What a wonderful find!

Clevedon Choral has discovered the world-famous soprano Isobel Baillie sang with them for a performance of Haydn’s ‘The Creation’ at the peak of her career.  The recently-found 60-year-old old programme, which is signed by Baillie, lists her as the guest soloist for the Clevedon Choral Society concert held at Christ Church on Wednesday April 27.  The year isn’t listed but it is believed to be 1960 as it’s part of a collection of vintage concert programmes, dated from 1958-1961, found when current choir members Ruth and Nicholas Maddock cleared out their garage. 

The 1959 programme was for a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – and this masterpiece is still a firm favourite with Clevedon Choral and will be performed at their Christmas concert on Saturday December 10th at 7.30 p.m. at St John’s Church in the town.  Tickets are £12.00, and will be available on the door, or from https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/handels-messiah-at-christmas-tickets-464636649727

Isobel was born 1895 in Scotland and died in 1983 in Manchester where she spent most of her life. Isobel worked in a music shop and as a clerk at Manchester Town Hall, and made her orchestral debut with the Hallé Orchestra in 1921 under the name Bella Baillie, having already appeared in several Manchester chamber concerts series. After studies in Milan, Isobel won immediate success in her opening season in London in 1923.

Her favourite work was Handel’s Messiah, of which she gave more than 1,000 performances during her career. She was often in demand for choral works; apart from Messiah, she was noted in Haydn’s The Creation, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Brahms’s A German Requiem. In 1933 she became the first British performer to sing in the Hollywood Bowl in California. In 1937 Arturo Toscanini chose her to sing Brahms’ Requiem.

Isobel’s performances in Gluck’s Orpheus (always in English) and Gounod’s Faust were very popular. However, her strength was in British music, including Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music (of which she was one of the original singers) and Elgar’s The Kingdom. With the exception of 1933, she sang at the Three Choirs Festival every year from 1929 to 1955. Isobel sang ‘Messiah’ for the Halle Orchestra annually for twenty-six consecutive seasons and for the Royal Choral Society at the Royal Albert Hall on thirty-three occasions. In all she sang this work for over fifty years.

She taught at the Royal College of Music (1955–57, 1961–64), Cornell University (1960–61) and the Manchester School of Music (from 1960). She sang with Kathleen Ferrier on the occasion of Ferrier’s first complete performance of ‘Messiah’. They often sang together in that work and others subsequently.

Isobel made her first test recording for HMV in 1924, but nothing came of this. However, she made her first commercially released recordings for Columbia in 1925 and her last, at the age of 79, in 1974.

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1951, and was promoted in 1978 to Dame Commander (DBE). She died in Manchester in 1983, aged 88.

Calum A. Macdonald, a baritone singer from Glasgow, UK is a surviving relative.

In this wonderful find, there was also a historic programme of a performance of Faure’s ‘Requiem’ in 1958, featuring soprano Cynthia Glover and baritone Norman Tattersall, both very highly regarded nationally.  The other later programme, from 1961, is for ‘The St John Passion’ by Bach, which again featured Norman Tattersall, and Eric Greene, described as “one of England’s foremost oratorio tenors”.  So Clevedon Choral clearly liked to book the best!

Ruth said:

“It is an amazing discovery to find out Isobel Baillie sang soprano with us. The programmes were given to us by a friend who has sadly passed on.  She wasn’t local but may well have had some connection to the musical director of the time or knew one of our members.  It would be great to find out – there’s a little bit of a mystery there too.”

“The exciting link with one of Britain’s best-known sopranos is remarkable,” said Clevedon Choral’s music director Matthew Clark. He continued:

“It’s really an amazing link that someone of her fame was our guest soloist. She had a truly remarkable voice.”

The top line-up for an oratorio in the 1950s would include Isobel, Kathleen Ferrier and Heddle Nash.  Her voice is extremely distinctive, and she featured on recordings of ‘The Messiah’ conducted by the leading choral conductor of the day, Sir Malcolm Sargent, which Ruth’s husband Nicholas remembers playing as a youngster. 

Nicholas added:

“She really was the top soloist of her age.”

It’s a lovely find and I was so pleased to be asked to share such an uplifting story.


Clevedon Choral are a small group of around forty singers who meet every Monday between 7.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. currently in the Kenn Road Methodist Church. They sing for their own fun and enjoyment and are always delighted to welcome new members, whether you are an experienced choral singer or just like to sing. Their weekly rehearsals are led by Matthew Clark, their Musical Director and accompanied on the piano, when they learn the pieces that form the repertoire for their Christmas and Spring Concerts. They have two terms – September to December, and January to April/May.

Some ability to read music is beneficial, although they do have some members who manage without. Members are expected to practise between rehearsals, and ‘teachtracks’ and recordings of the music can usually be found online. Matthew also teaches singing technique and vocal exercises during rehearsal warm-ups to improve the overall sound of the choir.

The group are a four-part mixed choir with sopranos, altos, tenors (both male and female) and basses but don’t worry if you aren’t sure what your vocal range is – it will become quite apparent in rehearsals, or you can speak to the Musical Director. They sing traditional and contemporary choral music, accompanied and unaccompanied and usually engage professional soloists for our concerts.

Members pay a fee of around £75 per term, which covers the costs of venue hire, music hire or printing, and paying for the Musical Director and Accompanist.

You can find the link to Clevedon Choral’s website here:

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