Baroque Music in Cambridge

Over the coming months there will be four blog posts for each city on the Davis High School Baroque Ensemble’s 2020 England-France Tour tour: Place of Interest; Concert Venue; Music; History of the city. This week’s post, the seventh of the series, is on Baroque music in Cambridge.


The second concert of the DHSBE tour will take place in Trinity College Chapel, University of Cambridge.

King's College Chapel ChoirMany of the Cambridge University Colleges have a long history of choral singing, with King’s College Choir probably being the best known. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, it was his intention that a choir would provide music for the daily offices and celebrations of the Mass. The College Statutes of 1453 stipulate that the choir would consist of ten secular chaplains, six stipendiary lay clerks (or ‘singing-men’) and sixteen choristers. Henry VI specified that the choristers were to be poor boys, of strong constitution and of ‘honest conversation’. They had to be under twelve years of age when admitted, and able to read and sing. In addition to their choral duties, singing daily Matins, Mass and Vespers, they were to wait at table in Hall. The boys were provided with meals and clothing, and eight pence a week for their board. They were not allowed to wander beyond the College grounds without permission from their Master or the Provost. Except for a few years in the 1550s under Edward VI, and during the period of the Commonwealth (Civil War) in the 1650s when choral services in the Chapel were suppressed, the Choir has been singing services continuously for over 500 years.

Allegri was a late Renaissance/early Baroque Italian composer who worked at the Sistine Chapel in Rome. His Miserere is his best known composition, and has been frequently recorded. In 1770, 14-year-old Mozart, on a trip to Rome with his father, heard the Miserere only twice and transcribed it faithfully from memory, thus creating the first known unauthorised copy. Roy Goodman, a former colleague in the Academy of Ancient Music in 1980’s, was a boy chorister, age 12, in Kings College Chapel choir. He was one of four boys specially prepared to sing the very demanding treble solo in the Miserere in 1963 for a recording. The chorus-master had told the four boys that only immediately prior to the start of the recording would he say which one of them would sing the solo. Roy, covered in mud after playing rugby, arrived at the chapel just in time to put on his cassock and join the other boys in the choir. He was chosen to sing the solo which continues to be one of the most remarkable performance of the piece:

Many of the Cambridge colleges also have ‘organ scholars’ – a part time student assistant to the principal organist. The students are provided with playing, and music directing experience, and work under the direction of the college chapel Director of Music. Organ scholar, Trinity College Chapel: