St. Mary Magdalene Church is a lofty and inspiring venue for music making and visitors are amply rewarded by its unexpected splendour.
This setting has enabled the Music Society to make its own highly individual contribution to London musical life.
The Society was founded in 1962 and many of its programmes have shown considerable originality, with a bias towards French music, often including works totally neglected in this country.
The Society is well known for its annual performances on All Souls’Day when its choir and orchestra present a French Requiem setting in the liturgical context of a Solemn Mass. First British performances include Requiems by Desenclos, Inghelbrecht, Ropartz and Tomasi.
Notable revivals by the society include the extravagantly dramatic setting by Alfred Bruneau (forgotten since 1896), the fine and neglected orchestral version of the Requiem by Saint-Saëns and the little known Requiem by Gounod.
Maurice Duruflé conducted the first British performance of his Cum Jubilo Mass at St. Mary Magdalene in 1968 and the Society was honoured by the interest he showed as its President.
One of the aims of the Society is to encourage young performers and there is a longstanding association with Sussex House School, Chelsea.
The Regent’s Canal runs adjacent to the church and summer canal concerts give an opportunity for enjoying the scenery of London’s hidden waterway, with musical accompaniment.
The church is a late work of George Edmund Street (1824-1881), completed in 1878. Originally it occupied a narrow site at an acute angle between former Clarendon Crescent and Woodchester Street but since the demolition of these streets it has become the focus of Westbourne Green. On the North side is a ‘false’ aisle due to the cramped site, giving an illusion of breadth and emphasising the impressive height of the nave. The deep rich colours of Sir Henry Holiday’s stained glass complete this high Victorian masterpiece. Not surprisingly, it was a favourite of the late Sir John Betjeman and has been featured memorably in many films. Sir Ninian Comper designed the neo-medieval crypt chapel of St. Sepulchre which was added in 1895. Its lavish gilded reredos and star-spangled vault make it one of London’s gems. Thanks to Heritage Lottery funding, the church has undergone major restoration and is now established as a venue for the community, arts and culture run under the auspices of Grand Junction. Nicholas Kaye’s monograph, ‘Slums, Serendipity and the Sublime: A personal evocation of the world of St. Mary Magdalene-in-Paddington’, is available on request.