A HISTORY OF MUSICA VERA 1964 to 2020
MUSICA VERA was founded by Graham Smallbone, Director of Music at Dean Close School, Cheltenham. The first concert was held at Christ Church, Cheltenham, on Saturday 5 December 1964 with Graham Smallbone conducting the Choir accompanied by The Cheltenham String Players. Graham was the Choir’s conductor up to and including the concert held in October 1966, before his move to Marlborough.
Graham took the Choir’s title from “An Illustrated History of Music” by Marc Pincherle, who quoted the mediaeval latin tag Musica ficta est musica vera (False music is real music) – or translations to that effect. This refers to the familiar, but undefined, performance practice that involved sharpening or flattening notes to make them convincing in their context – without any indication in the parts that this should be done. The performers, almost invariably singers, were expected to make these adjustments as a result of their experience, understanding and musical sophistication. The alphabetical notes, unaltered, were the standard modes – the true (vera) notes in a basic sense. Hence, making the adjustments (ficta) made the music correct (vera) as a performance without the necessary unwritten amendments would not be acceptable or authentic.
Rehearsals in the early days used to be held on Monday evenings from 8.00 – 9.30 pm in Dean Close Music Department, which at that time was something like a converted army barracks hut.
Among the early soloists was Dame Felicity Lott, who gave what could have been her first public performance in Handel’s Messiah on 13 March 1965 at Christ Church, when she was still at Pates Grammar School. A group that included most of the founder members of what later became the King’s Singers (Martin Lane, Alastair Hume, Neil Jenkins, Alastair Thompson, Richard Salter, and Brian Kay) sang in a performance of Monterverdi’s Vespers (1610) in Tewkesbury Abbey on 26 June 1966.
Musica Vera usually holds its concerts in Cheltenham, and among venues used in the town have been All Saints Church, St Matthew’s Church, St Andrew’s Church, Cheltenham College Chapel, St Mary’s Church Prestbury, St Peter’s Church Leckhampton, St Gregory’s Church, Christ Church, St Mary’s Church Charlton Kings and St Nicolas Church in Swindon Lane. It has in earlier years ventured further afield with concerts in St Peter’s College Oxford, Tewkesbury Abbey, churches in Gloucester, Northleach, and Winchcombe, and twice at Saint Mary’s Church, Bampton in the 1990s where the Choir’s President, the late Bernard Rose, and his wife provided the singers with a magnificent afternoon tea in their home before the concert. The Choir has also given several concerts at Grange Village, Newnham on Severn, and has sung for the residents of Capel Court in Prestbury and Windsor Street Care Home.