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Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club

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A Brief History

Click here for a list of the major events in the history of the Club.

The residential period
Post-war revival
University College
1979 onwards

The Oxford & Cambridge Musical Club was founded in 1899 by members of the two Universities wishing to continue in London the musical and social activities they had enjoyed as undergraduates. A detailed history of the first 80 years of the Club was produced in 1979, and should be consulted for more details. It is summarised here, and followed by a fuller account of the later years. The special programme proposed for the centenary year is available on a separate page.

Like so many things, the Club's history can be conveniently divided into three parts: 1899-1940, when it was a residential club; 1948-59 when it was gradually revived after the war as a non-residential performing club in various places, and the more settled period from 1959 to the present, when it has found a permanent home for its regular concerts at University College in Gower Street.

Various records from the period up to 1954 (including membership records up to 1935 and programmes up to 1929) have been deposited at the Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the catalogue can be consulted online.

The residential period 1899 - 1940

The Club started in 1899 with about 300 members, and rooms at 47, Leicester Square, at one time the home of Sir Joshua Reynolds (and demolished in 1936). In 1914 it enlarged its premises by leasing a fine Georgian house at 6, Bedford Square, which it retained until 1940. Accounts of the life and activities of this period convey an image of a vanished age of comfort and privilege. Membership "except for those elected under a special Rule, and limited to 25% of the total" was restricted to past and present (male) members of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. It had Concert, Smoking and rehearsal rooms, six grand pianos and other instruments (including a serpent), a large Music library, 'a good stock of Newspapers and Periodicals' and several bedrooms for residents or occasional use; it was fully licensed, breakfasts were served and light refreshments were available 'from 9a.m. to midnight'. A fine Adam staircase, a marble bath with a step in it, said to have been used by George IV, and oak-panelled rooms with comfortable sofas, armchairs and a coal fire were other attractions.

Regular concerts of vocal and chamber music, and later orchestral works, given by the members, were started in 1900. At one stage alternate Thursdays were devoted to music previously rehearsed (!) while the intervening Thursdays provided 'informal music-making'. Until 1938, ladies could only be invited into the Drawing Room 'between 4p.m. and 7p.m on weekdays', and otherwise only to Ladies' Nights concerts, which were formal evening dress occasions about twice a year. One lady visitor per member at concerts was subsequently permitted, while Dr John Falk, who died only this year, claims credit for first introducing a lady flautist as a performer, in Bach's Schafe knnen sicher weiden, shortly afterwards. Liberalisation of the rules for membership gradually followed.

There were four Presidents of the Club over this period: first the famous violinist Joseph Joachim, then after his death in 1907, Arthur James Balfour (Prime Minister 1902-5). On his death in 1930 he was succeeded by Sir William Henry Hadow and in turn in 1937 by Edward Dent (who remained President until his death in 1957). None of these distinguished figures seem to have performed in Club concerts however, but many eminent musicians of the time were performing members:

The first eight concerts in 1900 included Sir Donald Francis Tovey, Sir Walford Davies, Rev. Dr. E.H.Fellowes, W.W. Cobbett, Gervase Elwes and Dr Heathcote Statham among the performers. Ralph Vaughan Williams took part for the first time in the following year. Subsequently, before the first World War the organists Sir Percy Buck and Sir Walter Parratt, the singers Clive Carey, Geoffrey Shaw and Frederick Grisewood (BBC announcer), the composers George Butterworth and E.J.Moeran and the conductor Lawrance Collingwood appeared. During the war, Lionel Tertis met at the Club a Belgian refugee violinist and cellist, and the composer Joseph Jongen, and performed with them as the Belgian Piano Quartet. Sir Adrian Boult and Hugo Anson (later Registrar of the RCM) also appeared during the war years, to be followed later by Boris Ord, Thomas Dunhill, Harold Rutland, Patrick Hadley, Edward Selwyn, Sir Anthony Lewis and Edric Cundell.

When the Club was founded, it also had a distingished list of Honorary Members, including Lord Balfour, Sir Frederick Bridge, Sir Hubert Parry, Hans Richter, later to be extended to Andr Mangeot, Dr Cyril Rootham, Sir George Dyson and Sir Edward Elgar among others. Non-performing members of the Club also include some memorable names: Sir Hugh Allen, E.M.Forster, Desmond McCarthy, Sir Compton Mackenzie, Percy Scholes, Lytton Strachey, Lowes Dickinson, Bonamy Dobre, Anthony Asquith, Sir John Dykes-Bower......

