A short history of  the Cambridge Music Circle?

In August 1946, a series of advertisements appeared in the local paper – the Cambridge Daily News – asking people interested in classical music to contact one Michael Smith, then serving in the RAF.

There was sufficient response for a meeting to be arranged at Overstream House, Victoria Avenue (now Winter Comfort). About 20 people attended and a committee was formed. The name Cambridge Music Circle was chosen and an annual subscription of 15/- (75p) was suggested. This was soon reduced to 10/- (50p), although of course there have been increases since!

The first recital was held at Overstream House using a wind-up gramophone playing 78rpm records, and the evening began with Rossini’s overture The Thieving Magpie.

In its first 16 years the Circle moved a number of times, often to cheaper accommodation. Meetings were held at the YMCA in Hills Road, the Technical College (now Anglia Ruskin University), the Copper Kettle in King’s Parade and (the best of all) the Library at the Wesley Church on Christ’s Pieces, among others.

In 1962 the Adult Tutor at Chesterton Comprehensive School, who was in charge of evening classes, invited the Circle to meet there and form a core audience for music recitals he was arranging. The Music Circle has met ever since at what is now called the Chesterton Community College.

Right from the beginning the committee invited speakers such as John Culshaw from Decca, John Lade and Basil Maine from the BBC, and J B Trend, Professor of Spanish at the University. A film Instruments of the Orchestra was hired from the Ministry of Information, and there were piano recitals by Sheila Woodman, who was to make her debut at Wigmore Hall in 1948. In 1950 there was a demonstration of the new LP records by Murdochs, a local dealer.

A regular speaker was Charles Cudworth, who became Curator of the Pendlebury Library at the Music Faculty in 1958. His speciality was eighteenth century music, and he wrote sleeve notes, revues, books and articles, as well as being a regular broadcaster.

The recitals arranged by Mr. Seal, the Adult Tutor at Chesterton, often featured music students from the University recommended by Charles Cudworth. Many of these went on to become world famous musicians, including Christopher Hogwood (the conductor, musicologist and keyboard player), Andrew Davis (the conductor) and the late David Munrow (the early music performer and historian). The Circle still arranges four live recitals each year.

In the early days the equipment was a constant problem, as much of it was secondhand. Over the years the Circle has progressed from 78s, through LPs (mono and stereo) and cassettes, to CDs.

Membership in the early days was between 60 and 80, when few people had records and relied on the radio and infrequent concerts. Numbers declined with the advent of LPs and then CDs for home listening, but the Cambridge Music Circle continued to offer the opportunity to hear both new and familiar works by a wide variety of composers and performers until 2011.

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