The City of Bath Bach Choir was founded in 1946 by Cuthbert Bates (top right), an established amateur musician who was also a founding father of the Bath Bach Festival of 1950. Here he is, left, conducting the choir at the Festival. See at the foot of the page a programme of the inaugural concert.
The choir quickly established a reputation for adventurous programming. It gave one of the first modern performances of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, and put together many other interesting and challenging concert programmes. Lesser known works by Handel, fine masterpieces by Lalande, Charpentier, Cavalli, Bononcini and Duruflé, as well as little-known Bach and Buxtehude cantatas, featured over the years. On a smaller scale, Cuthbert Bates blended old and new in the choir’s annual Carols by Candlelight concerts. These continued to be directed by his daughter, Elizabeth Bates, and still play to packed houses year after year in the Pump Room.
Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams had first become interested in the work of Cuthbert Bates in 1923 when he attended a Wigmore Hall concert given by Cuthbert’s London choir, the Tudor Singers. The two became friends and stayed in touch. Vaughan Williams was therefore the natural choice for Cuthbert to approach to become the first President of the CBBC when it was formed in 1946. He quickly became an active and useful supporter for Cuthbert in the development of both the choir and the Bach Festival, and he conducted the choir singing The Hundredth Psalm at a concert in his honour in Bath Abbey in 1957, lower right.
Sir Arthur Bliss (middle far right, looking like a matinee idol in 1929) succeeded Vaughan Williams as President and, after his death in March 1975, the distinguished choral musician Sir David Willcocks KCB CBE, then famous for his work as Director of Music at King’s College Cambridge, was invited to replace him. Sir David (bottom right) remains the President to this day.
Cuthbert Bates died suddenly in April 1980 and in recognition of his great service to the choir Sir David Willcocks conducted the July 1980 performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass as a tribute. The choir appointed as its new Musical Director the distinguished Handelian scholar Denys Darlow (middle near right), who was then a senior professor at the Royal College of Music and Director of Music at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London. Under Denys’s baton the choir spent the next 10 years building upon its reputation for fearless exploration of both major works in the choral canon and newer pieces, including its own commissions. In April 1986 the choir gave the first performance of Denys Darlow’s own Requiem, which he dedicated to the choir. Meanwhile the Bates family connection remained for a number of years, with Cuthbert’s daughter Elizabeth conducting Carols by Candlelight from 1987 to 1989.
On January 8th 1990 Nigel Perrin took over the baton as the new Director of Music. Under Nigel’s direction the choir has continued to move forward in its professional standing and is now one of the leading musical forces in the west country. Remaining true to its roots, the choir continues to perform both major and lesser known pieces of the classical repertoire, while introducing contemporary works and new commissions to the public. We give two major concerts every year (spring and autumn), a lighter concert in the summer and the traditional Carols by Candlelight concerts in December in the Pump Room. Find out here about forthcoming concerts.
The choir has made many tours of the UK and has also toured abroad to France, Belgium, Hungary, Germany. In 2008 we were invited to take part in a concert at the Carnegie Hall in New York. We look forward to extending our touring activities in the future.
A fuller chronology can be found here.