Winchester Music Club (affectionately known as ‘Music Club’) is an independent charity run by its members, and has been performing concerts to music lovers in Winchester since 1925, flourishing through a strong relationship with Winchester College and the support of generations of passionate singers.
WMC founded in 1925
When Sir George Dyson (1883 – 1964) came to Winchester College in 1924, he inherited the Nightjars Madrigal Society. Membership included some singers from the city, and Dyson soon expanded this into a choral society, renaming it Winchester Music Club and founding an orchestral section to support it.
“This was the beginning of Dyson’s work in bringing the College and the City, ‘town and gown’, closer together to their great mutual benefit” says Paul Spicer, in Sir George Dyson: His Life and Music. “Dyson’s ambitions for the Music Club were always considerable. As early as 1927 a Beethoven Centenary concert featured his Egmont overture and the Ninth symphony. As Dyson said in the short autobiographical section of his book Fiddling while Rome Burns:
“I had the city orchestra, including most of the good string players for twenty miles around, and we brought down London Symphony wind for our concerts. I had also an adult choral society [the Music Club], carefully selected and balanced”
James Sabben Clare reinforces this idea, telling us in his history Winchester College after 600 Years:
“One…innovation that has left a permanent mark was the founding of the Winchester Music Club. Dyson was its first conductor, and successive Masters of Music have kept up the tradition. From that time music has provided one of the strongest links between the College and the Town”
Musical Directors of WMC
1925-1937 Sir George Dyson
1938-1945 Sydney Watson
1946-1953 Henry Havergal
1953-1970 Christopher Cowan
1970-1983 Angus Watson
1984-1994 Keith Pusey
1994-2003 Neil Chippington
2003-2015 Nicholas Wilks (see extracts from his memory book here)
2015- David Thomas
George Dyson left Winchester in 1937 to become Director of the Royal College of Music. His successors as Master of Music at the College and conductors of Music Club were Sydney Watson, later Precentor at Eton and then Organist of Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford, and Henry Havergal, later Principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. (In memory of Henry Havergal a performance of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto was given in 1990 by Christopher Tolley, Organist of Winchester College, accompanied by WMC Orchestra.)
Christopher Cowan came from Uppingham to be Master of Music at Winchester College in 1953. He had been taught by George Dyson whilst a student at the College, and studied conducting with Malcolm Sargent at Trinity College, Oxford. Tall, imposing and a fine musician, Cowan conducted Music Club until his retirement in 1970.
He was a major influence on the musical life of the whole Winchester community for the best part of two decades. He made sure that the major works of the great composers were heard – sometimes the choirs of the County High School and St. Swithun’s, as well as Winchester College, were invited to join Music Club to sing in the Cathedral concerts – Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Verdi, Elgar…and generations of young people were thrilled by their first taste of large-scale performance.
In the 1950s, Music Club’s two choral concerts both took place in the Cathedral, in November and February, but in the 1960s the spring concert moved to the recently-built New Hall. John Thorn (former Head Master of Winchester College) writes: “Christopher never bullied, outwardly he never seemed even to get cross. He never sulked, or took revenges, or thrived on the making of enemies. He achieved that strange miracle of getting people to perform great music because they loved it, and because they loved him.”
Successive musical directors of Winchester Music Club have continued the tradition of ensuring that the major works of great composers are heard, whilst encouraging the shared enjoyment of singing with famous and new soloists. The Music Club has continued to enjoy the support and hospitality of Winchester College, from whose talented staff the club has found its musical directors, accompanists and, in its fellow performers, the Glee Club.
The Music Club has enjoyed the company of renowned performers across the years. In 1928 Leon Goossens was paid five guineas as an oboist in a Schubert Centenary commemoration, whilst in 1946 Peter Pears featured as the Evangelist in Bach’s St John Passion.
In 1948 a certain Mr Scott-Joynt sang as a soloist with Music Club for Verdi’s Requiem in the Cathedral where his son would one day become bishop. Then in 1963 a performance of The Canterbury Pilgrims, written by Dyson himself, and starring soloists Isobel Baillie and Owen Brannigan under Christopher Cowan, marked Sir George Dyson’s eightieth birthday.
Other world renowned artists such as Kathleen Ferrier, Wilfred Brown, Dennis Brain and Vladimir Ashkenazy have performed with the Music Club. More recently we are proud to have worked with Felicity Lott, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, David Wilson-Johnson, Gillian Fisher and William Kendall. In 2008 we were delighted to perform a charity concert in the Cathedral with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and in 2009 we were proud to perform with the acclaimed bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, again in a concert supporting a local charity.
The Music Club has a classical choral repertoire, but successive musical directors have enjoyed bringing their own special favourites. Wartime concerts included contemporary works such as Britten’s Simple Symphony and Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor. In the last 25 years programmes have included the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts and (with the Waynflete Singers) Te Deum, Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, Bach’s Mass in B minor, Tippett’s A Child of our Time, Britten’s War Requiem, and Belshazzar’s Feast by Walton.
Winchester Music Club has also introduced audiences to many other less well-known works including Purcell’s King Arthur and Dohnanyi’s Missa in Dedicatione Ecclesiae Opus 35. We are currently performing a complete series of Haydn’s Masses to celebrate the choir’s centenary.
Encouraging young soloists
With the support of enthusiastic audiences, members and Friends, Winchester Music Club also seeks to encourage young soloists in their future careers. Our Director of Music and Committee work hard to secure the best young singers for each concert, so we are often lucky enough to find fresh talent before they soar out of reach.