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|The photograph above shows the choir on the occasion of its 125th Anniversary Celebration Concert, which took place on Saturday, 1st July 2000.
The choir’s own anniversary was not the only cause for celebration, however: a surprise presentation was made to the choir’s longest-serving member, Geoff Tattersall, who had sung in the group’s Bass section for over 50 years. Now retired from the choir, Mr Tattersall was presented with a Certificate of Honour in recognition of his unrivalled service.
During the concert, the choir performed a new work which had been commissioned especially for the occasion: Arthur Butterworth’s Haworth Moor (opus 110). This powerful and technically demanding work was sung with enthusiasm, and elicited many favourable comments from the audience.
The music performed at the 125th Anniversary Concert was intended to be representative of the choir’s wide-ranging interests over its entire history. As such it covered a broad range of styles, and included a number of works that had been written for the choir, or which the choir had been the first to perform.
The remaining text on this page has been extracted from the concert’s programme booklet, and presents a brief history of the choir, followed by the entire programme of music performed at the concert, complete with programme notes.
The new group was principally a competition choir, and was so successful that it soon amassed suficient prize money to become financially prosperous, and to offer its own prizes for original choral compositions. Surviving programmes from this period show a preponderance of glees and madrigals, with the occasional anthem, the choral items interspersed with solo contributions from choir members.
Ten years later, with Joseph Woodhead (founder of the Huddersfield Examiner) as President and John North as conductor, the Glee and Madrigal Society had grown to nineteen sopranos, nine contraltos, fifteen male altos, twenty-one tenors and twenty basses, and had extended its repertoire to include oratorio favourites such as Messiah and Elijah. By the turn of the century, touring had become a regular feature of choir activity, with visits to Blackpool, St Annes and Douglas, Isle of Man to perform oratorios. In November 1916, under conductor C. H. Moody, the choir performed Elijah in Westminster Abbey (receiving a congratulatory letter from Lloyd George, who was in the audience) and, in December 1917, Messiah.
During the 1920s the choir sang much modern British music under the baton of local musician Dr T. E. Pearson, and formed an association with Gustav Holst, whose Rig Veda hymns were performed in March 1929. This association resulted in a commission for Holst, who produced his Wassail Song, first performed by the Glee and Madrigal Society on 8th March 1932. At this concert the guest singer was Glyndebourne baritone, Roy Henderson, who within months was to become the choir’s new conductor, a position which he retained for ten years, during which time the choir broadcast frequently and had a roster of guest artists of international stature.
In 1942, Henderson’s successor was the BBC chorus master, Leslie Woodgate, whose twelve-year period of conductorship saw the largest membership of the Society: over one hundred singers on stage for concerts in the early 1950s. In addition to the usual guest artists (who included Pouishnoff and Kathleen Ferrier at this time) Woodgate regularly invited composers to Huddersfield in order to conduct the choir in their own works. Visitors included Benjamin Britten, who conducted his Hymn to St Cecilia and Hymn to the Virgin in 1943, and Ernest Moeran, who presided over his Songs of Springtime in 1944.
The stability of having only two conductors in twenty-two years could not last, and with the notable exception of Donald Hunt’s seven years (1957 to 65, culminating in a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion), the period after Leslie Woodgate’s departure was marked by short conductorships and falling membership. By the time Richard Steinitz took up the baton in 1970, membership of the Society had declined to around fifty singers.
Richard Steinitz was to prove the longest-serving conductor of the Glee and Madrigal Society, and the one most involved in its day-to-day running. Two performances of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 were highlights of his early years, and during his conductorship there was a definite move away from the short part-song towards the larger work as the staple of the repertoire. This tendency is even more marked after 1977, and 1978, for instance, boasted performances of Vivaldi’s Magnificat, Haydn’s Harmoniemesse (in York Minster) and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. The smaller repertoire was not neglected, however, as the Victorian Miscellany of 1981 and the various Summer Serenades with which the choir toured Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland show. With the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (which he had founded in 1978) taking more and more of his time, Richard Steinitz took leave of the choir in 1985, after fourteen years at the helm.
His successor, Paul Shepherd, presided over a series of major changes: the move from the Town Hall to the more intimate St Paul’s Hall; the move away from larger pieces to repertoire more suitable for the tauter, leaner ensemble of thirty-five singers which the choir had become; and finally the emotive decision to leave behind the one-hundred-and-ten-year-old name, Glee and Madrigal Society, and become The Huddersfield Singers.
