Unsung festival on the eve of WW2

The sad story of the festival's cancellation in 1939 still resonates today.

By Dominic Jewel, Chief Executive


Working in an organisation with 300 years of history means that you often encounter key events of the past, but they're not always as poignant as those recalled by materials we've just had added to the archive by today's Hereford Chorus Manager, Dora Parry.

The 1939 festival was to have run from the 3rd to the 8th September - but Poland was invaded on the 1st, British forces were mobilised the same day, and war was formally declared on the 3rd at 11:15 - just a few hours before that afternoon's Opening Service would have started.

Percy Hull, Organist of Hereford Cathedral and Conductor of the Hereford Three Choirs Festival from 1918-1950, autographed this copy of the programme book for the then Chorus Superintendent, Percy Arrowsmith: 'with gratitude for much trial and hard labour, 1939. Alas!' It was 1946 before the festival returned, again in Hereford, for a slightly reduced programme. Much was as had been planned for 1939 - but with one clear change: gone, sadly - though understandably - was the music of Wagner, Schubert, and Beethoven.

Right now at the Three Choirs office we're engaged in planning a return visit for some of our choir boys to Chemnitz, the city with whose opera house we co-commissioned 2014's world premiere by Torsten Rasch commemorating the First and Second World Wars, A Foreign Field. The return visit is a public sign of our mutual friendship, at a time when neo-nazis there demonstrate annually on the anniversary of the destruction of their town by allied bombing.  

It's quite something that the successor of Mr. Arrowsmith should draw our attention to a fresh insight of the tragedy of war just as we plan to join with our friends in Germany in a moment where we affirm our shared belief in peace.


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