Caleb Simper

By Brian Clegg

In this special page we provide the only known biographical details on the web of a once-famous but now forgotten Victorian church music composer.


Photograph from the collection of the
North Devon Record Office,
reproduced with permission

"Composers with ridiculous names: their names are about the one thing these composers couldn't help; other aspects of their activities are less innocent."

Ralph Vaughan Williams on Simper and Maunder

Caleb Simper is not the usual sort of composer you would expect to find on this website. Victorian church composers were often not of the highest quality, and few would rank Simper with Stainer. But the fascination of Caleb Simper is his invisibility. Here was a man who sold over 5 million copies of his sheet music. Just think of that - an army of Simper anthems - yet he is practically invisible. Do a web search on Simper and you will come up with only a handful of entries. He's not in Grove, or many other musical references. Yet he clearly plucked many a Victorian and Edwardian heartstring.

Certainly in some parts, Simper has never gone away. The music cupboard of my former rural Wiltshire choir in the West of England contains several Simper masterpieces:
  • Benedicite in B flat
  • King of Kings
  • The eyes of all wait upon thee
  • The story of the Crucifixion
  • The valleys are covered with corn
  • Welcome Christmas morn
- and one of them, the over-the-top Easter anthem King of Kings remains a hot favourite with our older members. But who was Simper, and what happened to him? The description of Simper and his work below owes much to the pamphlet Sung Throughout the Civilised World by Christopher Turner, published by Devon County Council in 1992.

Where has he gone?

As many as 2.5 million copies sold by 1892. Up to 3.25 million by 1895 and surpassing 5 million by 1920. This was a superstar of the church music business. According to the extravagant claims of the advertising on the back of Simper's music, it was performed in no end of countries, at as many a music festival as you would care to shake a stick at, and even in front of Her Majesty, who, as far as we are aware, was amused.

So how could this man disappear off the musical face of the earth? Nothing short of character assassination at a time when all things Victorian were treated with distain. By the end of his life, Simper was a living fossil (this very Victorian composer was still alive when Britten published Ceremony of Carols). We have to bear in mind that there was a time when even the heights of Victorian genius, even buildings like the National History Museum in London, were considered vulgar and ridiculous. When the legacy had the much more fragile nature of sheet music, it was all too easy to go through the cupboard and dump in the bin anything that smacked of Victorian enthusiasm and naivety.

With little interest from the historians of church music, Simper was destined to be little more than footnotes - and then usually unpleasant ones:

  • This music was deplorably easy to write. It required little or no skill in performance, it passed by mere use and wont into the hearts of the congregation, it became a habit like any other, and it is only during comparatively recent years than any serious attempts have been made towards eradicating it. (These attempts have not been altogether successful. Even now... much of this music is still to be heard in parish churches up and down the country... Within a few miles of where this is being written [Altrincham] a parish choir still sings pieces by Caleb Simper - one of the worst of the group. Kenneth Long (The Music of the English Church, Hodder & Stoughton, 1972)
  • From the Crucifixion you go downwards to the underworld of Michael Costa, Caleb Simper and J H Maunder*... Erik Routley (A Short History of English Church Music, Mowbrays, 1977) (*Maunder was responsible for the truly awful Olivet to Calvery that fills in for those who want to do the Crucifixion every year but need a change)
  • I have not been able to unearth any of his compositions to see whether the scorn and derision poured on his head by the musical authorities is justified. Virginia Osborne (Victorian Church Music - Sentimental or Sublime, Laudate No 17)

In the end, the trouble was that Simper was no great composer, just a workmanlike provider of easy-singing, easy-listening anthems and other church music. Where Simper's anthems have survived they are popular with older congregations and choirs - and are easily singable with the sort of resources most smaller choirs face these days. Perhaps Caleb deserves a little better coverage.

Simper, the man

Caleb Simper was born on 12 September 1856 in the village of Barford St. Martin, a village on the Shaftsbury road to the West of Salisbury in Wiltshire. His parents were Alfred Simper, a "boot and shoemaker", and Elizabeth Clare.