At the same time, two generations of devoted amateur musicians, many of them distinguished in other spheres, are affectionately remembered by Laurie Pettitt (performer and subsequently Committee member from 1928-56) in his detailed account in the Club history. Any selection of names from this proud list is no doubt invidious, but particular mention might be made of the late Dr. Bernard Robinson (who first performed at the Club in 1923), founder of Music Camp, and his friend Dr. Alan Richards (1925), the architectural writer Sir John Summerson(1923), Sir Gilbert Inglefield (1934, later Lord Mayor of London 1967-8) who had a golden flute, and Tommy Evans (1935), happily still with us.

Although the Club continued to function throughout the first World War, the conditions of 1939 were a different matter; the fortnightly meetings were suspended, and only a few Sunday concerts were held until 28th April 1940, the 911th since the Club began, and the last until after the war. The premises at Bedford Square were relinquished, and the residential Club no longer existed.

Post-war revival 1948 - 59

A detailed account of this period is again to be found in the chapter in the Club history by Percy Timberlake, still a very active Club and Committee member. Evidently, the loss of the residential accommodation changed the character of the Club, shifting its emphasis to that of participation in music-making, by men and women, progressively selected only by their wish to share in the traditions originally established.

The 912th concert of the Club did not take place until 4th June 1948, in the Belgian Institute, where its organiser, the cellist Harold Triggs, was a member. This was also used for several of the ten concerts held over the next four years. The frequency of concerts gradually increased: six in the following year, no less than a further 23 by the end of 1954, now surpassing the pre-war rate. They took place in various temporary homes: at the invitation of members in Westbourne Grove, Chelsea and Hampstead Garden Suburb; in the Great Drawing Room of the Arts Council in St.James Square; in the Music Room of Toynbee Hall; at Connaught Hall, and finally, in a period of temporary stability until April 1959, in the Library or Hall of the Mary Ward Settlement. An important exception was the last concert of 1954, the 950th, held for the first time in the Joint Staff Room at University College, London. This was an experimental arrangement made by one of its members, Professor Frank Winton (who had first performed with the Club in 1917), playing in a quartet led by his wife Bessie Rawlings. Nearly five years, and a hundred concerts, later the Haldane Room, and subsequently the Housman Room, at University College became the regular locations for the Wednesday and Saturday concerts, at roughly fortnightly intervals, that have continued to the present.

During this period, the broader membership and the performing emphasis of the Club had the effect of extending the programmes from the primary fare of chamber music to more vocal music, both solo and concerted, to orchestral works (with varying amounts of rehearsal) and to annual concert performances of opera - at first Mozart in the middle fifties, and then of a widening repertoire. There has been a growing emphasis on exploring more unusual works. Another innovation of 1958 was an Annual Gala Concert, with participation from both of the parent University societies (OUMS and CUMC) alongside OCMC - later to be extended to participation by the University College London Chamber Music Club as well. This is not to say that contact with Oxford and Cambridge had ever been severed - performances by Club members at one or other of the two Universities had always taken place (and continued until the 1980s), but a joint Gala began in 1958 and has been held in most years since.

University College 1959 -

This stable period of some twenty-odd concerts a year has seen the Club well on its way to completing its second thousand concerts (the last in 1998 will be No 1807). A full account of the range and diversity of both works and performers over the whole period is obviously out of the question - again the chapters in the Club history by Percy Timberlake and Graham Thorne give a detailed picture up to 1978.

One notable feature of this period was the presidency of Sir Lennox Berkeley from 1970 until his death in 1989. He frequently attended concerts, appearing as pianist and conductor; many of his works were performed, including, for the first time in Britain, his quintet for piano and wind, Op90, on May 1st 1976.

Another was the celebratory year 1974, the 75th anniversary of the Club. The special efforts made to include composers associated with the Club in various ways, or with some relation to 1899, are described with enthusiasm in Michael Musgrave's chapter particularly devoted to this anniversary. Three exotic locations were chosen for particular events: the Gala (No1336), aptly including Vaughan Williams' Oxford Elegy, in the spectacular Old Hall of Lincoln's Inn; No1339 (improbably) in the Meeting Room of the Zoological Society of London in Regent's Park; No 1344 in Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn. Some 57 works qualifying as 'celebratory' were included in the year's concerts, the remainder taking place as usual at University College, and at the Music School in Cambridge and the Holywell Music Rooms in Oxford.

