Westminster Cathedral Master of Music dies at 83

Westminster Cathedral Master of Music dies at 83


norman lebrecht

November 24, 2019

Two days after Stephen Cleobury’s death, we learn of the passing of Colin Mawby, Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral from 1961 to 1978 and subsequently choral director at Radio Telefís Éireann in Dublin.

Mawby composed many masses for the English Catholic liturgy and received knightly honours from Pope Benedict XVI.

He started out at age 12 as assistant to George Malcolm at the Westminster Cathedral organ.


Chamber Choir Ireland have announced: We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Colin Mawby KSG (1936-2019).

Founder of Chamber Choir Ireland (formerly National Chamber Choir) after the RTÉ Chamber Choir, and solely responsible for the golden choral period in the 1980s in Ireland as Choral Director at RTÉ establishing the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and RTÉ Cór na nÓg as well as the Chamber Choir. The excellence in choral music in Ireland would not be what it is today without Colin’s passion for choral education and excellence and his drive to create and grow the choral sector. Our choral world is poorer at the loss of Colin. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and close friends.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.


  • Canon Brian McKay says:

    Apologies! A correction, if I may? Colin was Master of Music until 1978 when he was succeeded by Sir Stephen Cleobury. How extraordinary that these two giants of music should die within two days of each other.

  • Within the space of a single weekend two of the UK’s most distinguished choral conductors have died – both of them thorough gentlemen and wonderful conductors. I had the privilege of working very closely with with Colin Mawby for over 10 years and with Sir Stephen Cleobury on a number of occasions – they will both be sadly missed.

  • Paul Inwood says:

    Canon McKay is partially incorrect. Colin was suspended as Master of Music at Westminster and moved to Dublin in 1976. The acting Master of Music until the arrival of Stephen Cleobury in 1979 was David Bevan, formerly an assistant at Westminster.

    • David Richards says:

      How characteristically pedantic of Paul Inwood to gatecrash the grief so many people are feeling at the death of a much-loved and greatly respected composer and choral conductor, whose music will endure long into the future, when more ephemeral examples that have diminished the mystery and beauty of Catholic liturgy over the past decades will be long-forgotten.

    • Maria says:

      He was sacked by Cardinal Hume who arrived at Westminster Cathedral in February 1976. In this day and age it most certainly wasn’t for ‘abuse’. If it weren’t for Cardinal Hume, there would have been no Choir School as they were desperately running out of money and boys. That’s when the Anglicans came in – Stephen Cleobury and David Hill. But Colin was never an outcast, always being there for big occasions and formally invited back, and having his music performed there, and his Christus Vincit written for the Cathedral’s Centenary. Pity that had to be mentioned in the first place.

  • Peter Clark says:

    Very sorry to learn of this. A couple of months ago I asked for (and received) his permission to record some of his organ music. And curiously I played two of his pieces at this morning’s mass. Coincidence?

  • Rosemary ora says:

    I’m not quite sure what all this quibbling is about.
    I know Colin was an extraordinary man with an extraordinary life; also a fine writer, passionate campaigner , committed socialist and Remainer.
    Devoted to nature and gardening.
    He was a teacher loved by his students to the end of his life.
    A brilliant humorist.
    Verbal virtuoso.
    My best friend.

    • Tom Sutcliffe says:

      I sang for Colin at Westminster Cathedral for a bit over three and a half years from December 1966. A somewhat different experience from singing at Brompton Oratory for Henry Washington (Ralph Downes as organist) for a couple of years previously. Colin was a composer. The tradition in interpreting unaccompanied polyphony which George Malcolm had fostered lived on: the timbre of the boy trebles and boy altos was unique in those days.
      I was the countertenor – singing the chant mostly in my tenor range, but providing the top line in the men’s voice polyphony that we provided for services without the boys. Mass and Vespers every day bar one. A great acoustic. A memorable experience to be part of all that music-making.
      Colin was an eccentric conductor and interpreter, but highly engaging and brilliant at motivating the result. I would not have left when I did – but he was against having to accept deputies in my place when I was getting work abroad. (In October ’66 I was offered – at the same time as by Colin – a full-time job in the choir at St Paul’s Cathedral where Alfred Deller had put in deps. for years….. but I preferred the Catholic rep!)

  • Eileen O'Connor says:

    I have sweet memories of Colin and his young choristers in Johnstown, Co Meath.
    They were aged 9 to 11 years and from these little ones an entrancing sound was produced.
    The children loved him as he treated them as his own family — Ben and Clem.
    Rest well, Colin and enjoy the light of heaven which your music often showed us.

    Eileen O’Connor

  • Monica Nally Hennessy says:

    Remembering Colin with fondness . He was a brilliant composer excellent choir master and a most warm and humble person… from a former member of RTE Philharmonic choir.

  • London Fassung says:

    As another former member of the RTE Philharmonic Choir in Dublin in its early days I remember a fun, enthusiastic Colin Mawby totally enthusing about music, and thoroughly engaging with choir members which many chorus directors avoid. Performances, mainly with the RTE Symphony Orchestra, were of the highest calibre – setting new standards in Ireland for large scale choral works. From visiting soloists we received great praise and very favourable comparisons with equivalent choruses across the water. We knew Colin had been sacked at Westminster Cathedral but were never exactly sure why. He used to occasionally briefly allude to that episode in his life and laugh about it. Here’s to marvellous Colin Mawby!

    • Rosemary says:

      Very basically, Colin was sacked because he stood bravely and publicly for the Cathedral choir and its music at a time when modernism bordered on fanaticism and many of the clergy were trying to get rid of It. He opened the matter out for comment from eminent figures in music , and others, from everywhere.
      I think that is a reasonably fair answer to your question. I would like to add that today again the choir is in danger, and ask again for support for it, and refusal to take no for an answer, from all friends of Colin, Martin Baker, and all those who appreciate or are involved in preserving, in this fraught age, the great cultural contribution made, free gratis and for nothing, and for the glory of God, by this wonderful choir. Colin was not afraid to commit himself at the risk of a job he loved. We have nothing but a little time to give

  • Colin was a legend. His sense of music and creative was really amazing. The Cathedral will forever miss him

  • Kevin Clark says:

    Colin inducted me into the RTE PHIL CHOIR in 1985. He was a brilliant musician if at times eccentric. But he could take a joke at his expense! Through him and like him I met my life partner . The heavenly choirs had better watch out !

  • yomibnaze says:

    I am saddened to hear this, RIP

  • Mathy Philip says:

    He remains the best when it comes to music, Death why do you have to take him, Keep resting in the Lord

  • adanyoi says:

    The right person dying at the wrong time. RIP legend, may you soul rest in Peace

  • owojames says:

    May his soul Rest in Peace, he will be missed

  • I can’t Imagine he really passed away, we will keep respecting and remembering. Good night icon.