Our History

"The longest-standing classical music festival in the world"

The origins of the annual Music Meetings of the Three Choirs of Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford were outlined in 1729 in a sermon preached by Thomas Bisse, Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, and his three-centuries-old words still serve to describe our festival today. It sprang, he said, from:

"...a very small and accidental origin. It was…a fortuitous and friendly proposal, between a few lovers of harmony and brethren of the correspondent choirs, to commence an anniversary visit, to be kept in turn; which voluntary instance of friendship and fraternity was quickly strengthened by social compact; and afterwards, being blessed and sanctioned by a charity collection, with the word of exhortation added to confirm the whole, it is arrived to the figure and estimation as ye see this day… Upon these grounds it commenced, and upon these let our brotherly love continue.”

"Creating and sharing the best musical experiences"

The festival is believed to have been fully established by 1715, and this is the year from which the Music Meetings are counted; the first Meeting to be given the current title ‘Three Choirs Festival’ was Gloucester in 1838. Wars have interrupted the festival twice, from 1914 to 1920, and from 1939 to 1945. In 2020, the forced cancellation due to COVID-19 saw a move online to a ‘virtual festival’, which sought to celebrate the community and camaraderie of the live event, before the festival made a triumphant return to in-person audiences in 2021.

Edward Elgar at Hereford Cathedral in 1933

Edward Elgar at Hereford Cathedral in 1933

The festival has always prided itself on bringing new works to its audiences, and over its 300-year history has included premieres by Edward Elgar, Arthur Sullivan, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Hubert Parry, Ethel Smyth, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, Camille Saint-Saëns, Judith Weir, Judith Bingham, James MacMillan and Cheryl Frances Hoad, many of which were conducted by the composers themselves. Numerous celebrated composers, conductors and soloists have been welcomed to the festival, and it has enjoyed regular royal visits and patronage since the attendance of King George III at a performance of Messiah in 1788. To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the festival in 2015, the massed Three Choirs Festival Chorus, Youth Choir and Three Cathedral Choirs performed in the State Ballroom of Buckingham Palace in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales, President of the Three Choirs Festival Association.

The Three Choirs Festival Chorus and Cathedral Choirs perform at Buckingham Palace

The Three Choirs Festival Chorus and Cathedral Choirs perform at Buckingham Palace

Credit: Paul Burns 2015

From the ‘fortuitous and friendly proposal’, described by Thomas Bisse in 1729, to today’s eight-day summer festival of over eighty events and a developing year-round participation programme, the festival’s mission to inspire a love of music in everyone that has been thriving for the last 300 years will hopefully continue for many generations to come.

“Upon these grounds it commenced, and upon these let our brotherly love continue”