Simper's parents' wedding certificate reads: 1852 Marriage solemnized at Crow Lane Chapel, Wilton in the District of Wilton Union in the county of Wilts. Second of September 1852 Alfred Simper 31 years Bachelor, Shoemaker, Barford St Martin (father John Simper, Labourer) and Elizabeth Clare 32 years Spinster, Barford St Martin (father George Clare, Dairyman). Married in the said chapel according to the rites and ceremonies of the Independent Dissenters by me, Charles Baker. This marriage was solemnized between us Alfred Simper, Elizabeth Clare in the presence of us, Anna Clare, Lydia Clare, George Simper.

Alfred was a violinist who played with various local ensembles, including Salisbury Musical Society. Unusually for the time, the Simpers seemed to have had a small family - Caleb only had one known sibling, Alfred Clare Simper, five years his junior.

As far as we know Simper had no formal musical training, though his first job that was recorded (certainly not his first employment) was as manager of E. J. Sparks & Co, a music warehouse based at 12 High Street, Worcester (just two doors away from Elgar Brothers, the music shop owned by Edward Elgar's father and uncle). It has been assumed that he moved to Worcester shortly after his marriage in 1879 to Emily Yates, a 30-year-old Australian who was living at the time with her aunt and uncle in Wilton, just a few miles from Barford. These details from Caleb and Emily's marriage certificate show, in fact, that Simper was already in Worcester by then:

Marriage solemnized at the Independent Chapel, Crow Lane, Wilton in the District of Wilton in the County of Wilts Eleventh March 1879
Caleb Simper 22 years Bachelor, Music seller, 54 High Street Worcester (father Alfred Simper, bootmaker)
Emily Yates 26 years Spinster, Wilton, Wiltshire (father Thomas Yates (deceased) manager of stores)

Married in the Independent Chapel according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Independents by License by me, Henry Platt, Minister This marriage was solemnized between us, Caleb Simper, Emily Yates, in the Presence of us Pardoe Yates, Amy Yates Frances Wiles, Registrar

Although it seems from the location of his wedding (the same as his parents) that Simper came from a non-conformist background, he was soon involved in a Church of England establishment in Worcester. Presumably by now he was a competent keyboard player, as he was appointed organist and choirmaster to St Mary Magdalene church, a neo-gothic Victorian building that at the time was a popular place of worship. He still held this position in 1886 when he was paid £7.10s for 3 months duties as organist and choirmaster.

Dr George Chryssides tells us this about the organ Simper played: "the Worcester instrument is quite an impressive one - a fairly bright three-manual instument. Simper must have written some of this music with this instrument in mind: although his material is usable on any keyboard instrument, he occasionally mentions stop names like 'Cremona' (a variant of 'Krumhorn') - not a terribly common stop name, but it features in St M M's specifications. There is a picture of the instrument on the National Pipe Organ Register's web site, although the instrument is no longer at Worcester, having been moved to St Chistoforuskerk, Schagen, Holland. It is described as a 'very musical and effective organ though a little throttled in the chamber' (presumably meaning that there is rather a lot of pipework for the area available). There is more information on the organ at

"Judging by the dates, it seems likely that Simper was in post at the time when the organ was completed. He would only have been 27 at the time, which raises an interesting question of why such a young man, who apparently lacked musical qualifications, should have been let loose on such a fine instrument. One imagines that, in a cathedral city, there must have been quite a few good qualified musicians around. Was Simper appointed simply because of the quality of his playing? (We don't actually know for sure what was like.)"

It was at St Mary Magdalene, Worcester, that Simper wrote his first anthem He is risen for the choir to sing at Easter - it was published under the name Edwyn (sic) A. Clare. Quite why he used his mother's maiden name isn't clear (unless he found his own name embarrassing).

During their stay in Worcester the Simpers had three children - Alfred Thomas, Edwin Caleb and Roland Chalmers (1889). A few years after Roland's birth the family decamped to the Devon town of Barnstaple, where Simper remained for the rest of his life. Here he started a brief partnership with one John Thomas White (White also moved from Worcester, so they probably knew each other through Sparks). They ran a music warehouse, selling pianos, American organs, harmoniums and sheet music in a building at 84 High Street.

