Scope and Content

'It's a funny old choir, but they love it, and wherever you may go, all over the world,, somebody will come to you and say - do you remember me? I was in the Oxford Bach Choir' ( Sir Hugh Allen)

The first performance by the Oxford Bach Choir - Bach's Christmas Oratorio - took place on 7th Dec 1896 in St Mary Magdalen Church.

Since then, it has performed on more than 300 occasions works by a wide range of composers. Prior to 1914 concerts were held in the Town Hall, since then generally in the Sheldonian Theatre with occasional trips further afield. Its membership is drawn from the University and the town; some members have become virtuoso musicians in their later lives. A number of the Choir's performances, which have featured well-known amateur and professional musicians such as the Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath and soprano Lesley Garrett, have been broadcast. During both World Wars the Choir continued to rehearse and perform. A full list of performances can be found in O25/MS/1, updated in O25/MS/3

In its first hundred years the Choir had nine conductors: Dr Basil Harwood (1896-1901), Sir Hugh Allen (1901-1926), Dr W H Harris (1926-1933), Dr Thomas Armstrong (1933-1955), Dr Sydney Watson(1955-1970), Sir Jack Westrup (1970-1971), Simon Preston (1971-1974), Dr Edward Olleson (1974-1977), Christopher Robinson (1977-1997).

Further important events and performances include:

the Jubilee Concert in May 1947 (the Cantata section or small choir was set up in the same year);

a performance of Haydn's Creation conducted by Sir Edward Heath at Oxford Town Hall on 6 June 1982 (the Choir was again conducted by Sir Edward Heath in May 1987);

launch of Friends of the Oxford Bach Choir in Spring 1992 (the first copy of its newsletter, The Oxford Barker, was published in May 1992);

the Dorothy L Sayers Centenary Concert, July 1993 (DLS was a prominent early member of the Choir - there is a photo showing her wearing a moustache imitating Sir Hugh Allen conducting; she also wrote a poem - To Members of the Bach Choir on Active Service - which was published in the Oxford Magazine in Feb 1916);

the VE Day Ceremony of Peace and Remembrance Concert in Hyde Park, 7 May 1995, in which a large section of the Choir participated;

the Choir's centenary celebrations in 1996, including the first performance of a specially-commissioned work - Hymnus - by Nicholas Maw on 1st June (the work was performed again and recorded in March 1998 for the Choir's first commercial release).

Current information on the choir can be found at

The collection consists of minutes, accounts, annual reports, programmes, correspondence files, newsletters, repertoire lists and ephemera and was deposited in two parts as Accession Numbers 5060 (October 2002) and 5508 (February 2006).

Catalogued by Chris Gilliam, April 2006 .

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