At the Abbey Gate… the Chamber Choir and Stanford

Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir has a long association with the music of Stanford and has included a number of his works on our CD recordings. Our CD Rise Heart, includes a recording of The Blue Bird. To mark the centenary of his death the Chamber Choir will be singing his Evening Canticles in C and two of his anthems (Song of Wisdom and O for a closer walk with God) at Evensong in the cathedral on 16th March. The choir will also be singing his Evening Canticles in A in Westminster Abbey on 15th July.

Charles Villiers Stanford was born in Dublin on 30th September 1852, this son of a Protestant lawyer, and talented cellist. He studied in Dublin and London before being appointed organ scholar at Queens College, Cambridge in 1870. His interest in conducting led him to the appointment as conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society in 1873. He moved to Trinity College, being appointed organist in 1874; a post which he retained until 1892.

Stanford’s musical studies involved spending the second half of each year (1874-1876) in Germany. In Leipzig with Carl Reinecke then, latterly, in Berlin with Friedrich Keil.
By 1877 his reputation had been established with settings of George Eliot’s The Spanish Gypsy, a number of piano pieces and his first symphony.

In 1883 he was appointed professor of composition at the newly founded Royal College of Music. Four years later succeeded George Macfarren as professor of music at Cambridge.
His ambitions in conducting led him to appointments at the RCM, the London Bach Choir (1886-1902) and the Leeds Philharmonic (1897-1909).

In 1901 Stanford returned to opera writing. Much ado about nothing, although well received, did nothing to revive his declining popularity. 
He was knighted in the Coronation Honours of King Edward VII in 1902.

A rivalry between Stanford and Elgar ensued. In 1904 Edward Elgar was appointed professor of music at Birmingham University, Stanford wrote him a letter which the recipient found “odious”.

From the turn of the century until the outbreak of World War I he continued to compose. Works included a violin concerto (1901), a clarinet concerto (1902), settings of Henry Newbolt’s Songs of the Sea and Songs of the Fleet (1904 and 1910), his sixth and seventh (and last) symphonies (1906 and 1911), and his second piano concerto (1911).

The First World War had a severe effect on Stanford, many of his former pupils were casualties (Arthur Bliss, George Butterworth and Ivor Gurney). He was frightened by the air raids so moved to Windsor to avoid them.
After the war Stanford handed over the baton of the RCM Orchestra to Adrian Boult, continuing to teach at the college and give occasional public lectures.

His last public appearance was on 5th March 1921 conducting the Royal Choral Society in his new cantata, At the Abbey Gate. Reviews were polite but unenthusiastic.

In September 1922, two weeks before his 70th birthday he completed his final work, the Sixth Irish Rhapsody, thereafter his health began to decline. He died on 29th March 1924 at his home in London 12 days after suffering a stroke.

His ashes were interred in the North Choir Aisle of Westminster Abbey on 2nd April 1924 near the graves of Henry Purcell, John Blow and William Sterndale Bennett. The music for the service was provided by the orchestra of the RCM, conducted by Adrian Boult.

Although his greatest desire was to write operas, he is chiefly remembered for his substantial output of choral music for the Anglican Church.
Anyone who thinks of Stanford just as a choral composer should take the time to investigate his orchestral output. His seven symphonies, six Irish Rhapsodies, the Cello Concerto, and Concert piece for organ and orchestra are well worth a listen.

Ian Venables’ masterly and moving Requiem performed with conviction at the Elgar Festival

John Quinn was full of praise in his review of the combined Chamber Choir & St Cecilia Singers performance of Ian Venables’ Requiem in Great Malvern Priory as part of the 2023 Elgar Festival.

He believes this work to be “one of the most significant recent English choral compositions and a work of great emotional depth”. He goes on to say, “I admired the performance very much. I thought Stephen Shellard conducted the score with evident belief – which he communicated to the performers – and with great understanding.”

You can read the full review of the whole concert here.

Brahms German Requiem – Tickets please!

Have you got your tickets for the Brahms German Requiem yet?

We are two days away from the performance of the Brahms German Requiem in Worcester Cathedral. Tickets are still available in advance from Eventbrite or by using the QR code.

Tickets can be purchased at the door on the evening of the performance.

On Tuesday of this week of BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester’s Kate Justice interviewed one of our singers, Anne Renshaw. It is available for 28 days on BBC Sounds starting at 38 minutes into the program.

Gone… but not gone!

A large contingent of the Cathedral Chamber Choir joined the congregation for the Sunday Eucharist at the cathedral on Sunday 5th February to witness the valediction of our conductor, Stephen Shellard, on his retirement as Senior Lay Clerk. There was much applause and, following the service, further thanks in the Chapter House where Sam Hudson, the Director of Music, made reference to the number times Stephen has sung psalms, processed, performed the daily offices, and even how many times he had button and unbuttoned his cassock over the last 32 years! Although he leaves the Cathedral Choir, Stephen is still continuing to conduct the Cathedral Chamber Choir and with two big concerts on the horizon (Brahms Requiem and Venables Requiem) there will be plenty to occupy him (and the choir!).

