Super Octave  

STATISTICS  Quire Organ and Gallery organ combined

78 real stops

100 ranks of pipes

5,537 pipes

42 bells

Matthew Searles plays Le jardin féerique (Ma mère l'oye) – Maurice Ravel

Donation

£