This business seemed to be the reason for moving to Barnstaple, but it was a poorly timed decision for Simper, as it coincided with the meteoric rise of popularity of his music. Within months of the business opening up, the North Devon Journal of 29 October 1891 carried the following announcement:

The increasing popularity of Mr Caleb Simper as a composer has induced him to apply himself solely to his profession and he has retired in favour of Mr White under whose control and management the business will be conducted hitherto.

Simper was now 34 - he must have been doing pretty well to 'retire in favour of Mr White' at such a young age. Simper began to work from home - 9 Taw Vale Parade in Barnstaple - picking up on successes like the two prizes he had won in a hymn tune competition run by the Manchester Sunday School Union, and the growing revenue from sheet music sales. (George Chryssides comments: "I assume that the competition-winning ones are 'Barnstaple' and 'Suppose', written to 'O what can little hands do' and 'Suppose the little cowslip' respectively. These are in my copy of The Sunday School Hymnary (1905), edited by Carey Bonner. As far as I see, this volume makes no specific mention of the Manchester Sunday School Society, and is published in London.")

At about the same time, Simper took over as organist and choirmaster at Emmanuel Church, Barnstaple, a building belonging to a breakaway sect from the Church of England, the Reformed Episcopal Church. He also seems to have been playing at St John the Baptist, Newport on the outskirts of Barnstaple, from occasional payments that were made.

He moved on to be organist and choirmaster at St Mary Magdalene, Barnstaple in 1897, for which choir his cantata The Rolling Seasons was written, a popular work if this letter from a Dorset vicar is anything to go by:

Our people quite appreciated your cantata, 'The Rolling Seasons', which we used for our Harvest Evensong. Our soloists came from Exeter, one of them being a member of the Cathedral Choir. Our Choir have enjoyed their practices, as the music is in every way tuneful and within the compass of an average Choir.

Next year came what would become Simper's other best-known cantata, The Nativity of Christ, which, like Stainer's Crucifixion, used hymns (or in this case, carols) to engage the congregation. 1898 also saw the first volume of Simper organ pieces published (which also included a piece written by his son Roland at the age of 8).

Specifications of St Mary's organ as played by Simper can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register. According to Dr Chryssides, "The St M M's organ appears to have been built in 1884, so it seems very likely that Simper would have played it in its original state. It looks a very mediocre, rather stodgy instrument - little upper-work, and the only reed being an oboe at that time. As a practical musician, Simper obviously did not aspire to playing a prestigious instrument. As I remember, some of Simper's voluntaries specify Trumpets - so he was altruistic enough to write for superior instruments to the one he regularly used! Assuming he played his own organ music in church, I wonder how he coped with the crescendo markings, since a balanced Swell pedal was not added until 1959." - Some light on this may come from this observation from John Chryssides: "All the books [of Simper's voluntaries] contain 'hairpin' cresc. and dim. markings. You point out that Simper's organ did not have a balanced swell until a later date, but we don't know whether it had no swell device whatever, or whether it was one which was not balanced - e.g. one of these ratchet affairs."
Stacks Image 469
Around the turn of the century, Simper and family moved to Ashleigh Road, Barnstaple in a house they called Kilbirnie. Simper gave up playing at St Mary Magdalene in 1904, apparently due to ill health, though he was to live more than 40 years longer - and soon become choirmaster at St John the Baptist, Newport, where Roland was already organist.

Simper at the wheel of his Studebaker. Image kindly provided by Caleb Simper’s great nephew, David Stradling

In fact Roland may have been a more accomplished organist than Simper himself, as he is described in Simper's books of voluntaries as "Roland Chalmers Simper FRCO LRAM", where Simper never mentions his own qualifications, if he had any.
It seems that Caleb, though sometimes strict, could be quite a jolly choirmaster - a choirboy under him, William Symons, remembered being taken out with the other boys for a tea of bangers and mash, followed by the cinema.

