NameRoyal Choral Society (RCS); 1872-; English choir
AliasRCS | R.C.S. | previously Royal Albert Hall Choral Society (1872-1888)
BiographyThe Royal Choral Society - one of London's premier choirs - has, arguably, the most illustrious history of any UK choir. Still flourishing in 2012 - its 140th anniversary year, it has a roster of almost 200 singers. The choir was formed as the house choir of the Royal Albert Hall shortly after the Hall's opening in 1871. Conductor Charles Gounod was tasked with creating a choir from scratch: a prospectus was sent out asking for good singers well versed in sight reading and a staggering 1,400 members were enrolled. The first concert on 8 May 1872, attended by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, did not contain any works by British composers, and therefore, despite the excellent singing, did not receive a particularly warm reception. The relationship between the Hall and Gounod worsened, ending with his resignation and the appointment of home-grown composer and conductor Joseph Barnby. Thus began a very fruitful and popular period in the history of the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society and the Hall, with large works such as Handel's 'Belshazzar' and Bach's 'Passion Music' drawing great crowds and exhibiting the suitability of the vast auditorium to engender a community spirit and move the audiences with music on a grand scale. Those present were invited to stand and join with the Choir in the appropriate places, a popular practice that was unique to London at the time.

The early years of the Choir were marked by several milestone events. On 15 May 1875 the first performance in the UK of Verdi's 'Requiem' was conducted by the composer himself and sung by the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society. The RCS have chosen this magnificent work as their 140th Anniversary Concert on 25 June 2012 - again at the Royal Albert Hall. The Verdi premiere was the beginning of many 'firsts' for the Society at the Hall - theirs was the first broadcast - a performance of their annual carol concert on 20 December 1924, and the following year came the first recordings, made by the Gramophone Company of the choir accompanied by the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra performing part of Handel's 'Messiah'. In 1878 the long tradition began of the Society performing 'Messiah' on Good Friday which has continued nearly every year since, excluding the war years of 1940 and 1941. In 1888 the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society was re-named The Royal Choral Society by H.M. Queen Victoria in recognition of their outstanding performances.

On 22 March 1900 came the first complete performance of Coleridge-Taylor's 'Hiawatha', a musical setting of Longfellow's poem. But all this was just a precursor for what was to follow in 1924 when Thomas Fairbairn, a producer of operatic spectacles, organised a charity event for the National Institute for the Blind. Fairbairn brought 'Hiawatha' to the Royal Albert Hall, transforming the large auditorium into an Native American landscape featuring a real waterfall, a snow storm, a ballet, hundreds of 'Native Americans' and a medicine man played by a genuine Mohawk called Chief Os-Ke-Non-Ton who was a trained singer. For a fortnight each year from 1924 until 1939 (excepting the General Strike year of 1926) Hiawatha packed the Hall and provided the Corporation with a large proportion of its annual profits. The Royal Choral Society made their own costumes, and changed in tents in Hyde Park opposite. On the first night Goossens, the conductor, noticed many of the 'squaws' and 'braves' wearing glasses and watches, with some braves sporting pencil moustaches.

Sir Malcolm Sargent, called 'the finest British choral conductor of his generation', and a frequent performer at the Hall, had a happy 40-year association with the choir starting in January 1925 until 24 March 1967, when he conducted 'Messiah' with the RCS for the last time. The Choir has had a long line of distinguished conductors including Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Henry Wood, Ralph Vaughan Williams. The composers Giuseppe Verdi and Antonín Dvorák conducted the Choir in premieres of their own works, as have Edward Roxborough, Ariel Ramírez, Raymond Premru and Geoffrey Burgon in more recent years.The present Music Director, Richard Cooke, took over the baton in 1995; an experienced singer himself, he understands the capabilities of choral singers and is able to bring out the full potential of individual voices.

The Royal Choral Society is London's oldest choral society and throughout its history the RCS has played a major part in the musical life of London and the country; the Choir continued to give a full programme of works throughout two World Wars and it was one of the first choirs to present choral works at the Proms. Today, the RCS performs in venues all over the UK and abroad, with the majority of the concerts still being performed at the Royal Albert Hall, the Choir's 'spiritual home'.

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