History of GMCS

The Choir’s beginning in 1948 was a course of lectures on music appreciation given under the auspices of the Workers Educational Association (WEA), held in Great Missenden Village Hall. The lecturer, Herta Grove, says in her recorded accounts that this was not to involve listening to gramophone records but that the class was going to have to make its own music by unaccompanied part-singing. She recognised the problems in this in that ‘most could not read a note of music’. However, she managed to convey sufficient enthusiasm to her class that at the end of the course they kept going as a choir with Herta Grove continuing as Music Director and rehearsing in the Meeting Hall of the Gerhardi electroplating works, situated within a stone’s throw of the Choral Society’s present place of rehearsal. By the following year the Choir was able to perform a concert of three Bach motets, one of which (BWV 226) is set for double choir and another, ‘Jesu, Priceless Treasure’ (BWV 227), became the work most frequently performed by the Choir. Until she retired as Director in 1954 Herta Grove also explored the a capella repertoire, from Tye to Britten, including English language versions of Brahms’ Op.22 Marienlieder, which the Choir was to perform again in recent years in the original German.

In 1954 Neil Saunders, Mus.D. and medical practitioner, accepted Herta Grove’s challenge to take over as Music Director, which he did for thirty three years. This was a period of great exploration of unknown, new and old and long-since forgotten works and of fun and more serious pieces written by Neil himself. Notable triumphs were the restoration of the Vivaldi ‘Gloria’ to the British musical scene in 1964 and the first British performance of the Buxtehude cantata sequence ‘Membra Jesu Nostri’ in 1965. Though not yet a household name, Guillaume Bouzignac (1587), introduced in 1966, is now to be found in record catalogues. A remarkable feature of the Neil Saunders years was the close and continuing association with many singers and instrumental soloists of international repute.

The work of Neil Saunders was largely continued by Gordon Fairbairn, innovation appearing gradually with the introduction of standard choral society repertoire with three parts of the Bach Christmas Oratorio and then a complete performance of Handel’s Jephtha in cooperation with the Blackheath Ascension Choir.

This move towards mainstream choral society work was accelerated by David Meacock, who introduced parts of Handel’s Messiah, Masses and Stabat Maters by Haydn and Schubert, the Bach St. John Passion and other works from Croft and Albinoni to Saint-Saëns and Finzi, all concerts requiring full orchestration. John Cotterill took over as Music Director in 1995 and continued to build and expand the Choir’s repertoire.

There have been many changes in membership over the years, but some of the founding members remain as Friends of the Society. Their support, and that of our loyal audience, is much appreciated.

The Diamond Jubilee season, in 2008/ 09, marked another milestone in the Choir’s history; it included some works from the choir’s early years, and commemorated the bi-centenary of Handel’s death.

Milestones in the History

1959                      First public performance by John Shirley-Quirk

1961                      Choir performed in the first Little Missenden festival

1963                      First performance of “Festival Jubilate” – Richard Drakeford

1963                      Choir took part in WEA 50th anniversary concert in the Royal Festival Hall

1964                      First performance in England of Vivaldi’s “Gloria”

1965                      First performance in England of Buxtehude’s “Membra Jesu Nostri”

1969                      First performance of “Jubilate Deo” – Neil Saunders

1970                     First performance of “Missa Brevis” – Geoffrey Burgon

1972                     First performance of “Worlde Blisse” – Geoffrey Burgon

1974                     First performance in England of Delalande’s “Cantemus Domino”

1974                     First performance of “Benedic Anima Mea” – Neil Saunders

1976                     First performance of “Valediction for tenor, chorus and organ” – Richard Benger

1979                     First performance of “Cantata di Requiem” – Neil Saunders

1980                     First performance of “Incantations for solo oboe” – Neil Saunders, performed by Janet Craxton

1991                      First performance of “Beloved in Christ” and “Stand Up and Praise the Lord” – David Meacock

1995                     First performance of “Easter Cantata” – David Meacock

1995                     Performance of “The Sprig of Thyme” – John Rutter,
in the presence of the composer.

1998/9                Choir’s Golden Jubilee season, ending with a performance of Haydn’s “The Creation”.

2000                   GMCS formed part of The New Century Chorus, for a centenary performance of Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius”, at the Royal Albert Hall.

2004,  2005,   GMCS formed part of the chorus for the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance Service, at the Royal Albert Hall.
and 2006

2008/09           Choir’s Diamond Jubilee season

You can download a complete history of choir’s concerts, including the works performed. For the concerts in the years 1949 to 1989, click GMCS Concerts 1949 to 1989. For subsequent concerts, click GMCS Concerts 1990 to Present.