Sheffield Bach Society History

The choir’s origins date back to the time in early 1950 when a series of lectures was given by members of staff of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Music. Those staff members included Professor Stewart Deas, Emeritus Professor F H Shera and a lecturer, Roger F T Bullivant, together with invited speakers of note from outside the University.

The lectures were a great success and the Sheffield Bach Society was
subsequently founded at a meeting called on 1 May 1950 by Professor Deas. The
founding officers were the Bishop of Sheffield – Chairman, Professor Deas –
Hon. Director and Mrs Eileen M Denman (a member of the University Registrar’s
staff) – Hon Secretary and Treasurer. Mr Norman J Barnes MA, BMus (Oxon), FRCO,
music master at King Edward VII School in Sheffield was tasked with forming and
conducting a choir. Roger Bullivant was appointed as the Choir’s first
rehearsal accompanist, and serving in that capacity until becoming Conductor of
the Choir in 1962, a post held by him with much distinction until 2000. Mrs
Denman acted as Chairman from 1979 until 1988, then as Choir Secretary and
finally Archivist until retiring in 1999. Both Roger Bullivant and Eileen
Denman were awarded MBEs in recognition of their services to music, the former
in 1984 and the latter in 1999.  Following the death of Eileen Denman in
December 2001 a Service of Thanksgiving for her life was held in February of the
following year at Sheffield Cathedral.  A similar service was held in
February 2005 for Dr Bullivant, who had died in November 2004. Addresses at
this service were given by the University of Sheffield’s Peter Hill and by Dr
Simon Lindley who was to become the Choir’s conductor in 2009.

The Sheffield Bach Society organised their first public programme in the Victoria Hall, Sheffield on 28 November, 1950, with a concert by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. The choir has performed a great number of works through the years, and their first programme was in February 1951. Concerts by invited orchestras have also taken place, such as the performance by the London Harpsichord Ensemble in October 1954. In 1964 Dr Bullivant formed the Society’s own orchestra of professional musicians, the Sheffield Bach Players.  More recently, Bach Choir concerts have been presented with South Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra and, currently, with the National Festival Orchestra.

The choir participated in the Sixth Churchill Memorial Concert at
Blenheim Palace in May 1971, performed in York Minster in June 1972 and at the
Leeds Musical Festival in 1981. In 1985 the Society organised a six-week Bach
Festival in Sheffield to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the births of
both J S Bach and Handel, during which event the Stadtkantorei, from Sheffield’s twin city of
Bochum in Germany, performed Bach’s Mass in B minor. In May 1987 the visit was
reciprocated when the Sheffield Bach Choir and Players performed in Bochum. In
1991, the Choir visited Leeds again for a special performance of Bach’s Mass in
B minor at Leeds Town Hall in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the
consecration of Leeds Parish Church on 2 September 1841. The conductor at that
occasion was Dr Simon Lindley.

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Peter Collis rehearses the choir in 2007

Peter Collis was appointed conductor on Dr Bullivant’s retirement in
2000 and served until 2008.  Peter’s involvement with music began when he
was a Cathedral Chorister, followed by four years at Bretton Hall (where his
teachers included Harvey Marsden, former leader of the Sheffield Bach Players)
and conducting studies in France under the tutelage of Helene Guy.  Whilst
developing his musical career he spent some time as a music teacher in
Manchester, moving on to London to work on ground breaking music education
projects in choral music, where he pioneered links between professional
musicians and schools.

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Choir rehearsing in 2007

Peter Collis joined Sheffield Bach Choir in 2000 following seven years with the Derwent Singers in Derby and ten years previously with the Lea Singers in Harpenden. He retired from the Bach Choir in 2008. Peter is currently the Director of the York Cantores.

Dr Simon Lindley was appointed Conductor of Sheffield Bach Choir towards
the end of 2008, and took up duties at the outset of the 2009 season, after the
retirement of Peter Collis. Dr Lindley is Music Director of St Peter’s Singers
of Leeds and also Conductor and Honorary Life Patron of Doncaster Choral
Society. (More information on Dr Lindley)

The Sheffield Bach choir has performed at venues such as Sheffield Cathedral, Sheffield City Hall, the Victoria Hall, the University’s Mappin Hall and Firth Hall, St John’s Church, Ranmoor, Ecclesall Parish Church and St Mark’s Church, Broomhill.

Despite the “Bach” of the choir’s title, their repertoire has never been restricted, and through the years a wide variety of works has been undertaken. For example:

  • 1959 – Handel’s Israel in Egypt
  • 1961 – Handel’s Messiah (to become an annual feature)
  • 1963 – Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus
  • 1968 – Haydn’s Creation
  • 1970 – Mendelssohn’s Elijah
  • 1972 – Christopher Steel’s Jerusalem (Bach Society Commission)
  • 1986 – Geoffrey Burgon’s Revelations
  • 1987 – Christopher Steel’s Sinfonia Sacra (Bach Society Commission)
  • 1995 – African Sanctus and Carmina Burana (Joint Concert with Sheffield Oratorio Chorus)
  • 2009 – Mendelssohn’s St Paul
  • 2012 – Handel’s Solomon (Joint Concert with St Peter’s Singers)
  • 2012 – Saint Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio
  • 2013 – Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit sur des airs de Noël

Works by a large number of other composers have also been performed, composers such as Bernstein, Brahms, Dyson, Mozart, Dvorak, Schubert, Monteverdi, Orff, Stravinsky, Bruckner, Vivaldi, Elgar, Britten, Vaughan Williams and Tippett. A particular feature of the Society’s work has been the performance of less familiar contemporary works, early examples being John Joubert’s The Martyrdom of St Alban and Anthony Hedges’ Epithalamion.

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Members of the choir enjoy a social event

In addition to the concert programme there have been private events such as members´ meetings, receptions, talks, visits to musical events elsewhere and Society dinners. Friends and patrons are invited to the choir’s social events, including an annual Garden Party, and social dinner.

The choir continue to perform a full programme of concerts and to recruit new singers in all voices.