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Chamber Choir

A HISTORY OF THE CHOIR 1964 to 2020

MUSICA VERA was founded by Graham Smallbone, Director of Music at Dean Close School, Cheltenham.  The first concert was held at Christ Church, Cheltenham, on Saturday 5 December 1964 with Graham Smallbone conducting the Choir accompanied by The Cheltenham String Players.   Graham was the Choir’s conductor up to and including the concert held in October 1966, before his move to Marlborough.

Graham took the Choir’s title from “An Illustrated History of Music” by Marc Pincherle, who quoted the mediaeval latin tag Musica ficta est musica vera (False music is real music) - or translations to that effect.  This refers to the familiar, but undefined, performance practice that involved sharpening or flattening notes to make them convincing in their context - without any indication in the parts that this should be done.  The performers, almost invariably singers, were expected to make these adjustments as a result of their experience, understanding and musical sophistication.  The alphabetical notes, unaltered, were the standard modes - the true (vera) notes in a basic sense.  Hence, making the adjustments (ficta) made the music correct (vera) as a performance without the necessary unwritten amendments would not be acceptable or authentic.

Rehearsals in the early days used to be held on Monday evenings from 8.00 - 9.30 pm in Dean Close Music Department, which at that time was something like a converted army barracks hut.

Among the early soloists was Dame Felicity Lott, who gave what could have been her first public performance in Handel's Messiah on 13 March 1965 at Christ Church, when she was still at Pates Grammar School.  A group that included most of the founder members of what later became the King’s Singers (Martin Lane, Alastair Hume, Neil Jenkins, Alastair Thompson, Richard Salter, and Brian Kay) sang in a performance of Monterverdi’s Vespers (1610) in Tewkesbury Abbey on 26 June 1966.

The Choir has had fourteen Directors of Music during the 40 years of its history.  Graham Smallbone was succeeded by Joseph Polglase, who was also a member of the Dean Close Music Department.  In the 1970s the Choir was directed by David Watson and Nicholas Hare; Adrian Carpenter, Alastair Jamieson and George Howarth conducted the Choir in the 1980s followed by Fiona Brown who took the Choir into the early 90s.  Malcolm McKelvey and James Babbage directed in the 1990s, with Claire Alsop (née Proud), a teacher of music at Cheltenham Ladies College, taking up the baton in September 1998.  Oliver Mason was the twelfth Director of Music, succeeding Claire in September 2006, and leaving in July 2012 to take up a new teaching post in Aberdeen.  David Dewar took up the position in September 2012, and conducted his final concert with us on 30 November, 2019.  Matthew Clark has now taken over with effect from 5 February 2020.

Musica Vera usually holds its concerts in Cheltenham, and among venues used in the town have been All Saints Church, St Matthew's Church, St Andrew’s Church, Cheltenham College Chapel, St Mary’s Church Prestbury, St Peter’s Church Leckhampton, St Gregory’s Church, Christ Church, St Mary’s Church Charlton Kings and St Nicolas Church in Swindon Lane.  It has in earlier years ventured further afield with concerts in St Peter’s College Oxford, Tewkesbury Abbey, churches in Gloucester, Northleach, and Winchcombe, and twice at Saint Mary’s Church, Bampton in the 1990s where the Choir’s President, the late Bernard Rose, and his wife provided the singers with a magnificent afternoon tea in their home before the concert.  The Choir has also given several concerts at Grange Village, Newnham on Severn, and has sung for the residents of Capel Court in Prestbury and Windsor Street Care Home.

There are currently 20 members in the Choir which, over the years, has performed a huge range of music including larger works such as Monteverdi’s Vespers, Rachmaninov’s Vespers, Bach’s St John Passion, Handel’s Messiah, Purcell’s Acis and Galatea, Vivaldi’s two Glorias and the Requiems by Fauré and Duruflé, sung with orchestral and/or organ accompaniment. However, Musica Vera has also always enjoyed singing unaccompanied music by early composers.  

The Choir has sung a vast variety of music, and details can be seen below.   Over the years it has acquired a reputation for adventurous programming.

One special concert was in November 2003 in Cheltenham College Chapel.  A gift from the late David George, a member of Musica Vera, to the Choir shortly before his death in October 2001, was put towards a Commission entitled Snow by Roger May, and which was given its first performance by the Choir at that concert. Twice the Choir has joined forces in All Saints Church with the Choir of Charlton Kings Junior School in Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo (Michael Flanders & Joseph Horovitz), and Jonah-Man Jazz (Michael Hurd).

