GWENT BACH CHOIR - THE HISTORY 1951 - 2001
THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS
(Written by Ann Griffiths Davies)
1950 saw the bi-centenary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the commemorative concerts held that year, especially those held in Bath Abbey, inspired a group of Abergavenny musicians to come together to sing and play Bach's music. Kenneth Loveland was present at the group's inaugural meeting in October 1951, and it was at his suggestion that we adopted the name of Gwent Bach Society. As fifty years have gone by since then, it is with pleasure that we name those who were in the society at its beginning. The prime mover was Dr Lloyd Davies, ably and enthusiastically supported by his eldest brother, Dr Trevor Davies. They were joined by Dr Reginald Lodge (Research Manager at British Nylon Spinners, whose house in Llanfoist was the venue for early choir rehearsals), Leo Harrington (Abergavenny's Librarian, whose enthusiasm knew no bounds, and whose phenomenal musical knowledge was awe-inspiring), Frank Salter (a former RAM student under Sir Henry Wood, and our first conductor), Rae Edwards (who sang a solo cantata in the inaugural meeting and went on to be the Society's principal contralto soloist for some 12 years) and Dorothy Wood (a superb violinist by any standards, who led the orchestra for over 15 years).

Private performances with amateur choir and amateur orchestra soon gave way to public performances. Under the direction of Frank Salter, by 1956 the choir had improved sufficiently to win the Second Choral Competition at the National Eisteddfod, held that year at Aberdare, and it soon made a name for itself for its performances of music by Bach, especially the neglected church cantatas, and other music of the period that it was felt was being overlooked by others. Modem music made an occasional appearance and in a notable concert in 1957 the first performances in Wales were given of the Musikalische Exequien (1636) by Heinrich Schutz, and the Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici (1947) by Edmund Rubbra, who was present at the performance.

Frank Salter moved from Abergavenny in 1961 and until 1963 the choir was directed jointly by Emlyn Watkins and Dr. Lloyd Davies. Dr. Davies then conducted the choir from 1963 until 1998, followed by John Hugh Thomas (1998), and Christopher Barton (1998 - 2001).Roger Langford (2001 - Present day).

Guest conductors were often engaged. In the 1960s these included Dr Paul Steinitz, William Mathias, Mansel Thomas, John Matheson and Emlyn Watkins; in the 1970s Kenneth Malcolmson, Michael Eveleigh and Frank Salter; in the 1980s and later Alun Williams, Denys Darlow, Terence Gilmore-James, Dr. Roy Massey and John Hugh Thomas.

Being the tercentenary of the births of both Handel and Bach, 1985 was a most important year for the Society. As the date of Handel's birth fell conveniently on a Saturday, there was a concert of Handel's music, and a dinner followed a month later on Bach's birthday. After a weekend course directed by Dr. Paul Steinitz, the Society performed what Kenneth Loveland described in the South Wales Argus as 'One for the record book', which was the first complete performance in Wales - in the original German - of Bach's St. Matthew Passion - a feat still unequalled to this day. The first Abergavenny J S Bach Festival was held in July of that year, and further festivals followed in 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993 and 1995. The Society is fortunate in having had as President, four musicians of the utmost distinction, namely Pablo Casals, Paul Tortelier, Dr George Guest, CBE and Dr. Roy Massey.

Over the years, the Society has performed all the Passions of J S Bach, including a reconstruction of the 'lost' St Mark Passion, the Mass in B minor (four times), two of the 'Lutheran' Masses, most. of the motets and other choral works, and most of the orchestral works. The only important works still not performed are a number of the church cantatas. As a vitally important part of Bach's output, they remain a challenge for the future.
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