Ipswich Choral Society celebrate 200th anniversary

Fenella Andrews, Publicity Officer for the Ipswich Choral Society, tells us of her group's major milestone and their archival findings on the history of the choir.

January 2024 saw a major milestone for Ipswich Choral Society, reaching 200 years since the formation of the society. A copy of the Suffolk Chronicle, dated 24 January 1824, announced that a Musical Society was to be formed and a concert to be held at the end of March 1824. That society was Ipswich Choral Society and started out with around 20 singers, meeting once a fortnight on Tuesdays to rehearse (a tradition we kept, although rehearsals are now weekly).

Thanks to a National Lottery Heritage grant a few years ago, we were able to research the history of the choir, and unearth some interesting discoveries. By searching the archives, we found a special, hand-written book of scores with the inscription 'Ipswich Choral Society, Alto 1824'. The hand-written music was excerpts from Haydn’s The Creation which was then performed in by the newly-formed society the following year.sepia photo of the choir in 1925

Ipswich Choral Society performing Elgar’s Caractacus on 6 February 1924. Special thanks to Simon Pulham of Ipswich for the photograph

The earliest surviving concert programme we found dates back to 1829. Since its inception, the Ipswich Choral Society has 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. Benjamin Britten was even President of the Society from 1948 to 1958. Singing in a choral society was a very popular pastime in the late 19th century - by 1885 there were 264 members in the choir, made up of 94 sopranos, 65 altos, 40 tenors and 65 basses (today we have around 90 members, and always happy to welcome new members).

All this research was published in the book Notes in Time describing the formation of the society and its impact on the Ipswich arts scene.

To celebrate our 200th anniversary, we performed Haydn's The Creation at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall in April of this year, where we were joined by the Britten Sinfonia, soloists Anna Dennis, Ryan Vaughan Davies and Dan D’Souza, and the Halifax Choral Society (who also celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2017, where we also performed together) - which is living proof that the 19th century pastime of joining a choral society is still as enjoyable in the 21st century!

Find out more about the Ipswich Choral Society on their website and follow them on Facebook and X (Twitter)