Musical Oxford

Oxford Music has always been considered rather stuffy and academic compared with the more experimental approach at Cambridge.

Handel spent a week in Oxford in 1733, and his visit is now commemorated by an annual festival. The less than enthusiastic description of Handel's presence belongs to the antiquarian Thomas Hearne, who was renowned for his jaundiced views of his contemporaries. It is possible that Handel refused the proffered doctorate because he did not want to be associated with the examination regulations involved.

In July 1791, however, Haydn visited Oxford to receive an honorary Doctorate of Music for which he submitted the following exercise:

(This canon can be turned upside down and sung backwards. If you and two brave friends care to try it out, it may help to know that the clefs are Soprano C clefs – so the first note is E'' and upside down the first note is G'.)

Three grand concerts, in one of which Haydn directed his 'Oxford' Symphony from the organ, formed part of the celebrations on this occasion. At the third concert he appeared in his doctor's gown, to the delight of the audience.

The choir schools, which all now have quite independent international reputations, enjoy a friendly rivalry. In 1986 they combined for the first time for a concert in memory of Professor Denis Arnold. Magdalen choir has the annual task of singing traditional May Day carols from the top of the college tower at 6am every May 1st. Once a peaceful occasion, this has become the trigger for festivities all ovre the city from about 6.15am onwards.

The timeless and unmistakably British humour of Michael Flanders was combined with Donald Swann's melodic gift in the At the Drop of a Hat shows which became popular in the fifties and sixties. Flanders' introductory rambles were as important to these as the songs themselves, among which are The Gas Man Cometh, The Hippopotamus Song and Have some Madeira m’dear.


Man playing scales on a double bass.
go back to the index of Potter Pouri...