All these great changes occurred during 1988, and the first concert under the new name was given on 3rd December of that year, under the title In Dulci Jubilo, and despite the changes it was clear that the soul of the choir lived on. The memorable Music for Two Choirs, a varied programme of magnificent sacred music for double choir from Gabrieli to Stanford (sung with Paul’s other choir, the West Riding Singers), came three months later, but within a year he had resigned, the transformation complete. Paul Shepherd’s last concert (Advent, a time to remember, given at the end of 1989) was also a time to look forward, both to a new repertoire and to a much-needed period of stability.
Taking up the baton for the final concert of the 1989/90 season, “Philip Honnor made an impressive debut as conductor of The Huddersfield Singers. On the evidence of this concert, one has no hesitation in predicting a bright future for the choir.” (Adrian Smith, Huddersfield Examiner)
After the initial settling-in period, the choir began to enjoy the many fascinatingly devised programmes of great diversity and interest which he produced. He “has proved to be a sympathetic interpreter of music of all styles and periods” (Huddersfield Examiner) and this has been reflected in the choir’s repertoire, which extends from early music to newly-commissioned works. While they have maintained their finesse in the intimate unaccompanied works which are the preserve of chamber choirs, larger works with exacting vocal demands have not found the Singers wanting in tenacity!
By careful training, Philip ensured that the Singers carried no passengers and was soon able to draw soloists from the ranks. Because of this stability of conductor and membership, a noticeable increase in strength and confidence began to emerge after 1994, allowing more modern works to be delivered with aplomb; notably Peter Aston’s Haec Dies, given in 1995, and John Joubert’s Martyrdom of St Alban, given in 1999, of which performance British Music Society News critic Paul Conway said:
“I doubt if any earlier performances could have matched the conviction brought to the work by the Huddersfield Singers in the very taxing and demanding choral writing under the sharp and imaginative direction of conductor Philip Honnor. I hope that performances such as this one, with conviction and musicianship at its very root, may encourage enterprising record companies to fill an aching gap in the market.”
Performances of long, unaccompanied works were also given with assurance; Anerio’s Missa pro Defunctis (1996), Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories (captured live on CD in 1998) and Copland’s In the Beginning (1999) stand out. During the same four years the Singers have given two major commissions, to John Gardner (Waltzsongs, 1996) and Arthur Butterworth (Haworth Moor, 2000).
During the last ten years The Huddersfield Singers have maintained their link with the Leeds-based chamber orchestra, the Amici Ensemble (first introduced by Paul Shepherd), as well as forging new links with early music groups led by Duncan Druce. Other guest ensembles have included groups from the Polytechnic/University, the Technical College, Kirklees Music School and the Huddersfield Thespians, as well as ethnic and early dance groups. The Singers’ concert seasons have also provided a platform for many young vocal and instrumental soloists over the same period.
In addition to their regular concert seasons at St Paul’s Hall the Singers have sung at many other venues, continue to receive excellent reviews, and have an ever-increasing audience of loyal supporters. With their conductor now in his eleventh year, they look forward to extending their one hundred and twenty-five years of singing.
Sidney Crowther & Marguerita Bailey
Glee and Madrigal
|Glee:||Hail! smiling morn! (1898)||Reginald Spofforth|
|Madrigal:||To take the air a bonny lass (1886)||John Farmer|
|Madrigal:||Down in a flowery vale (1897)||Constanzo Festa|
|Glee:||When evening’s twilight (1886)||John Hatton|
|Prelude & Fugue in C, BWV 553||J. S. Bach|
|from Eight Short Preludes & Fugues|
The lighter side
|A Duke Ellington Suite (1996)||arr. Hywel Davies|
|Arrangements of songs by Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Mercer Ellington and Juan Tizol|
|Take the ‘A’ Train * Satin Doll * Lush Life
Things ain’t what they used to be * Perdido
|Winter Days (1879)||Alfred Caldicott|
|Wassail Song (1932)||Gustav Holst|
|Waltzsongs (1996)||John Gardner (op. 224)|
|Love in thy youth * A birthday * Upon Julia’s clothes
A song * Sigh no more, ladies * Living
* INTERVAL *
|During the interval, a complimentary|
glass of wine or orange was served.