The last twenty years 1979 - 98

To complete the account even for this limited period since the history was published in 1979, it is difficult to avoid a mere recital of statistics. In 381 concerts, over 1500 works by some 376 composers have been performed by over 500 members and their friends. Both 'works' and 'composers' require a little care in definition - the works performed range from individual songs and instrumental pieces to song cycles, sonatas, quartets and larger ensembles, concertos, symphonies and complete operas - of which there have been 21, from major repertoire works (6 Mozart, 3 Verdi, 2 Britten etc) to rarities like Haydn's Il Mondo della Luna, Lennox Berkeley's Ruth and the first performance in this country of Schubert's first, Des Teufels Lustschloss.

Composers too are not always simple, particularly where transcriptions and arrangements are concerned - is Blithe Bells by Grainger or Bach? If the major composers understandably predominate, with over 100 works by Mozart, about 100 Lieder and many other works by Schubert, about 50 each by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and the like on all scales, there are also more individual elements - such as some 70 songs by Mervyn Horder, 17 full-scale instrumental works and a number of shorter pieces by Ronald Chamberlain, among the dozen or so 'club composers' represented. Music from as early as the sixth century can be found, while the twentieth, along with established Strauss, Stravinsky and so on, embraces Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Arvo Prt and David Bedford; Percy Grainger's individual manner recurs quite frequently, with a sprinkling of Gershwin, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington.

There have been many thematic concerts on particular composers and countries: not only Schubert and Brahms, but also Bax and Lord Berners; Belgium and Eastern Europe as well as France and Spain. The complete chamber music of Elgar and Walton provided two distinctive concerts. The 80th birthdays of Ronald Chamberlain, Sir Lennox Berkeley, Richard Gandy and Mervyn Horder were commemorated; there were memorial concerts too for them and for George Bower, Dr & Mrs Henry Dicks, Frank Merrick (with performances by 3 Club members who were his pupils), Francis Catala and Gillian Bolland. Two current club members remembered their Victorian composer-ancestors, settled in England from Italy: Luigi Denza and Tito Mattei. Lecture recitals on aspects of Haydn, Britten and Purcell, an evening with Mr Samuel Pepys' diaries and music, and an electronic keyboard 'workshop' were further variants on the more usual chamber and orchestral concerts. Several concerts have been held away from the University College base: at University College School, Cliveden House, the Savile Club, a series at the Oxford & Cambridge Combined Universities' Club in Pall Mall , and in a number of churches. Some have been more public, for various charities - Cancer relief, Music Aid, the Christopher Bunting fund - or involving collaboration with other musical groups and The London School of Contemporary Dance. The staged performances of Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale and Walton's The Bear in 1996 successfully combined several of these elements.

After the death of Sir Lennox Berkeley in 1989, the Presidency of the club passed to Sir Neville Marriner. He gave the string players of the Club a memorable master class on Strauss' Metamorphosen in 1995 and promises similar contributions to the centenary year. Apart from its two Presidents, there have been 27 different conductors of larger works: one guest appearance by the late Geoffrey Bush, and numerous ones by Colin Myles (also as a singer and keyboard player), Christopher Fifield (particularly of operas), James Gibson (also piano), Edward Kay (also clarinet), Alan Reddish (also piano), Reginald Thompson (also piano and composer) and Derek Smith (also horn) among others.

Among the hundreds of individual performers, it is difficult to be equitable in singling out particular names: those noted have either been frequently seen, or have given notable if less numerous performances - but evidently many more have had to be omitted from this outline, to whom one can only apologise.

About 100 pianists make the most frequent appearances because of their triple role, as soloists, accompanists to singers and in chamber music. Apart from those otherwise mentioned, Nicholas Reading (former chairman, with a passion for Grainger among other things), John Bateman (particularly for contemporary music), John Crawley, Gordon Cumming, Eileen Denza (also assiduous in the revision of Rules, the careful disposal of the Club library, and as Membership Secretary), Clifford Hindley, John Nelder, Reginald Parry, Christopher Reynolds and Eric Stevens, and in earlier years Francis Catala, Ronald Chamberlain, Tommy Evans, Gillian Bolland and Ernst Kornreich will be recalled.

