Harold Watkins Shaw, OBE, musicologist, died on Oct 8 aged 85. He was born on April 3, 1911.
THERE was an appropriateness which Harold Watkins Shaw would have appreciated in that the day after his death the choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, performed Handel’s Messiah. Their conductor, Ian Curror, hisd friend and colleague at the Royal College of Music, dedicated the performance to Shaw, from whose edition of the oratorio the choir was singing.
Watkins Shaw (the name under which he wrote) was most widely known for his work on Handel and, above all, for his performing score of Messiah (1939), now in universal use. This was but the most eminent of his extensive writings and editings of church music, which occupied him for almost 50 years and which were published largely under the auspices of the Church Music Society; he was the society’s first honorary general editor for 14 years from 1956, and its chairman from 1979 to 1987.
His interests and publications stretched from Tallis to Samuel Sebastian Wesley; his major concerns were Blow, Purcell and Handel (his edition of Theodora is used for Glyndebourne’s current production). Recently, he reconstructed and reinstated the Preces (versicles) and Responses of Byrd, Morely, Smith and Tomkins, which are still in general use were matins and evensong are sung. A consummate academic, his scholarship in these centuries transformed performance and practice in the postwar decades and laid the textual foundations on which the Early Music movement was to be built.
Harold Watkins Shaw was the only child of schoolteachers in Bradford. He attended Grange Road School, where his father taught geography and he discovered his love of music from singing in chapel choirs. In 1929 he won a scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford, to read history. He retained a great affection for Oxford and was much please with his Dlitt, awarded in 1967. After graduating in 1932 he spent a year at the Royal College of Music, where he was encouraged to link historical and musical studies. After teaching in London he was, for three years, musical advisor to Hertfordshire County Council before becoming, in 1949, a lecturer at Worcester College of Education, a position he held until 1970.
It was during these years, in posts which were less than satisfying to his scholarly temperament, that he began his independent work as a musical writer and editor. In a world without fellowships or grants of bursaries, he always took a certain pride in having “privately persued” his musical interests. He had already published widely-used works on school music teaching.
When, after 30 years in post, E. H. Fellowes retired in 1948 as honorary librarian of Sir Frederick Ouseley’s choral foundation of St Michael’s College, Tenbury, Shaw was his natural successor and he occupied the post with distinction until the college closed in 1985. At that time he successfully negotiated through Ouseley’s two conflicting wills to ensure that all the manuscripts in this important collection reached the Bodleian - including Handel’s conducting score of Messiah, used by the composer for the first performance in Dublin in 1742.
Shaw was also a fellow and governor of the college, and at the college’s dissolution he was the most powerful single influence in negotiating with the Charity Commissioners to ensure that the not inconsiderable endowment, now known as the Ouseley Trust, should be made available, as Ouseley would have wished, “for the purpose of promoting and maintaining to a high standard the choral services of the Church of England”. In 1988 he published Sir Frederick Ouseley and St Michael’s Tenbury: A Chapter in the History of English Church Music and Ecclesiology. During much of this period he had been closely associated with the Three Choirs Festival, often writing its programmes, and publishing its history in 1954.
Shaw was finally relieved from workaday teaching when, in 1970, he was appointed Keeper of the Parry Room Library at the Royal College of Music. In his ten years as keeper he transformed what had been long recognised (and long negected) as one of the foremost centres of musical research.
In retirement he finally published, in 1991, his monumental The Succession of Organists of the Chapel Royal and the Cathedrals of England and Wales from c1538, which had occupied him intermittently for many years. He was appointed OBE for his services to music in 1990.
Shaw was a perfectionist and a powerful advocate of the xauses in which he believed. He enjoyed forms and ceremonies: he designed rituals - in Latin - for the admission of new fellows at St Michael’s College and kept a strict watch over precedence in their processions. He hated humbug and was impatient with those he thought were wasting their talents. But he was generous in his time and knowledge to those who wanted to learn, and he had a sharp sense of the ridiculous; among friends he was excellent company, full of recondite knowledge and anecdotes.
In retirement he continued to
live on the other side of Broadheath Common from Elgar’s birthplace, where he
is survived by his second wife, Eleanor.