The Choir is starting to give occasional afternoon concerts in Cheltenham, with tea, which are appreciated by the more senior members of our audience.


REPERTOIRE


Among the works performed in concerts over past years, the Choir has sung

  • A Christmas Story (Heinrich Schütz)
  • The Childhood of Christ (J C F Bach)
  • St Matthew Passion (Friedrich Funcke)

all the above accompanied by period instruments;

  • Beatus vir (Monteverdi)
  • The Seven Last Words from the Cross (Schütz)
  • Das neugeborne Kindelein (Buxtehude)
  • Komm, Jesu komm (J S Bach)
  • Singet dem Herrn (J S Bach)
  • Lobet den Herrn (J S Bach)
  • Jesu meine Freude (J S Bach)
  • O Jesu Christ, meins lebens licht (J S Bach)
  • Cantata No 4 'Christ lag in Todesbanden' BWV4 (J S Bach)
  • Cantata No 51 'Jauchzet Gott' BWV51 (J S Bach)
  • Cantata No 140 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme' (Sleepers Wake) BWV140 (J S Bach)
  • O Christ, meins lebens licht BWV118 (JS Bach)
  • Messe de Minuit sur des Airs de Noël (Charpentier)
  • Gloria (Giuseppe Carcani)
  • Gloria RV 589, Gloria RV588, and Magnificat RV610 (Vivaldi)
  • Magnificat ZWV108 (Zelenka)
  • Magnificat (Leonarda)
  • Magnificat (attributed to Buxtehude)
  • Magnificat in Bb (Durante, attributed to Pergolesi)
  • Regina coeli KV276 and Te Deum KV141 (Mozart)
  • Benedicam (Michael Haydn)
  • Ecce sacerdos (Michael Haydn)
  • Insanae et vanae curae (FJ Haydn)
  • De profundis (Gluck)
  • The Heavens declare the glory of God (Boyce)
  • Four Coronation anthems, and The Foundling Hospital anthem (Handel)
  • Israel in Egpyt (Handel)
  • Lord, let me know mine end (Greene)
  • Songs of Farewell (Parry)
  • Ave maris stella (Grieg)
  • Bogoroditsye dyevo (Rakhmaninov)
  • Ave Maria (Stravinsky)
  • Geistliches lied (Brahms)
  • Easter Hymn (Mascagni)
  • Hear my prayer (Mendelssohn)
  • Nolo mortem peccatoris (Morley)
  • Let thy merciful ears, O Lord (Mudd)
  • If ye love me (Tallis)
  • Give unto the Lord [Psalm 29] (Elgar)
  • Psalm 23 (Schubert)
  • Requiem, Cantique de Jean Racine, and Madrigal (Fauré)
  • Salve Regina (Poulenc)
  • Here is the little door (Howells)
  • Like as the hart (Howells)
  • March of the Women (Smyth)
  • Ascribe unto the Lord (SS Wesley)
  • and masses and motets by Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso

Modern music includes

  • Lux aeterna (Morten Lauridsen)
  • Canticle of Man (Alan Rawsthorne)
  • Seven sea poems (Tony Hewitt-Jones)
  • The Shepherd's calendar (Michael Hurd)
  • Celtic blessings (Raymond Warren)
  • Christmas cantata (Geoffrey Bush)
  • Songs of Sailors and of the Sea (Eric Thiman)
  • A spring garland (Eric Thiman)
  • Lullay, lulla, lully (Philip Stopford)
  • Come rock the cradle (Leonard Stidwill)
Music in a lighter vein, performed at Summer Concerts
  • Madrigals - English and Italian
  • English partsongs
  • Songs from the Shows including "Merrie England" (Edward German)
  • Selections from Gilbert and Sullivan
Works performed during the Choir's 50th Anniversary Season in 2014/15 included
  • Messe solennelle (Louis Victor Jules Vierne)
  • Surrexit a mortuis (Charles-Marie Widor)
  • Cantique de Jean Racine (Gabriel Fauré)

all in November 2014 with organ accompaniment.

  • Israel in Egypt (Handel) Come and Sing Day.

Madrigals and folksongs made up the programme for the summer concert on 4 July.

Come and Sing Events

  • March 2015.  Israel in Egypt (G F Handel)
  • November 2018.  The Creation (Haydn)

Worshops

  • May 2019.  Led by the Choir's Director of Music David Dewar, and Hilary Davies of the Natural Voice Network.