A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Bristol Madrigal Society

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BRISTOL MADRIGAL SOCIETY. The establishment of this society in 1837 was one of the fruits of a lecture on Madrigals given at Bristol by Professor Edward Taylor. The society was limited to thirty members, who were to meet on alternate Wednesdays at the Montague Tavern, to sing such madrigals as had been previously agreed upon by the committee; the late Mr. J. D. Corfe, organist of the Cathedral, was the director, and among the first members was Mr. Pearsall, the eminent madrigal writer. At the first annual dinner in 1838 Sir John Rogers and Mr. Thomas Oliphant, president and secretary of the London Madrigal Society, were present. In the same year it was resolved to give a 'Ladies' Night,' and in 1839 the number of these open performances was increased, owing to the demand for tickets, while ultimately the 'Ladies' Night' took the place of the annual dinner. In Feb. 1841 the Ladies' Nights were suspended, but at the end of 1842 they were recommenced at the Victoria Rooms, with an audience of 1200, and have since been continued annually. The number of members has been increased to forty-two, and the meetings are still held at the Montague. The choir consists exclusively of male voices, the boys being selected from the cathedral choirs of Bristol, Oxford, Exeter, and other places. Mr. Corfe continued to direct the society till 1864, when he resigned, and was succeeded by Mr. D. Rootham, the present conductor. The open nights have always attracted a large number of eminent musicians, and among the frequent visitors in past years may be named Dr. C. Corfe, of Oxford; Sir G. J. Elvey and Dr. Stephen Elvey; the Rev. Sir Frederick Gore Ouseley, Bart.; Dr. Stainer, (then of Oxford); Mr. Amott, of Gloucester; Mr. Done, of Worcester; and Mr. Townshend Smith, of Hereford, who brought with them the most effective members of their respective choirs. During the period of Mr. Corfe's direction these gentlemen joined the choir of Bristol Cathedral at service on the day of the concert, a practice since discontinued. The music sung during the first twelve years of the society's existence was almost exclusively confined to madrigals, the exceptions being anthems by Tye and Creighton, and the works of Mr. Pearsall, but some of Mendelssohn's four-part songs were introduced at a concert in Jan. 1851, and have been frequently included since, with other choral works of the same class. The following was the programme at the society's first meeting on March 1, 1837:—'I will arise' (Creighton); 'Cynthia, thy song and chanting' (G. Croce); 'Flora gave me' (Wilbye); 'To shorten Winter's sadness' (Weelkes); 'In pride of May' (Morley); '0 that the learned poets' (0. Gibbons); 'All creatures now' (Benet); 'Hosanna' (Gibbons); 'April is in my Mistress' face' (Morley); 'So saith my fair' (L. Marenzio); 'Down in a flow'ry vale' (Festa); 'Soon as I careless stray'd' (Festa); 'The Waits' (Saville). In subsequent programmes we find the names of the great madrigal writers of England and Italy. A sacred work occasionally finds a place in the programmes, and the last number is always 'The Waits.'

[ C. M. ]