The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford

The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford

Choir

• Founded 1480

Biography

The Magdalen College Choir, Oxford, is one of the oldest and most impressive choirs in the British collegiate tradition. Consisting of men and boys, it has a classic, pure sound characteristic of English college choirs.

Magdalen College, Oxford, was founded in 1458, and its statutes provided for a choir of eight "singing-men," four chaplains, and 16 choristers. Later, four more singing-men and two organ scholars, who also serve a directorial role, were added; that has been the only change in the choir's makeup since 1458. The 12 singing-men are now called academical clerks, and they are students at Magdalen College. The 16 boy choristers, between the ages of seven and 13, attend Magdalen School with all expenses paid; the school was founded to educate the choristers, but it is now open to other tuition-paying students (it is a public school in British terminology, a private school in American). The choir mixes a heavy schedule of college chapel duties, including rehearsals immediately before and immediately after classes for the boy choristers, with extra-collegiate performances and, increasingly often, recordings. The choir sings at Choral Evensong six days a week, with the boys receiving Friday night off and the men Tuesday night. Sunday services call for a Eucharist performance as well as Evensong, with a rehearsal before each. Saturday services are sung by the College's Consort of Voices, a mixed-gender adult choir of which some of the academical clerks are members. The ranks of the choir's music masters and organists include major figures in the history of English music, among them are John Sheppard (director from about 1543 to 1552) and John Stainer (organ scholar from 1860 to 1872). The current "Informator Choristarum" is Mark Williams.

The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, has toured several European countries, Japan, and the U.S., and earned a U.S. Grammy award in 2005 for With a Merrie Noyse, a collection of sacred music by Orlando Gibbons. It has also recorded Paul McCartney's Ecce cor meum. The choir's growing discography includes releases on the Harmonia Mundi and Opus Arte labels, among others. In 2019, it recorded The Pillar of the Cloud: Five Centuries of Oxford Anthems on Opus Arte.

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