|Yugoslav Folksongs (1st Huddersfield performance 1958)||Matyás Seiber|
|The unfaithful lover * Handsome Mirko * Eighteen shining buttons
Heaven above * Hussars * Fairly tale * Hussars
|Capriol Suite||Peter Warlock|
|Basse-Danse * Pavanne * Tordion * Bransle * Pieds en l’air * Mattachins|
A new commission
|Haworth Moor (2000)||Arthur Butterworth (op. 110)|
|A Windy Day * Remembrance * The North Wind|
|Lauda Sion (1st Huddersfield performance 1972)||Claudio Monteverdi|
Oratorio and Cantata
|Achieved is the Glorious Work (1901)||Franz Joseph Haydn|
|Soul of the World (1941)||Henry Purcell|
Note: the date following the title of each choral work in the programme indicates the year of the first performance by the Glee and Madrigal Society or the Huddersfield Singers, or the date of the earliest performance for which records survive.
The early programmes of the Huddersfield Glee and Madrigal Society consisted of groups of short, light part-songs, interspersed with vocal solos (often operatic ‘plums’) sung by choir members or by visiting artists, with the occasional organ solo added for further variety. The four items in our first group, Glee and Madrigal, reflect this simple homophonic part-song repertoire. The two glees are well contrasted: Reginald Spofforth’s well-known Hail! smiling morn! (No. 6 of Six Glees, 1810) is a lively Georgian glee, while John Hatton’s When Ev’ning’s Twilight is typical of the more sentimental Victorian glee. The latter piece is one item in the earliest surviving programme in the choir’s archive. The programme is for a concert given on Saturday, 11th October 1886, when this piece was performed in its original male voice version (the choir’s male altos then outnumbered the contraltos 15 to 9) under the direction of ‘Johnny’ North. The programme for Tuesday, 21st December 1886 contains John Farmer’s madrigal To take the air a bonny lass was walking, composed in 1600, while the earlier Down in a flowery vale (Costanzo Festa, 1542) was given by the Society in March 1887.
A Duke Ellington Suite is an example of one area into which the Huddersfield Singers have extended in the last ten years: the lighter side of the choral repertoire. In this Suite Hywel Davies takes five of the Ellington band’s best-known numbers, from the vigorous Take the ‘A’ Train to the poignant Lush Life, and links them together with an idiomatic piano part.
In terms of performance date, the earliest music in tonight’s programme is Winter Days, by Alfred J. Caldicott, which won the Society’s Glee Competition in 1879, and must have had its first performance in that year. It is a rather academic piece, complete with central fugue (he is, after all, Mus. Bac. Cantab., the copy proclaims), but is not without charm and plenty of opportunity for a choir to ape dramatic weather sounds.
Winter Days is an early example of a Society commission, and the next piece is another, but from a later period and a much better-known composer. Gustav Holst’s Wassail Song is his 1931 setting of an English folksong collected by Jane Joseph in the early part of the twentieth century. It is a forthright melody in the dorian mode which Holst clothes in a suitably vigorous, occasionally syncopated accompaniment.
John Gardner’s 1996 Waltzsongs is another example of a piece written especially for the choir (by now of course The Huddersfield Singers). The songs are written in John’s witty and urbane style, in conscious imitation of the rhythms and textures of Brahms’ popular Liebeslieder Waltzer, one of his favourite works. Love in thy youth, fair maid is a setting of an anonymous poem, and moves Schubert-like from major to minor. Upon Julia’s Clothes and A Song are both settings of Robert Herrick, the first very gentle for the tenors and basses alone, the second highly dramatic for the whole choir. The extended Shakespeare setting, Sigh no more, ladies is for sopranos and altos alone, while the final Living, to the composer’s own words, brings the set to a happy conclusion.
The ledger in the Society archive which lists all the concerts between around 1930 and 1960 bears the handwritten legend “first performance” against the Yugoslav Folksongs of Matyás Seiber, given by the choir in a concert on Tuesday, 25th March 1958 under the direction of Donald Hunt. It is not clear if the comment means ‘ever’ or ‘in Huddersfield’, but it is certain that the piece went down very well, as the writer added “repeated at end in response to prolonged applause.” This group of unaccompanied songs has always been a favourite with choirs for its contrasts of mood and its easy effectiveness.
