Ipswich Choral Society – A momentous 200th anniversary occasion!

Posted on April 11, 2024 by Sam Sherman

January 2024 saw a major milestone for Ipswich Choral Society, reaching 200 years since the formation of the society. To celebrate, Ipswich Choral Society performs Haydn’s masterpiece ‘The Creation’ at Snape Maltings Concert Hall on 20th April, joined by the Britten Sinfonia and soprano Anna Dennis.

The Suffolk Chronicle dated 24th January 1824 announced that a Musical Society was to be formed. That Musical Society was Ipswich Choral Society and started out with around 20 singers. The newly formed society met on Tuesdays once a fortnight to rehearse for their first concert. Ipswich Choral Society still meets on a Tuesday, although rehearsals are now weekly, followed by a visit to a local pub as part of the choir’s active social scene!.

Ipswich Choral Society performance of Handel's ”Messiah” on April 1st, 1909
Ipswich Choral Society performance of Handel’s ”Messiah” on April 1st, 1909 at the Public Hall in Ipswich. Thanks to Mrs Jane Kemp of Ipswich.

An article later appeared in the Suffolk Chronicle to advertise the first Ipswich Choral Society concert, to be held on 29th April 1824. There has been a continual record of more than 350 concerts held since. Regular concerts showcase the choir in local venues including local churches such as St Mary-le-Tower, Ipswich School, Ipswich Corn Exchange and Snape Maltings Concert Hall. We regularly take part in community events, such as Ipswich Music Day and the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph in Christchurch Park.

Singing in a choral society was a popular pastime in the late 19th Century. By 1885 there were 264 members of Ipswich Choral Society made up of 94 sopranos, 65 altos, 40 tenors and 65 basses. Today Ipswich Choral Society has around 90 members and is an open choir happy to welcome new members. Whether wanting to meet new people, dusting off your singing skills or looking to try something exciting, get in touch and meet us, details can be found on our website, ipswichchoralsociety.org.

Thanks to a National Lottery Heritage grant a few years ago, Ipswich Choral Society was able to research the history of the choir. Searching archives, a rather special, hand-written book of scores, with the inscription “Ipswich Choral Society, Alto 1824” was uncovered. The hand-written music was excerpts from Haydn’s ‘The Creation’ which was then performed in public by the newly formed society the following year.

Ipswich Choral Society performance of Elgar’s ‘Caractacus’, 6th February 1924. Thanks to Simon Pulham of Ipswich.

The research undertaken has enabled Ipswich Choral Society to discover details of past concert performances which has thrown up some interesting discoveries. The earliest surviving concert programme found dates back to 1829. Ipswich Choral Society have performed with world famous soloists such as Robert Tear, Janet Baker, Kathleen Ferrier, Owen Brannigan, Michael Maybrick, Frank Titterton, Isobel Baillie, Felicity Palmer, and Lesley Garrett.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor conducted the choir in a performance of “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast” in February 1900 and Sir Hubert Parry rehearsed and conducted the choir for a “Grand Concert” of his own works in 1904 (12 years before he wrote the music for “Jerusalem”). The Suffolk-born composer and conductor Benjamin Britten was President of the Society from 1947 to 1958. All the research was published in a book “Notes in Time” describing the formation of the Society and its impact on the Ipswich arts scene.

For the 200th anniversary concert, Ipswich Choral Society is delighted to be performing again at Snape Malting with Halifax Choral Society, making the performance a truly momentous occasion featuring Britain’s two oldest choral societies. The two societies last performed together back in 2017, when Halifax Choral Society celebrated their 200th anniversary. Living proof that the 19th Century pastime of joining a choral society is still as enjoyable in the 21st Century!


Who wrote this about Ipswich?

Sam Sherman

Sam has more time to spend on interests following a 33-year Board-level career in Container Shipping and International Logistics. Passionate about Ipswich, Sam looks to see how we might jointly reverse some negativity and bring some deserved positivity back to our beloved Town.

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