Mary Berry: Enthusiast for Gregorian chant

Mary Berry was a musician who, throughout a long and varied professional life, enriched the world of sacred music in a wide variety of ways. Lecturer, writer, performer, broadcaster, teacher, scholar and undoubted enthusiast, her devotion to Gregorian chant did much to help us understand, nurture and develop this most ancient of traditions.

The youngest daughter of the Vice-Master of Downing College, Mary Berry was born in Cambridge in 1917 and, like her two elder sisters, educated at the Perse School. She might never have seen hills higher than the Gog Magogs had not her family made two vital decisions. The first was to spend one Easter in France, at the Benedictine Abbey in Solesmes, where the Holy Week offices, sung by monks, made a lasting impression upon her: the second was to study in Paris, a bold and decisive step that ultimately led to a lifelong friendship with the distinguished French musician Nadia Boulanger.

Aged 17, as a pupil at the Ecole Normale de Musique, she made contact with Boulanger whose prestigious weekly lectures first introduced Berry to the delights of medieval music. Returning to Cambridge, in 1935, she entered Girton College to continue her musical studies. In her second year she was awarded the John Stewart of Rannoch Scholarship in Sacred Music.

However, she was also experiencing a most traumatic crisis of faith. Although initially brought up in the Church of England, she now found herself increasingly drawn to Catholicism, and was received into the Catholic Church just prior to graduation, in 1938. Two years later, nursing in Europe, she joined an Augustinian order in Belgium as a noviciate. Finally in 1945, she fulfilled her vocation, becoming in religion, Mother Thomas More.

In 1963, after a long period spent abroad, Mary Berry went back to her academic roots in Cambridge. Under the supervision of Thurston Dart, she successfully completed her doctorate on the performance practice of late medieval chant. Initially she returned to her old college before, in 1970, being awarded a Senior Research Fellowship at Newnham.

As a scholar, she first made headlines in 1966, when, amid research at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, she was able to throw welcome new light on the much loved 15th-century Advent processional, "Veni Emmanuel". Equally distinctive was her painstaking reconstruction from part books in the Vatican Library of Palestrina's beautiful Parody Mass, Missa Descendit Angelus Domini. However, it was her bold realisation of the same composer's Missa Ave Maria, interspersed with sections of the Proper of the Mass for the Feast of the Assumption, that gave such added lustre to the distinctive 1983 recording made by Philip Ledger and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge.

It was at this time that, fearing for the future of her beloved plainsong, she began an extensive promotional campaign to highlight the problem. Successfully organising a diverse range of master-classes, workshops and weekend seminars, she would welcome all-comers, able almost without exception to turn them into matchless exponents of the art.

In 1975, specifically for the study and performance of Gregorian chant, she founded a new group of singers, the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge. Together with a group of the Schola's younger professional singers, the Cantors, in recent years, they have produced a small but most distinctive discography. Cleverly uniting historic locations with appropriate music, their recording of the 10th-century Winchester Troper won the 1994 Mitchell Beazley Award. A 12th and final recording of Guillame de Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame, like the series itself, now provides a most fitting memorial to her work and achievements.

As a writer, she made many significant contributions to specialist periodicals, as well as to Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Remaining models of clarity are two complementary handbooks dating from 1979, the invaluable Cantors, and, not least, that most essential guide, Plainchant for Everyone. For almost 40 years she was a highly valued member of the Gramophone critic's panel. Her final review will appear in the July issue.

Kenneth Shenton

Mary Berry, conductor, writer, musicologist and nun: born Cambridge 29 June 1917; professed a nun of the Canonesses Regular of St Augustine of the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Jupille 1945; Old Students Research Fellow, Newnham College, Cambridge 1971-73, Praelector 1971-82, Director of Studies in Music 1971-84, Justine Ward Research Fellow 1974-83; CBE 2002; died Cambridge 1 May 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power