Herbert Whitton Sumsion (1899-1995) was born in Gloucester and, like his contemporary Herbert Howells, he began his musical training at Gloucester Cathedral as a chorister in Brewer’s choir. From 1916 to 1917 Sumsion became assistant organist at the cathedral, then later, in 1919, he held the same office before travelling to London in 1922 to become organist at Christ Church, Lancaster Gate. In 1926 Sumsion made the long journey to Philadelphia where he had been offered the job of professor of harmony and counterpoint at the Curtis Institute. After two years he finally returned to Gloucester Cathedral as organist and choirmaster, a post which he retained for thirty-nine years. Sumsion’s career was centred on the Three Choirs Festival and as a result his association with such notable composers as Kodály, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Howells and Finzi became a close one. Besides composing (mostly for voice and organ), Sumsion was also a skilled organist and conductor, accompanist and chamber music player. He was awarded a Lambeth DMus in 1947 and was appointed CUE in 1961. The Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in G major were written in 1942 to supplement the existing choice of settings already in the repertoire at Gloucester Cathedral. The Magnificat is a gently lilting, lyrical setting, which exhibits moments of extreme tenderness. Sumsion pays careful attention to word-setting and the vocal lines are beautifully shaped. The organ-writing complements the vocal textures with independent melodic interpolations, and in the Nunc dimittis the opening organ solo passage introduces a melodic motif and a triplet figure, both of which are present throughout the canticle.
from notes by Sarah Langdon © 1988