Early Music and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, 1958 to 2015

by Jacob Sagrans

Institution: McGill University
Year: 2017
Keywords: Music
Posted: 02/01/2018
Record ID: 2189606
Full text PDF: http://digitool.library.mcgill.ca/thesisfile145396.pdf


This dissertation is the first in-depth exploration of the connections between the Choir of King's College, Cambridge ("King's") and the early music revival since the mid-twentieth century. It is also one of the first detailed considerations of the role of choirs in the revival. The central question I aim to answer is: How has the vocal style of King's influenced the development of the vocal style of the early music revival in Britain? I show how the choir's 109 albums featuring music written before 1750 have helped spread and popularize what I call the "King's sound." This sound is characterized by a high level of blend within choral sections, an even balancing of sections with one another, little vibrato, few changes in tempo and dynamics, and a light, bright, and breathy timbre. It is similar to a broader "English sound" found among other Oxbridge college choirs as well as British vocal ensembles specializing in early music. I argue that King's was an important precursor to these specialist early music ensembles, as the choir began issuing many albums in the 1950s, before a large number of specialist groups formed in the 1970s and 1980s. King's was also compatible with and helped bolster the valuing of historical authenticity in the early music revival. Because the choir has sung frequently in church services since its foundation in the fifteenth century, listeners can see King's as exemplifying longstanding English sacred traditions. In addition, the King's sound itself seems more historically sensitive for early music than a singing style with hallmarks of nineteenth-century performance practice, such as heavy vibrato and frequent or large changes in tempo and dynamics. I also argue that the close links between King's and powerful and wealthy British institutionsparticularly the University of Cambridge and the Church of Englandaided in spreading the King's sound. In addition, the all-male and mostly Caucasian composition of the choir allows listeners to see it as a remnant of Britain before twentieth-century feminist movements and modern waves of immigration. This reinforces the choir's sense of historical authenticity as well as its appeal given the hegemonic status of whiteness and masculinity. I also suggest that the King's sound itself reflects the relatively homogeneous identity of choir members by way of its exclusion of "other" sounds (and bodies) in favor of choral blend. To conclude, I examine how King's has influenced the early music revival by training performers, by making premiere recordings of Renaissance and Baroque compositions, and by collaborating with instrumental ensembles. I also consider how other ensembles and trends in the revival have influenced King's, particularly the rise of historically informed performance. La musique ancienne et le Choeur du King's College, Cambridge, 1958 2015 . Cette thse est la premire exploration en profondeur des liens existant entre le Choeur du King's College, Cambridge ( King's ) et le mouvement pour le renouveau de la musique ancienne depuisAdvisors/Committee Members: Julie Emelyn Cumming (Supervisor1), Peter N Schubert (Supervisor2).