1916 brought the death of Simper's wife Emily at the age of 65 (on 2 February, of diabetes), followed the next year on 4 April by the death of Roland in Harrogate. The North Devon Journal recorded:

The sad news, which reached Mr Caleb Simper by telegram yesterday was wholly unexpected and came as a terrible shock. Mr Roland Simper had been in good health... But yesterday morning Mr Simper received a letter stating that his son was very ill and could not be moved. Mr Simper at once left Barnstaple for Harrogate, but received a message at Exeter Station to the effect that his son had passed away. Death was due to pneumonia.

Caleb was to remarry shortly after Roland's death to Katherine Ada Pearce, the 32-year-old daughter of a local baker (Simper was 60 at the time). An example of local wit at this significant age difference was: "Why did Caleb Simper? Because Kath pierced his heart."

Simper's composing continued at least until the 1920s, but he was less prolific. He died at home on 28 August 1942, at the age of 85, leaving an estate worth over £20,000 - a considerable sum. Katherine lived on in the same house until she was 86, dying as late as 1971.

Simper's music

As we have already seen, the marks of Simper's composition at its best were tunefulness and ease of singing. His popularity was reflected in letters from enthusiastic organists and choir leaders from Oxfordshire...

How popular your music is! Certainly you are one of the most highly gifted men in - yes the world! You seem to go on year after year with your music as fresh as ever.

... to New York:

I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed your anthems. They are so singable, and not difficult, and entirely lacking the trivial character so often found in anthems. I have used very many of them and recommend them to my pupils who have choirs.

Certainly these pieces moved vigorously off the shelves. His first published anthem, He is risen, reached its 105th edition - each edition being 1,000 copies. Much of his music was published in both stave notation and the then popular tonic sol-fa notation.

Probably the best lasting aspect of Simper's music (certainly in terms of publication) lies in his pieces for organ, which seem to be a relaxing alternative to some of the more heavy-duty pieces for the working organist. See a review on the website The Lady Organist.

The hunt for Simper

I was pricked into action when trying to put together some programme notes for an upcoming Easter extravaganza and discovering there was very little information on Simper to be found. An excellent article by Gordon Rumson of Calgary, Canada on the Music and Vision site highlights the lack of information, but also gave the clue that there was a Simper biography, a very short book (or a long pamphlet) written by one Christopher Turner, produced by a rather unlikely publisher - Devon County Council.

Attempts to get hold of a copy of the biography failed, but Devon Council admitted to having a copy in their Barnstaple library. It looked like a visit to the West Country was going to be necessary to fill in the gaps. But just as I prepared to undertake the journey I had another contact from Devon Council. They were sure that Simper's biographer, Christopher Turner would welcome a contact. I was given his home and work telephone numbers. It seemed that I was on my way to discovering Simper.

For several days I tried the numbers with no success - then another e-mail arrived, this time from the music publisher Stainer & Bell, for whom Turner had edited some Simper anthems. They had a sad explanation of why I was unable to reach Christopher Turner. He died in 2002. The only hope, then was the copy in Barnstaple Library. I called their Local Studies section. Yes, they knew about the pamphlet... but when I had been in touch with the council they had tried to look it out and couldn't find it.

Luckily, within hours they rang back. The copy had been located - and even better they were prepared to part with a copy of it. Simper was about to get a wider audience...

What's next? and Worldwide Simper sightings

If you have further information on Simper, have Simper anthems in your cupboard, or have a query, please drop me an e-mail at I am pleased to say that I have had a number of emails on the subject of Simper - here are some highlights:

