The original ‘York Musical Society’ was founded in 1767. However, the first society was not at all like a choral society, or even particularly a musical society. Members had to be gentlemen of private means. They did have a common interest in music and sometimes performed together and for each other, but surviving records are mostly interested in discussing who should be allowed to join, the quality of the accommodation and of the food and drink consumed and with ‘fines’ for late arrival, absence and for transgressions such as getting married.
York Choral Society was established in 1839. The York Musical Society ‘was naturally displaced by the more active exertions of this society’, a former YMS secretary admitted in 1853, although it only lasted for thirty years. It was joined in 1853 by another choir, the York Amateur Musical Society.
York Musical Society, as it now exists, came about in 1876 when the York Amateur Musical Society dropped the word ‘amateur’ from its title and publicly re-launched itself as a choral society open to all comers. Its first performance was The Messiah in December 1876.
It has been singing without interruption since then.
The choir continued to perform through both World Wars, resolutely performing Brahms’ German Requiem and other works by German composers, throughout the years of World War One, in the face of considerable hostility from the press and the public at large.
Concerts continued in the summer months from 1939-45, with one concert taking place in the afternoon in September 1943 ‘to avoid the blackout’.
Remarkably, apart from during World War Two, YMS had only four principal conductors throughout the twentieth century, all well-known composers: Thomas Tertius Noble, Sir Edward Cuthbert Bairstow, Francis Jackson and Philip Moore. Robert Sharpe then took up the role, followed by David Pipe in 2012. On several occasions Richard Shephard, our associate conductor and accompanist from 2012, also a respected composer, conducted us. Sadly, Richard died in February 2021.
We have been joined over the years by some notable musicians. In 1910, Edward Elgar conducted his own works, including King Olaf, in two concerts. John Joubert conducted his Urbs Beata in 1964. Brian Kay conducted YMS and Harrogate Choral Society in a performance of the Bach B Minor Mass in York Minster and Ripon Cathedral in 1995.
YMS has always had close links with York Minster. Going back to 1767, the first name recorded in the membership register is John Camidge, organist at the Minster; over time the majority of our music-making has taken place under the direction of someone also employed there as Master or Assistant Master of the Music; and most of our concerts have taken place in the Minster