Birmingham Bach Choir: The Great Service

Birmingham Bach Choir

Leading choir tackle a rarely performed Elizabethan masterpiece by William Byrd

Plus the Archbishop of Birmingham reads John Donne’s Holy Sonnets

Birmingham Bach Choir and the Archbishop of Birmingham celebrate the work of two Elizabethan greats for The Great Service (24 March 2018, St Chad’s Cathedral, B’ham).

The concert presents composer William Byrd’s The Great Service and the motet Sing Joyfully alongside a selection of Metaphysical Poet John Donne’s enduring (and much quoted) Holy Sonnets.

William Byrd (1539/40-1623) was an Elizabethan trailblazer, taking English music to newfound heights. Believed to have been written around the turn of the 16th/17th century, his ‘Great’ Service earned its nickname due to its monumental scale and ambition. Composed by a (secret) Roman Catholic for a Protestant Queen, in a time of severe religious persecution, a complete performance of The Great Service is a rarity.

Though born a Roman Catholic, John Donne (1572-1631) reluctantly joined the Anglican Church, eventually becoming Royal Chaplain to James I. An accomplished poet now revered, his Holy Sonnets are thought to have been written around 1610, though were not published until after his death. Compelling, personal, passionate, powerful, and with an innovative use of imagery and rhythm, the sonnets examine themes of divine love, doubt, sin, grace, redemption.

Reading John Donne’s sonnets is Archbishop Bernard Longley. One of the UK’s most senior Catholic clergy, he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to be Archbishop of Birmingham in 2009. A musician himself, he studied at The Northern College of Music as a singer and was also a student at New College Oxford before entering the priesthood.

Birmingham Bach Choir Chair Sarah Platt, said: “We’re delighted to present an all too rare performance of one of Byrd’s greatest works – in terms of scope and ambition, it’s right up there with Bach’s B Minor Mass or Wagner’s operas! Donne’s sonnets have also lost none of their power over the centuries, and we’re very honoured to be joined by Archbishop Longley for this very special concert, in one of Birmingham’s most stunning buildings.”

Birmingham Bach Choir’s The Great Service is at St Chad’s Cathedral, Queensway, Birmingham B4 6AU on Saturday 24 March 2018. Tickets are available now via:


Saturday 24 March 2018
Birmingham Bach Choir: The Great Service
St Chad’s Cathedral, Queensway, Birmingham B4 6AU
Tickets: £18 (£16)

Birmingham Bach Choir
Paul Spicer: Conductor
Martyn Rawles: Organist
Readings: Archbishop Bernard Longley
William Byrd: The Great Service; Sing Joyfully
John Donne: The Holy Sonnets


As one of the UK’s leading large chamber choirs Birmingham Bach Choir has been contributing to the musical life of the West Midlands since 1919, making it one of the longest established musical groups in the area. Although the main focus is the Baroque period (especially JS Bach), the choir performs music spanning over 500 years including 20th and 21st century works.

A huge degree of dynamic subtlety… exhilarating… a wonderful evening.”  5-stars – Birmingham Post (reviewing Magnificat at Birmingham Cathedral, March 2015).

“The real deal…” 4-stars – Birmingham Post (reviewing A Shakespearean Concert, June 2016)

“Sounding awesomely impressive.” 4-stars – Birmingham Post (reviewing Great Russian Sacred Music, November 2016)

“Singing of passion, grace…” 4-stars – Birmingham Post (reviewing St Mark Passion, March 2017)

“This was a reading luminous in its clarity, exhilaratingly detailed in the fine-etched shaping and balancing of its contrapuntal lines, and delivering diction of unaffected immediacy.” 4-stars – Birmingham Post (reviewing Bach’s B Minor Mass, December 2017)

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