  • John from Buxton emailed: Yes, Caleb Simper was a minor composer in the great scheme of musical achievements, but this should not undervalue his considerable contribution to church music and the appeal of his relatively easy-to-play organ and harmonium compositions. In this he strikes a chord with other relatively unknown composers such as Thomas Mee Pattison and Sigfrig Karg-Elert. They all had the ability to write charming and stirring compositions for these instruments, combining pleasant melody with beautiful harmonic sequences and sensitive phrasing. In a similar vein, Edward MacDowell’s little piece ‘To a Wild Rose’ is known and loved the world over for its simple yet profound appeal and proves that small scale compositions can have major impact when written with skill and inspiration. I have been a chapel organist for six decades and many years ago discovered the music of Caleb Simper which I have since played at regular intervals for services. From a practical aspect, after a busy working week, raising a family and various other commitments, there was often not much time for organ practice to develop one’s Bach, Cesar Franck etc. so it was frequently a relief to be able to pick up a Simper album and play his undemanding yet liturgically attractive music, as preludes and postludes to divine service. Furthermore, with the advent of the modern digital organ now installed in many homes, places of worship and concert halls, this enables Simper’s music to be enhanced in a manner he would not have dreamt of. I own a digital organ keyboard combining five national organ types, all pipe sampled and authentic sounding, with additional solo instruments such as trumpet, violin, oboe and flute etc. all recorded from live instruments. Add to these the addition of a choice of organ ‘temperaments’, various reverberation levels and choral voices such as ‘Classic Choir’ and the facility of being able to adjust the volume level of each individual tab ‘stop’ so as to sensitively accompany these ancillaries, then playing Caleb Simper and similar composers using these features produces an enhanced effect which, through suitable hi-fi headphones, or appropriately large speakers, is akin to listening in one of our great cathedrals. Mee Pattison’s ‘For Solemn Occasions’ pieces from his ‘Preludes for Divine Service’ come over beautifully in this manner using a combination of Voix Celeste and Viola DI Gamba stops accompanying the Classic Choir and the same can be said of Simper’s Prayer, Communion and Meditation pieces. Any would-be church organist is of course right to attempt and practice organ compositions of the great masters, including organ arrangements of their other works, but I am sure they would, like me, benefit from supplementing these through occasionally playing pieces by composers such as the above.
  • Philip from Auburn, USA email to highlight the two recordings of Simper's His Name is Excellent listed below.
  • John from Ontario, Canada emailed to point out a family connection: My g-grandmother was Louisa Simper from Fovant/Sutton Mandeville where her family were the woodcutters probably referenced by Jane from the UK [9 below]. I will be doing further research to figure out if/where Caleb fits in the family tree.
  • Malcolm from Welwyn Garden City emailed to comment on Simper’s organ music: I first came into contact with Simper's music for harmonium and American organ back in the late 1950s when the organist of the local Congregational church used to play his pieces before and after Sunday services in addition to that of other composers. At the age of 12 in 1960 I. took over as organist and treated myself to several of Caleb Simper's music books for organ. Since then I developed my organ studies and enjoy playing the organ, but still have my 3 books by Simper in my sheet music collection. Occasionally I use a quiet Simper piece when playing for funeral services.
  • Richard from Lincolnshire emailed with is appreciation of Simper’s organ works: Having been a church organist 33 years, I only bumped into the Simper organ volumes a couple of years ago. I was passed a pile of mouse eaten music from a late estate. The deceased late grandmother had been a church organist around here in Lincolnshiere during the WWII years. There were about 6 I had ago at some of the pieces, which I loved. I did an Amazon search to see if there was anything about, and discovered all 12 volumes still in I had the lot! I get more positive comments when I play the Simper pieces at church than for any other composers work that I play. As far as I'm concerned (and I originate from Yorkshire, so like straight talking), If the pieces are enjoyable to play & listen to, then they are good.
  • Peter from Canada emailed to say that Simper’s Barnstaple Homes can be seen on Google Streetview: 'Kilburnie' is in fact 34, Ashleigh Road and is now a care home but still retains the name as can be seen on the sign beside the entrance. The Taw Vale address is in a beautiful location as you can see with Street View. His 84, High Street premises are now a shoe retailers.
  • A fascinating reminiscence from Peter, the son of Caleb Simper's second wife's cousin: As a lad, mother and I would go up to the top of Ashleigh Road to 'Kilbirie' for tea... The house in Ashleigh Road was very typical of its time, being wholly gas-lit and with a side extension which Calab had built as his 'music room'. He never seemed to use it as such, although it was equipped with two harmoniums. As a child, I used to 'play' these with noisy fervour.
