St Albans Bach Choir
with St Albans Cathedral Choir, St Albans Abbey Girls Choir and the Abbey Singers
in partnership with the St Albans Cathedral Music Trust
To be announced
By 1846, when Elijah was first performed at the Birmingham Festival, Felix Mendelssohn was an established composer and conductor with a substantial reputation in England. Mendelssohn had been responsible for reviving interest in Baroque Oratorio, in particular the works of J S Bach and G F Handel, and their influence on the composition of his own oratorios, St Paul and Elijah, is considerable. Nevertheless, his lyricism and early romantic style pervades the work and marks it with his musical signature.
Mendelssohn composed Elijah to a German text, but had the libretto translated into English for its first performance. It was not performed in German until after Mendelssohn’s death. The story is taken from the Old Testament, the two Books of Kings, including the dramatic stories of the resurrection of a young man, the contest between Jehovah and Baal, Elijah’s exile to the desert after falling out with Queen Jezebel, his return and his ascension to heaven in a fiery chariot. The music reflects the drama of the action.
The work is scored for four-part chorus (sometimes divided into two choirs), a baritone soloist (Elijah) and soprano, alto and tenor soloists taking other parts in the narrative. The choir also takes part in the narrative, as well as commenting on the drama; however, while Mendelssohn took inspiration from Bach’s choral music, the chorale form is not used.
Elijah was the last of Mendelssohn’s great works. He died the following year in 1847. He had written the soprano part for the Swedish soloist, Jenny Lind, who was devastated by his premature death and could not bring herself to perform it again for a year.
Elijah was a success from its first performance and has remained a popular part of the repertoire of choirs and choral societies in Great Britain ever since. Some critics have noted its conservative style. George Bernard Shaw referred to its “exquisite prettiness”, damning it with faint praise. But maybe Shaw’s usual partiality (he preferred Wagner) can be considered a compliment. Certainly it will be enjoyed both by the singers of St Albans Bach Choir and its audience.
St Albans Bach Choir has been performing since 1924: recent programmes have included Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, Verdi’s Requiem (also in London's Cadogan Hall), Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, and in July 2016 the choir joined forces with the St Albans Cathedral Choirs to present Bach's Mass in B minor with The English Concert. In 2013, as part of the St Albans International Organ Festival’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations, the choir performed Britten’s War Requiem with the Britten Sinfonia under the baton of Sir Richard Armstrong. Last summer the choir returned to the Festival in July for a performance of Handel's Messiah with the London Handel Orchestra conducted by Laurence Cummings. In December 2013, and again in 2015, the choir joined John Rutter and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for their popular carol concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. For the past two years the choir has also been represented onstage at the Albert Hall for the Christmas and New Year editions of the BBC1 Big Sing programme.
St Albans Cathedral Choirs
St Albans Cathedral Choir was re-founded in 1877 when the Abbey Church became a Cathedral. There is no residential choir school; the boys rehearse before and after school, sing Choral Evensong on three weekdays and three choral services with the layclerks each weekend. The twelve layclerks are a dedicated and highly skilled group of musicians who sing weekend services and concerts, and who, in the main, earn their living outside the music profession.
The St Albans Abbey Girls Choir was formed in 1996. The Choir sings Choral Evensong twice a week and consists of twenty-six girls aged eight to fourteen who, like the boy choristers, attend several local schools. Primarily an upper-voice choir, the girls also sing with the layclerks of the Cathedral Choir for certain services each term and for other special events. The Choir will celebrate its twentieth anniversary with a commission from Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music.
Established by Andrew Lucas in 1999, the Abbey Singers is one of the Cathedral choirs and is made up predominately of former choristers of the Cathedral Choir and Abbey Girls Choir. It offers these young singers an opportunity to continue to enjoy singing to a high standard and in a friendly and informal context. The choir sings at the Parish Eucharist around six times a year. It has also taken part in the successful ‘Carols on the Hour’ services before Christmas and sung Evensong during Advent and Holy Week as part of the Cathedral’s regular pattern of worship.
The choir also performs in concert and at special events. Recent performances have included John Rutter’s Psalmfest alongside the Cathedral Choir and Abbey Girls Choir, the sell-out concert Ian Anderson Plays Christmas Jethro Tull and a workshop and concert performance with the King’s Singers.
Visit St Albans Cathedrals' website for ticket prices here.