A HISTORY from 1964 - 2017
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 twelve 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. The Choir's current Music Director, David Dewar, took up the position in September 2012.
Musica Vera usually holds its concerts in Cheltenham, and among venues used in the town have been All Saints Church, St Andrew’s Church, Cheltenham College Chapel, St Mary’s Church Prestbury, St Peter’s Church Leckhampton, St Gregory’s 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 on the Repertoire page. Over the years it has acquired a reputation for adventurous programmng.
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).
It has been the policy of the Choir for a number of years to support local charities and, on average, donates at least £1,000 a year. Musica Vera has formed a strong link with Sue Ryder, Leckhampton Court Hospice, for which it has been giving concerts since 1986.
As well as Sue Ryder, the Choir has often supported the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts at its concerts.