Britain’s choral tradition is rooted in its cathedrals’ monastic past, when monks would chant eight holy offices a day, sometimes joined by boy novices and relatives.
This singing of monks and boys together is first recorded in a remarkable historic manuscript, the 11th-century Winchester Troper (a trope was an additional section or line of music).
It shows one part chanting plainsong, while a second part, perhaps originally improvised, sings in harmony. The Troper is the oldest large collection of this kind of music in Europe, and the foundation of all western choral music.
Gradually, music featuring different parts sung simultaneously (polyphony) developed. This kind of delicate, more feminine singing, often was associated with the Blessed Virgin, was sung at her masses in Winchester Cathedral’s Lady Chapel.
As the Renaissance flowered across Europe, sacred choral music of great beauty was written down and sung in countless churches and chapels. It has influenced many great composers and remains hugely popular with choirs today.