Bath Choral Society has evolved over two hundred years since 1819 when a choir performed at the opening of the Freemasons’ Hall in York Street. A further three concerts were organised during the autumn months when “all the other amusements in Bath are suspended”!
In 1830 one of the Choral Society’s antecedents gave another concert, again in the Freemasons’ Hall, in aid of the newly created Royal Victoria Park. There is evidence to suggest that this Society performed between 1828 and 1850; we have a programme cover dated 1837. Various choirs – the Bath City Choral Society, Bianchi Taylor’s Choir, and the Bath Choral Union – now competed for public approbation for the next thirty or so years.
We have continuous records for Bath Choral Society from 1884, when a choir led by Emilio Pieraccini gave its first concert in the New Assembly Rooms. We date the founding of the present choir from 1887. At much the same time Henry Sims formed the Bath Orchestral Society. After a period of subdued activity these two groups were wedded together in 1890 and called Bath Choral and Orchestral Society.
The present Society has built on the traditions of the past; not least being the annual performances of Handel’s Messiah in Bath Abbey. In 1989, it changed its name back to Bath Choral Society, and continues to engage fully professional soloists and orchestras to accompany performances.
The Society has worked with many great soloists – Madame Belle Cole, Esther Palliser, Dame Isobel Baillie, Dame Janet Baker, Emma Kirkby, Lesley Garrett, David Mason, and, in 1992, José Carreras and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1998, the Society was selected to perform a new commission, resulting in the world premiere of Visions of Sorrow & Joy by Brian Inglis. The choir enjoys a fruitful association with The City of Bath Bach Choir, including joint performances of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, and Britten’s War Requiem.
Bath Choral Society is distinguished in having had only six principal conductors during its 135 year history. Indeed, the first four – Henry Sims, William Jackman, Clifford Harker and Matthew Bale, between them covered 129 of these years. Matthew retired at the end of the 2011 summer season after 23 years as Musical Director. He was succeeded by Will Dawes from 2011 to 2016 when David Gostick took over the conductor’s baton.
The choir often performs in Bath Abbey and the annual performances of Messiah are recognised as landmarks in the artistic life of the city.
Copies of our 2010 recording of Handel’s Messiah are still available. Click the link above for further details and ordering information.