  • Jones from India makes regular use of Simper's anthems and voluntaries: I'm an organist in a protestant church in the southern part of India and a great fan of Simper's anthems and voluntaries. I do agree that his anthems are easy to sing and to be played, but i do not agree that he lacked musical qualifications to be an organist. None of his music shows that he was tone-deaf or musically brutish. There is so much joy in playing and singing his anthems which I believe with all my heart was because he was a committed Christian and had a great unction from above in composing such great anthems!
  • David from the UK has recently sighted Simper in Bedfordshire (UK): Searching through the small, chaotic library of - mainly useless - music in my local village church which I have recently taken over as organist and choirmaster, I came across one copy of the anthem "And when the day of Pentecost" by Caleb Simper. I must confess it was the first name that drew my attention to it, since I now have a pupil by that name. The composer's surname, of course, produced a wry smile... Yes, repetition, 4-bar phrases, homophonic treatment, it's all there in the anthem. The words "to speak with other tongues" is repeated no fewer than 12 times. And the simpering (sorry!) cadence on the word "place" has to repeated at a higher pitch ("intensification"!). Ouch! I see the price of the anthem was 5d. Apparently a Tonic sol-fa version was available for 4d. Perhaps I should check our local music shop.....
  • Bob from the US tells us that Simper's music is being republished: Simper anthems are now being republished with added parts for String Orchestra! T. J. Doeppers of Greer, SC, USA is now doing this. See his page for details. He has done anthems by Simper, J. H. Maunder, J. Varley Roberts, Sir John Stainer, and others. There is a general trend in the US toward the English style of church music, particularly in organ design, which is moving toward the symphonic organ. The next step is to convince publishers, such as Stainer and Bell or Bardon Music Publishers in Germany (that has republished much Victorian organ music by Scotson Clark and others) to publish these anthems, hopefully Simper's entire output. Included also should be the fine work of Roberts, Maunder, Stainer and others whose work has faded from the shelves of music merchants. Bands have their Sousa, Fillmore, King and Hall marches in print and available for purchase. Choirs should have Simper, Maunder, Stainer, Roberts, and the rest of the Victorians.
  • Joan from Melbourne (Australia) first came across Simper in South Africa: I have recently started playing the organ in my Church (in Melbourne, Australia), after an absence of 27 years. I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa and started playing a small harmonium when I was 9 years of age. The nuns who taught me had these books of voluntaries which I enjoyed playing. Recently, after playing one of Caleb Simper's voluntaries, (I have three volumes) the priest and one of the parishioners asked me what I had been playing, and who the composer was. It was the first time I had even thought to look at the cover, as it had been covered with brown paper...
  • Jane from the UK has a family connection to Simper: My 3xgt.grandad Edward Hinton married Sarah the sister of John Simper (Caleb Simper's grandfather) and as you say in your details the family did play music, in fact Edward and his son were left a bass musical instrument plus ''all my sheet music'' in a will dated 1838 by their uncle Leonard Hinton. All of the Hinton men were blacksmiths so it is nice to think that after a very hard day at this strenuous work they could relax with music... The Simper family were in the main woodcutters from nearby Grovely in the parish of Barford and many left wills and appear to be reasonably well off by the standard of the day.
  • Zoe from Bannockburn (Scotland) writes: I've just read your article on Caleb Simper with fascination. I found it while looking for a way to buy the missing volumes of his collection of voluntaries that I have. I've been using 7 very tatty versions for weddings and funerals for years. Some of them are really in a bad way with pages nibbled by mice! I love this music and treat it like gold dust. It creates just the right atmosphere in a church when people are arriving for a wedding or funeral. It's non intrusive and takes away the awkwardness of complete silence. I hope Simpers music gets the exposure it deserves and continues to be popular for many more years.
  • Adrian from North East England has played Simper in Ripon Cathedral: [For Simper] to have attained so much in his own lifetime is quite amazing. He must have been very highly regarded but the character assassination you speak of is not too surprising. People will laugh at his name, especially the older generation even now, but I am finding a new-found respect for his music. This must be right. A little earlier than Simper but certainly slightly overlapping, Lefebure-Wely was writing in a similar style in Paris. This happy, jolly rather self-effacing style of writing, I find quite attractive to play and, as an organist, I am certainly not ashamed to use it in my work. I played for Evensong in Ripon Cathedral last night and played the March in C from S&B Book 17 after the Service. On descending from the loft, four people had waited behind to enquire 'What was that wonderful piece?' Doesn't that tell you something?
  • An edition of the Indian newspaper The Hindu in late 2005 featured a piece on a carol concert including a Simper piece, "Break Forth in Joy". Simper is referred to in the article as a "legendary English composer." Thanks to George Chryssides for pointing this out.
