'The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity' was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII. He amalgamated two ancient foundations which stood on the site of the present Great Court: The King's Hall, established by Edward II in 1317 and incorporated by Edward III in 1337; and Michaelhouse, founded in 1324 by Hervey de Stanton, Chief Justice and Chancellor of the Exchequer to Edward II. To the revenue of these medieval colleges, Henry added other endowments, including some from the property of the dissolved monasteries.
Trinity's choral associations reach back to this early fourteenth-century period. Chapel Royal choristers, on leaving the Court, customarily entered The King's Hall (Chaucer's 'Solar Hall' in The Canterbury Tales) to continue their academic studies alongside other undergraduates training for service in the royal administration. A considerable proportion of the pensioners and scholars the 'King's Childer' admitted to The King's Hall from the date of its foundation until the end of Henry V's reign were ex-choristers.
The constitution of the medieval chapel choir remains obscure, but the choral foundation Mary Tudor established for Trinity in 1553 ten choristers, six lay clerks, four clerks, four priests, an organist and a schoolmaster survived essentially unchanged for well over three hundred years. Among the musicians associated with the choir during this time were the Tudor composers Thomas Preston, Robert White, a cantor during the 1550s, and John Hilton, organist and Master of the Choristers from 1594 to 1609. The theorist Thomas Mace was appointed a 'singing-man' in 1635 during the time that Robert Ramsey was in charge of the choir. George Loosemore became organist at the Restoration. Later choirmasters included James Kent and John Randall during the eighteenth century and Thomas Attwood Walmisley during the nineteenth.
At the turn of the present century, shortly after Ralph Vaughan Williams had graduated at Trinity and Alan Gray had succeeded Stanford as organist, the College choir school closed down. Thereafter, a choir of boy trebles (drawn from a local grammar school) and lay clerks (some of whom shared their duties with the choirs of King's and St John's Colleges) continued the regular pattern of choral services until the 1950's. This traditionally-constituted body was then replaced by a choir of undergraduate tenors and basses when Raymond Leppard became Director of Music.
Trinity's mixed choir, comprising up to thirty choral scholars (who study a wide range of academic subjects) was formed by the present Organist and Director of Music, Richard Marlow, in 1982, a few years after the admission of women undergraduates to the College. The choristers' duties include singing four weekly services in Chapel during term-time and chanting Grace from the Minstrels' Gallery in Hall at College Feasts. At noon on the final Sunday of each academic year there is an outdoor concert of music for voices and brass performed antiphonally from the three gateway towers of the Great Court; later, at twilight, from punts moored at Trinity Backs, the choir sings the traditional River Concert that inaugurates May Week at Cambridge.
Since it was established in 1982, the mixed choir has produced more than three dozen commercial recordings, enthusiastically received by critics and public alike. Annual radio transmissions for the BBC include Choral Evensong and special seasonal sequences such as the College's Epiphany Carol Service broadcast every January. BBC television has also recorded the choir, including a presentation of the Advent Carol Service.
In addition to giving regular concerts in London and Cambridge, the Choir sings recitals and services during some summer vacations in various parish churches mostly in the north of England of which the College is patron. Three or more foreign tours take place each year. These have included visits to several European countries as well as to Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Namibia, South Africa, Taiwan, Zimbabwe and the USA.
Rachel Ambrose Evans
Julia St Clair