A brief history of the Club from 1899 to 2016

The Club was founded in 1899 by graduates of the two Universities who had been involved in music making there and wished to continue the same sort of activities in London. The prime movers were Dr Horace M Abel (Oxford) and Dr W B Knobel (Cambridge). They and thirteen others attended the first committee meeting in April 1899 which established the Club. There were already at that stage eighty-five founder members and twelve honorary members.

The first concert was held in March 1900 in the Club's premises at 47 Leicester Square. During its first decade the Club had about 300 members, all but a few being graduates of one of the two Universities. The annual membership fee was 3 guineas, with a lower rate for 'country members'. There were regular concerts, held generally about twice a month, which took place in different rooms in the house. There were also practice rooms for informal music. Some concerts were 'of an informal nature' (presumably unrehearsed).

In 1914 the Club moved to new premises at 6 Bedford Square, where there were better facilities including six grand pianos in concert rooms and rehearsal rooms, a large music library, a 'good stock of newspapers and periodicals' and several bedrooms for residents and visitors. It had a resident housekeeper and was fully licensed. Breakfasts were served and light refreshments were available from 9am to midnight.

The programmes included much chamber music, augmented by solo piano and other instrumental music and vocal items. Later, orchestral works began to be performed. The performers were exclusively male until 1938. Ladies could be invited into the Drawing Room only between 4pm and 7pm on weekdays, although there were Ladies' Nights concerts about twice a year, requiring formal evening dress. The first lady to perform at the Club was a flautist who played in 1938.

In 1939 there was a financial and institutional crisis at the Club. The fortnightly meetings were suspended, with only a few Sunday concerts taking place. In 1940 the Club relinquished its lease on the premises in Bedford Square, and the residential Club no longer existed. In 1948 there was a move to re-establish it as a non-residential organisation, putting on concerts at various venues. The membership now included ladies, and by 1964 there was no insistence on members being graduates of Oxford or Cambridge. The mix of musical genres was much as before, including chamber music, piano solos, instrumental pieces and songs. A studio in Westbourne Grove was used for some months, and then for about five years the Mary Ward Settlement was the venue for most of the concerts. From 1959 onwards the Housman Room at University College London, alternating with the Haldane Room, became the most frequent venue for concerts.

The programmes became more ambitious, with orchestral works being performed alongside the traditional chamber music format. From 1956 onwards there were annual concert performances of opera, beginning with Mozart and extending to a wider and more ambitious repertoire, including Bizet, Gounod, Dvoƙak, Richard Strauss, Offenbach and Britten. In 1953 the practice was begun of having 'Club items' included in concerts in which all those present were invited to perform a work at sight.

The Club has continued to give about 20-25 concerts per year. Each concert is numbered, beginning in 1900 with Concert No 1 and reaching Concert No 2160 in June 2016.

The Club often celebrates anniversaries, both its own and those of composers. A special series of programmes was put on for the Club's 75th anniversary in 1974, including performances of An Oxford Elegy by Vaughan Williams and Arne's Thomas and Sally.

For the 100th anniversary year in 1999 there was a public concert in St John's Smith Square, including Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music, Schönberg's Verklärte Nacht, and an excerpt from Schubert's opera Des Teufels Lustschloss. Concerts were also put on in that year to recreate the programmes from Concert No 1, Concert No 500, Concert No 1000 and Concert No 1500. In 2009 the 2000th concert included orchestral and choral music by Brahms, Gibbons, Purcell, Walton and a Club composer, Tony Summers.

The connection with the two Universities continued for many years with the annual 'Gala Concert' which included by invitation members of the two University student clubs. There were also visits to the two Universities when OCMC members took part in concerts there. In recent years these connections have proved too difficult to maintain and now the only organisation to take part in joint concerts is the University College Chamber Music Club.

A new departure took place in 1995 when the President, Sir Neville Marriner, conducted a master class for the strings of the Club. A tradition developed in which he conducted an occasional 'Orchestral Workshop', performing a symphony with Club members joining forces with members of Pro Corda and other guests.

In recent years other popular developments have included the Concerto Workshop, in which several Club members perform concertos with the orchestra playing at sight, and occasional two-piano concerts. There is also the Opera Workshop, in which groups of singers perform excerpts from opera with piano accompaniment. A 'Nothing Too Serious' concert, featuring humorous or lighter music, takes place annually in December and is usually well attended.

In place of the stability provided by the residential Club there is a new stability provided by the number of Club members (varying between 200 and 300) and the willingness of members to participate in musical performance on a regular basis. The Club is managed by a committee, as in the early days, and Annual General Meetings are held, with a short concert to follow.

Highlights of the Club's history

Club composers

Although the Club exists primarily for performance, a number of distinguished British composers were members in the first half of the twentieth century. Sir Hubert Parry, George Dyson and Sir Edward Elgar were all Honorary Members. Composers who also performed include Henry Walford Davies, Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth, Ernest Moeran and Patrick Hadley.

In more recent times the most celebrated Club composer was Sir Lennox Berkeley, also President for many years until his death in 1989. His works were, and still are, regularly performed at the Club. Other recent Club composers whose works are still performed include Mervyn Horder, Ronald Chamberlain, Hugh Wood and Tony Noakes.

A small number of current members are active composers and a Club Composers concert has been a regular feature for many years. Some members have also turned their hands to composition for a particular occasion. 1999 saw both the Club centenary and the centenary of Elgar's Enigma Variations, which was marked by a number of Club composers writing new 'Enigma' variations for various chamber ensembles. In 2009 the 2000th Club concert was celebrated with an orchestral work by Tony Summers which included themes from chamber works performed at the very first concert in March 1900.

In 1999 the Club marked its centenary with, amongst other events, a chamber music competition with a prize awarded for a new work. This was won by the (now well established) composer Tansy Davies for her composition Ocean, a septet for strings, wind and piano.

Presidents of the Club

Joseph Joachim (1899-1907)
Arthur (Lord) Balfour (1907-1930)
Sir William Henry Hadow (1930-1937)
Edward Dent (1937-1957)
Sir Lennox Berkeley (1970-1989)
Sir Neville Marriner (1989-2015)
Sir Richard Armstrong (2015-)

Distinguished former members and honorary members

Sir Donald Francis Tovey
Sir Walford Davies
Rev Edmund Fellowes
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Dr Heathcote Statham
Sir Percy Buck
Sir Walter Parratt
Sir Edward Elgar
William Walton
George Butterworth
E J Moeran
Sir Frederick Bridge
Sir Hubert Parry
E M Forster
Sir Compton Mackenzie
Percy Scholes
Lytton Strachey

For further information, see:

Graham Thorne (Ed.) (1979). The Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club: An 80th Anniversary History. Bocardo & Church Army Press Ltd., Oxford.

Alan Reddish (1999). Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club 1899-1999: Centenary Programme. Private publication.

Ian Maxwell (2011). The Oxford and Cambridge University Chamber Music Clubs 1884-1940. British Music, Vol 33.