  • David from the Isle of Man (UK) writes: Having joined a church choir some 55 years ago when I was 8 years old, we seemed to have a regular diet of Caleb Simper as we went through the seasons. Looking back over the years there is a warm feeling of nostalgia for these pieces. Though his work is now considered by many to be passé and very commercial, at the time he provided us with melodic, easy-to-sing anthems that well suited our small choir: ten boys, four ladies and six men. I well remember two anthems in particular that I would love to "meet" again now that I am myself an organist and choirmaster: 'My Peace' and 'The Comforter'. Any help in acquiring either or both of these copies would be much appreciated. I have tried for a very long time without success. Though I almost never use his voluntaries now, there is one particular one that I use for funerals, as the deceased is brought into the church - 'Solemn Voluntary'. I lost the book it was in many years ago, but recently, purely by chance, a book of the same voluntaries came into my possession (Book 10). It is a most moving, 'simply' effective piece that I would recommend to anyone for such an occasion.
  • Nicholas from Norwich (UK) was presented with a box of old music found under a vestry carpet that included various Simper anthems: Thou visitest the earth, Great is the Lord, When thou hast gathered in thy corn, Exalt his Name, I am the resurrection and the life, The Lord is my Strength, To him be Glory, He Liveth unto God, O send out thy light, and Sing forth his praise. He also has The Comforter (A Melodious and very Effective Anthem for Whitsuntide and General Use); and the Communion Service in E flat. But his favourite from the secret store is He Maketh Peace. This is a Special Thanksgiving Anthem of 1900 'for the Coming Peace Celebrations' -i.e. the Boer War. Halfway through, apparently, the congregation joins in with 'Praise God from whom ...' (to Old 100), and at the end everyone joins in the National Anthem.
  • Staffan from Melbourne, Australia makes regular use of Simper's music: "I am director of music at St Andrews Uniting Church, Footscray, Melbourne, Australia. Our SATB choir (of about 12) has about 6 Simper anthems on its repertoire, and we always get positive comments when one of them is performed. I also play some of the pieces from the '17 voluntaries' collections as postludes. When playing organ concerts in my native country, Sweden, I have sometimes included some of these pieces, and people have commented positively, although no one in Sweden had ever heard of Simper... Most other organists just laugh when I mention Simper. But people like it, the proof is in the pudding..."
  • Roger from South Africa reports that Simper is still going strong: "It was with great interest that I've read that Caleb Simper's music is not performed anymore. In South Africa that is not the case. I know many choir that still performs on a frequent schedule his Cantates; 'The Rolling Seasons', 'The Nativity of Christ', and 'From Manger to Cross'. As a child I grew up with his Christmas Carols. His carols and Choral works from 'The Nativity of Christ' and 'From Manger to Cross', forms part of our advent music. Until today his Christmas Carol, "O Christmas Bells (Ring Merrily, ring Cheerily) stills bring the spirit of Christmas to many hearts. I've been very fortunate to accompany many church choirs who sang his Cantates."
  • Tony from the UK comments: "I found a copy of the organ works (a bound volume of the complete set) in a second-hand shop soon after starting to learn the organ in the 1960's, and found them very useful - especially as I frequently played reed organs at that time, and the 2-stave layout was a help. Unfortunately I gave the book away - but in more recent years I've revisited him, as I have purchased some of the volumes that are still in print - and sometimes use them. I agree with your comments about tunefulness, etc. I've not come across any of the choral works. I think the organ music is popular - mainly amongst the 'reluctant organist' type of player, because it's relatively easy to play, and is melodic and in most cases not too long. It also is easy to play on a small instrument, which is one reason why I still use it sometimes. I'm also interested in it because it's very typical of the repertoire that many small and medium sized Victorian organs were designed to play. I wonder if there might be a market for a recording on a suitable instrument/instruments?"
  • Peter from the UK tells us: "A friend and I recently went on an organ recital tour, playing concerts at six Methodist Churches in New York State, Vermont & New Hampshire. David and I shared the playing. One of the items he played at each venue was Simper's 'march in E flat'. As a result Simper has had something of an airing in the USA recently! I and the audiences were very impressed by the energy and excitement of Simper's March. As you say on the website, much of his music may not be art but it is certainly entertaining. Since our return from America I have invested in some of the Stainer & Bell volumes of Simper's music and may well include items in some of my future recitals."
  • Ian from Hertfordshire (UK) comments: "Having been asked to to do a lecture-recital at a country church in Hertfordshire, I visited the church and found, in the cupboard in the gallery, multiple copies of cantatas that were sung there in the 1950s and 60s, including "The Nativity of Christ", and "A Joyful Thanksgiving" and "The Rolling Seasons". I chose the last 2 items from the last -mentioned. "The King of Love" I find very expressive - remarkable what he can do harmonically with just 4 parts. "Thou crownest the year" is easy to learn and enjoyable to sing."
  • Barry from Brisbane, Australia first came across Simper in the 1960s when he bought a (new) set of The Nativity of Christ as an easy four-part work for a children's choir. He is now setting up an adult choir and expects Simper will come to good use again.
  • David from Cheshire, England was given a book of Simper organ music and found this site when searching for background information on the composer.