During one of the Singers’ Monday evening rehearsals at Moldgreen in June 1997, Hilary Pollard, our President, brought along composer Arthur Butterworth, who heard us rehearsing the Borodin Polovtisan Dances for our July concert, Song and Dance. He was most impressed both with the singing and with John Bailey’s account of the notoriously difficult piano accompaniment. From this arose the commission for a choral work with piano accompaniment, which resulted in the composition of Haworth Moor, the composer’s opus 110. Haworth Moor is a group of three settings of poems by Anne and Emily Brontë: Lines composed in a wood on a windy day, Remembrance and The North Wind. Arthur has provided his own programme note, so I will restrict myself to pointing to the piano accompaniment, which is so much more than the typical prop for choral pitch. It represents nothing less than the moors themselves, and their all-pervading influence on all who live in their shadow.
The performance of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 on 22nd April 1972 was another Huddersfield ‘first’, and we salute that achievement with a performance of the psalm Lauda Jerusalem, which ended the first half of that concert. In his setting of Psalm 147, ‘Praise the Lord O Jerusalem’, Monteverdi gives the plainsong psalm tone of the third mode to the tenors, and sets it against antiphonal music for two choirs, each containing sopranos, altos and basses. The psalm tone moves to the sopranos in the doxology, and the piece concludes with an exultant syncopated ‘Amen’.
In the last years of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth, the Society regularly mounted oratorio performances, some of which they took on tour. On Thursday, 4th April 1901 they gave Haydn’s The Creation at Blackpool’s North Pier, with soloists Madame Sadler-Fogg, Mr Joseph Hanson and Mr Meurig James to the accompaniment of “Monsieur Speelman’s Splendid Orchestra” (a group largely made up of Hallé Orchestra players in the off-season), conducted by Monsieur Speelman himself. Achieved is the glorious work is the fugual chorus with which Haydn jubilantly closes the second part of this oratorio. It does not close our concert, however, since we end with a hymn in praise of music: Soul of the world, from Henry Purcell’s cantata Hail, bright Cecilia. It was given during the Second World War, on Tuesday, 30th September 1941, under the direction of Harold Sykes, a long-time member of the Society, and its Secretary for fifty-one years (1909 to 1960). Nicholas Brady’s words must have had a particular significance at that time:
Soul of the world, inspired by thee
The jarring seeds of matter did agree.
Thou didst the scatter’d atoms bind,
Which by thy laws of true proportion joined,
Made up of various parts one perfect harmony.
The Brontë sisters, Emily, Anne and Charlotte, in addition to their novels wrote poetry, that of Emily being far superior to the poems of her sisters. They collaborated in evoking the land of the Gondals, a romantic childhood creation of their imagination. However, a more immediate (and plausible) source of the imagination was their lonely moorland environment. The aura of the bleak hills in all seasons of the year was a constant source of fascination, delight, and indeed love of these wild places. This is expressed in the first of these settings, the poems by Anne: Lines composed in a wood on a windy day, with its exhilaration and evocation of nature.
Remembrance, by Emily Brontë, is a longer and more introspective poem from the Gondal cycle of imaginative writings. Like her sister’s poem, it too captures something of the imagery of the moorlands, and the spell it cast over them. However, there is a deeper vein of philosophy and insight that has made it one of the more memorable of nineteenth century poetic creations.
The North Wind was written by Anne; it evokes, as does much of the sisters’ nature poetry, the almost ecstatic fascination, amounting even to obsession, they felt for their native harsh and inhospitable moorland.
They all suffered from the climatic conditions; the chill, damp atmosphere insidiously claimed each of them in turn. However, the legacy of their imaginative insight into life, love and thwarted yearnings have for more than a century and a half captivated generations of us.
Like the Brontës, Arthur Butterworth has long been deeply influenced by the aura and spirit of the northern moorlands. In 1969 he was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain to compose The Night Wind, op. 38, a set of three poems by Emily Brontë, for the Trinidadian soprano, Miriam Nathaniel, a work first performed at the Calder Valley Festival of that year. Almost all his major orchestral works, notably the four symphonies and the suite for large orchestra, The Moors, op. 26, contemplate this recurring theme of fascination for the remote moorlands of northern England.