• Founded 1964
Often appears with
Britain's Monteverdi Choir had roots in the early development of the historical-performance movement in Britain, but has broadened its repertory and become recognized as one of the world's premier choral groups. The choir has continued to emphasize Baroque music, however, mounting and recording an epochal Bach Cantata Pilgrimage that has made up a large proportion of its catalog after the year 2000.
The Monteverdi Choir is a group of unusually long standing within the early music movement. It was founded in 1964 by John Eliot Gardiner, who at the time was a Cambridge University undergraduate. He brought the choir together for a performance of Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 at Cambridge, hoping to infuse the score with something of its original warmth and to avoid the rather academic performances that were the norm in British early music circles at the time. The choir was immediately successful and continued to use the name Monteverdi Choir even though that composer constituted only a small part of its repertory. The Monteverdi Choir made its London debut under Gardiner in 1966, at Wigmore Hall, and it remained integral to Gardiner's work as he founded new instrumental ensembles: the English Baroque Soloists and later the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, which applied historical-performance principles to music after the Baroque period. The choir soon became known beyond Britain and began to tour with Gardiner, reprising the Monteverdi Vespers in 1989 at St. Mark's in Venice, replicating the original performance environment of the work. The choir traveled to New York in 1996 for the inaugural Lincoln Center Festival, where it performed Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, and Missa Solemnis, Op. 123, with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. The choir explored 19th century music with that group, notably the mostly neglected choral music of Schumann.
In the 1990s, the Monteverdi Choir recorded both of Haydn's oratorios. But its main focus was Bach, who makes up a substantial proportion of the group's dozens of recordings on the Philips label and later on Gardiner's own label SDG, referring to the small "Soli Deo Gloria" (Only to God's Glory) image Bach affixed to many of his compositions. In 2000, Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir undertook a Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, a monumental undertaking in which almost all of Bach's cantatas were performed over the course of the year, in some churches associated with Bach's career. Most of the cantatas were recorded, and have been released over the 2000s and 2010s in sumptuously illustrated editions featuring Gardiner's reflections on the meanings of the individual works. The Monteverdi Choir has also performed and recorded music of many other composers, including Schütz, Handel, Mozart, and Schubert, and a 50th anniversary concert at Cambridge in 2014 repeated the choir's original Monteverdi program there. The choir began as an unusually progressive ensemble, but by that time its sound was somewhat conservative; Gardiner has avoided the very small choral groupings that characterize many modern Baroque performances. The Monteverdi Choir has remained extremely popular, however, especially in Britain.
Notable recordings of the 2010s have included one of Bach's Mass in B minor, BWV 232 (2015), Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 52 ("Lobgesang"), with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gardiner, and Love is Come Again (2019), featuring music for an Easter play mounted at Gardiner's family home. That was a recording of a type the Monteverdi Choir had rarely essayed before, and it spoke to the venerable choir's continuing vitality.