BRADFORD Festival Choral Society has been reflecting on its history as it prepares for a concert commemorating

the end of the First World War.

The concert, at Bradford Grammar School on Saturday, November 10, features music from composers directly affected by the war; Finzi, Gurney and Lili Boulanger, and includes Fauré's Requiem.

That evening, the school will host Bradford World War One Group’s Shared Remembrance exhibition, currently at Bradford Mechanics Institute. “In planning this collaboration, group president Tricia Restorick advised me that the West Yorkshire Archive has a wealth of material on the choir, from the 1850s,” says BFCS trustee Rob Voakes. “This was great news, as we thought the archive had been lost.”

The programmes, newspaper reviews and volumes of committee minutes shed light on the impact of the 1914-18 war. In 1913 membership was 319, with 95 sopranos, 95 altos, 60 tenors, and 67 bass singers, says an AGM report in the Yorkshire Observer. In 1919 it was 236.

“The 30per cent drop during the war was due not only to men joining the armed forces, but also women no longer having time for the choir, working in war industries and managing families,” says Rob. “It was also a tradition of the choir that married couples attended together. Sadly, the reduction in women also due to those who lost partners in the war and no longer felt able to take part in the choir.

“To find substitutes for tenors and basses in the war years, retired men were encouraged to return to the choir, and rivalries with other choirs were put aside, allowing temporary membership for major performances such as Handel’s Messiah.”

The war also affected programming. For the 1914-15 season, the trustees had planned a concert by Bradford-born composer Frederick Delius, whose parents came from Germany. Once the war started all things German came under scrutiny, even music. Minutes of a trustees’ meeting on August 14, 1914 shows there was considerable discussion on the next season programme and it was decided to postpone the Delius concert. The choir performed Mendelsohn’s Elijah instead, raising £216 for the Lord’s Mayor’s Fund and a Fund for Belgian Refugees. “Perhaps the spiritual content of the music made it acceptable, despite the composer’s origins,” says Rob.

The German music ban wasn’t accepted by all. Some trustees persisted in putting forward German composers, only to be overruled. In 1917 the President didn't approve of a selection by Mendelsohn and Beethoven, choosing works by Vaughan Williams, Debussy and Stanford instead. By 1918, there was a more relaxed approach, with the choir performing works by Carl Weber and Wagner’s Lohengrin.

“In 1914 the choir had a balance of female members, but all officers, trustees, presidents and treasurers were men,” says Rob. “From 1919 pressure to allow women a more active role grew, and in 1923 they could finally take an official role in choir management.” Visit