Waxing Lyrical?
How many Glorias?

How Brahms German Requiem has touched the lives of many

The underlying text of Brahms German Requiem is widely considered to be a tribute to his late mother and a comfort to the grieving. It cannot be a coincidence that he began it in the year of his mother’s death.

Brahms in 1866

Composed between 1865 and 1868 the Requiem is a sacred, non-liturgical piece consisting of 7 movements lasting between 65 and 80 minutes. Making it Brahms longest composition.
Originally conceived as 6 movements (1-4, 6, 7 of the final work) Brahms had completed movements 1, 2 and 4 by April 1865 The second movement was a reworking of material written in 1854 after the mental collapse and attempted suicide of his friend and mentor Robert Schumann.

By August 1st 1866 Brahms has completed all but the 5th movement. The first 3 movements were performed on December 1st 1867 in Vienna. This performance was, to say the least, poorly received due to the timpanist’s misinterpretation of the markings (pf played as f or ff) effectively drowing the choral fugue section of the 3rd movement.

The first performance of the complete 6 movement work was conducted by Brahms on Good Friday, 10th April 1868, in Bremen Cathedral.
In May 1868 Brahms composed an additional movement, which became the 5th movement in the final work, for Soprano solo and chorus. This movement is most readily associated with the death of his mother, the words relating to the sadness of loss and comfort.

The final, 7 movement, version was premiered in Leipzig on the 18th February 1868. This performance proved to be a major turning point in Brahms career.

Hear how the work has touched lives in this BBC Radio 4 program from 2013.

The Chamber Choir will perform this beautiful piece in the 2 piano version in Worcester Cathedral on Saturday, 29th April 2023.

How has Brahms German Requiem affected you?

Happy 150th birthday to Ralph Vaughan Williams!

Rise Heart CD

Born on 12th October 1872, at Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir wishes him a happy 150th birthday! At the Royal College of Music he was taught composition by two of the greats of the Victorian era Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford. The Chamber Choir brought these three great composers together (along with our own Edward Elgar) on our CD “Rise Heart“, released to coincide with the centenary of the first performance of Vaughan Williams “Five Mystical Songs”. The CD includes Parry’s “Hear my words, ye people” and Stanford’s hauntingly beautiful “The Bluebird”. If you are looking for something to celebrate the birthday of one of our local composers we recommend this CD!

Buy the CD

Are you a budding Pavarotti?

We are looking to fill two tenor vacancies. Are you a tenor with good sight-reading skills and a willingness to make a firm commitment to our fine Choir? if you are we would love to hear from you.

Our contribution to Cathedral life includes the regular singing of Evensong and Sunday Eucharist. We also perform two concerts per year and occasionally sing in churches around the Diocese. A regular and prestigious event for us is the opening Evensong of the Worcester Three Choirs Festival. Beyond Worcester we make the occasional tour. Our recordings have been well received, across the world and have featured on Radio 3 and Classic FM.


Would-be members come along to try-out rehearsals and then audition with our Musical Director. For more information contact the Choir Secretary, Kevern Oliver

A little roundup!

This is just a little roundup of odds and ends of what has been happening recently (since Christmas)!

The Church Times reported on 30th December 2020 that The Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund had reached its £1million target and this was matched with funding from the Church Commissioners. This was good news but not, you might think, of direct relevance to the Chamber Choir. The article featured a photograph of the Chamber Choir singing at the Christmas Service on December 18th.

Related to that service on December 18th, the choir was featured by BBC Hereford & Worcester’s Kate Justice on her morning show singing Ian King’s new carol, commissioned for the choir, Away in a manger. Hear it here.

We sing again!

We are delighted to have been invited to resume singing services in the Cathedral. This has involved extremely careful planning and strict adherence to covid-19 guidelines.

We have all missed the music and fellowship of singing in the choir during several months of enforced silence. This made our reunion for Evensong on October 4th a joyous occasion. Of necessity we had to maintain social distancing, wear masks and avoid socialising, but worshipping and making music together in our lovely cathedral was wonderful.

Our next service is on November 1st when we will sing for the 10.30am Eucharist. Music for this will be the communion setting in F major by Harold Darke, Elgar’s “Ave verum corpus” and a newly commissioned carol by Ian King.

The Cathedral is planning a series of Christmas Carol services and we are greatly looking forward to our participation in this on Friday December 18th – we will be performing twice to allow as many people to join us in the congregation as possible (within strict and safe guidelines).

We will also be singing for the 10.30am Eucharist on Sunday December 20th.

Full details of these and all our planned events can be found here.