The origins of the annual Music Meetings of the Three Choirs of Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford were outlined in 1729, in a sermon preached by Thomas Bisse, Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral. They resulted, he said, from ‘a fortuitous and friendly proposal between a few lovers of harmony and brethren of the correspondent choirs, to commence an anniversary visit, to be kept in turn; which voluntary instance of friendship and fraternity was quickly strengthened by social compact.’
1709 Early evidence of this ‘friendship and fraternity’ was shown in 1709 when Henry Hall, the Organist of Hereford Cathedral, and his counterpart at Gloucester, William Hine, collaborated in the composition of a morning service, Hall and Hine in E flat, possibly for a joint celebration at Worcester in 1710. The Te Deum is by Hall, the Jubilate by Hine.
1715 (Gloucester) The year from which the Music Meetings are counted. It is believed that the annual gatherings were fully established by 1715, albeit that the earliest actually recorded Meeting was held in 1719 (Worcester). Wars have interrupted the continuity of the festival twice, from 1914 to 1920, and from 1939 to 1945. Until the late 1750s only music for services was permitted in the cathedrals, where the Te Deum and Jubilate in D of Purcell, for example, was sung regularly for almost forty years from the inception of the Meetings. Other concerts, including oratorio performances, were held in various secular venues. Even Messiah was not at first admitted to performance within the cathedrals.
1724 (Gloucester) Thomas Bisse successfully proposed that the Music Meetings should be held for a charitable purpose, i.e. for the benefit of the orphans (later ‘the widows and orphans’) of the poorer clergy of the three dioceses. This remained the principle raison d’être for the Festival Charity until 1986.
1731 (Worcester) William Hayes, a pupil of William Hine at Gloucester and an ardent Handelian, was organist at Worcester until 1734 but did not conduct at the Meetings during those years. Handel became the dominant composer in the programmes, which from 1733 featured ‘the most eminent performers from the metropolis.’ Hayes went on to become Professor of Music at Oxford and to build a national reputation as composer, conductor and organist, appearing at Three Choirs many times in the 1750s and 1760s.
1737 (Worcester) William Boyce took over as conductor of the Music Meetings, serving for many years. His anthems were performed regularly at Meetings during the eighteenth century and, in the secular concerts, both his Solomon and The Shepherd’s Lottery were featured.
1745 (Gloucester) Maurice Greene, accompanied by several Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s, performed Greene’s dramatic pastoral Love’s Revenge at the Music Meeting.
1757 (Gloucester) First Messiah performance at a Music Meeting. Hayes conducted at Gloucester in 1757, 1760 and 1763.
1759 (Hereford) Messiah was admitted to performance in the cathedral for the first time. Richard Clack, organist of Hereford from 1754 to 1779, was in charge of the Meeting and was the first of the cathedral organists to be recorded as conductor. Thereafter, Messiah was performed in whole or in part every year until 1963 (and from time to time since then).
1772 (Gloucester) First appearance of ladies to assist the boys in the choruses. ‘Miss Radcliffe and others of the celebrated female chorus singers from the North of England’ were engaged.
1788 (Worcester) King George III attended a performance of Messiah.