Singers include 44 sopranos, of whom Andrea Whittaker, Judith Barnes, Lyn Parkyns (also conductor, pianist and present Committee chairman) and Pamela Spooner have appeared most often, while Eileen Hulse, Catherine Martin, and guests Lori Isley Lynn, Liane Marie Skriniar and Ida Maria Turri have also given notable performances. Of the 19 mezzo-sopranos and contraltos, Oenone Forrester, Livia Gollancz (former chairman, and opera organiser) and Ruth Lea share almost equal appearance records while in earlier years Grace Dives and more recently Jo Parton (now opera organiser) have also impressed. The 23 tenors are dominated by the towering figure of the late Richard Gandy, but this is not to overlook Simon Bainbridge, William Craig, Michael Musgrave and Donald Storer, with Ailwyn Best formerly appearing also as a composer, and more recently Adrian de Peyer making several distinguished appearances. Finally the 29 baritones and basses have most often been Michael Crowe (also guitar), William Emery, Stephen Holloway, Carl Murray and John Soothill (whose wife Brenda Soothill also made many appearances as a violinist), with Roderick Williams' earlier performances, and a more recent guest appearance by David Kirby-Ashmore to be remembered.

String and wind players have made countless orchestral appearances not otherwise mentioned, but their solo and ensemble contributions can be outlined on the same basis.

76 violinists particularly include Gudrun Edwards (and her clarinettist husband David) and Percy Timberlake (former chairman, long-standing Committee member and string fixer) with Jonathan Blackledge and Evelyn Chadwick as notable soloists, Sharon Choa also as conductor, Beatrice Babst and Whimbrel Burdett-Coutts much in evidence in earlier years. Among the 24 violas, with some overlap with violins, Robert Behrman (and his cellist wife Deborah), Keith Daley (former chairman, and his violinist sister Frances), Lucy Gent, Margaret Engering and Edmund Booth (viola fixer and guitar, with his flautist wife Sheena) seem particularly strong in family connections. The 52 cellists also include Elizabeth Nevrkla (with a record number of appearances, only exceeded by pianist Nick Reading), Laura Forbes (in several concertos), Elizabeth Wilde and in earlier years Joanna Borrett, more recently guest James Christie, as striking soloists. Double-basses do not have so many chamber music opportunities, but 8 have appeared from time to time.

A similar roll-call of wind instrumentalists starts with 24 flutes, particularly Ruth Newman, Jonathan Shaw, Libby Summers (and her percussionist/pianist husband Tony), with Julian Ullman and Chris Wyatt in recent years. Two of the 14 oboes, Mark Lowe and Nicholas Murray, have often appeared as pianists too, while Malcolm Turner, Margaret McSweeney and Jack Waddell also stand out. 27 clarinets (basset horns, saxes etc) are led by Geoffrey Elkan and Ken Goodare (also violin, viola, with his violinist wife Heather), with Deborah Smith, Jill Anderson and John Blair-Gould also frequent performers. The 16 bassoons must begin with Leonard Whitehouse (tireless woodwind fixer) and include Ruth Grace, Joanna Rushton (and hornplaying husband Adrian), Jeremy Wilson, more recently Hugh Rosenbaum, and Glyn Williams as an outstanding soloist.

27 horns have taken part in solo and ensemble works, with Peter Kaldor (brass fixer) most often, Helen Abbott, Georgina Boakes, Alan Brittain, Howard and Janet Copping fairly often, and Keith Maries as a valued guest soloist. Other brass players do not find so many solo or chamber roles, but 13 trumpets, trombones and tuba have appeared occasionally, Rodney Lord and Jonathan Glover (trumpets) several times, and, memorably, Peter Reid's baroque trumpet.

Other players already mentioned have also often doubled on older instruments - recorders, viols, harpsichord, psaltery - with a few specialists like David Edwards (lute) and James Anderson (a wondrous collection of regals, rackets, crumhorns and curtals, also appearing as a tenor, with his soprano wife Kate Gannon). Mention should also be made of Rose Andresier (guitar), Andrew Westlake (percussion) and the harpists Lauren Bullingham and Julia Webb. 10 speakers, readers or narrators have been involved in unusual events, including James Atkins in Honneger's King David, Hilary Orr (former chairperson) in two Strauss melodramas, and guest Colin Pinney much enlivening Schubert's Des Teufels Lustschloss.

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Page last updated: 28 January 2014