Brian Clegg

Hear something Simper

Until recently I wasn't aware of any commercial recordings of Caleb Simper's choral music, but there appear two be two Dutch recordings of his anthem His Name is Excellent which can be heard on Spotify here and here (the latter in an orchestrated version).

I am aware of just one track of his organ music. There is something labelled "Melody for Organ" on an American recording called Historic Organs of San Francisco. The alleged Simper piece is track 16 (Melody). But I am assured by a reliable source that this is actually Recit de Hautbois by Lefebure-Wely. The other recording was brought to my attention by Anne-Kirstine of Denmark, who tells me there's a CD of a Danish organist called (the CD, not the organist) Orglet Danser (the organ dances) which features a march by Simper.

Inevitably a number of choirs have made private recordings featuring Simper. Thanks to Colin Brownlee for pointing out that there is an all-Simper evensong recording on cassette made by the Choir of St. John's Church, Newport, Barnstaple

Staffan from Australia has recorded a Simper anthem with his choir: he has posted a copy of their performance of King of Kings on YouTube. It's a bit slower than I'd do it, and is rather thin in places, but gives some of the feel of a Simper piece:

Christopher Turner who wrote the booklet on Simper recorded an album of Simper organ music, probably only on tape, under the aegis of the County Council. The catalogue details are as follows: Caleb Simper : a selection of sacred organ works : played by. - Exeter : Devon County Council , 1992. - Phonocassette. - Christopher Turner on the Viscount organ ... Fingringhoe, Essex. [Record number: 15009] - Westcountry Studies: A/V 74.

Click here to hear a MIDI file of Simper's King of Kings. Note that this just the organ accompaniment and does not have the voice parts where they are not doubled in the organ - but it gives a feel for the Simper style.

Brian Clegg is editor of the Church Music Site. He is an author of books on popular science. He is a former choir musical director and runs the site, which provides hymn accompaniments on CDs and on downloads, recorded by the excellent organist John Keys.

Many thanks to those who have provided information for this site, particularly to John Chryssides and George Chryssides, Tjeerd van der Ploeg (the organist at St. Christoforuskerk, Schagen (North Holland) who now plays Simper's Worcester instrument) and also to Norman Lincoln for many useful facts.
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