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Chapel & Choir

The College Chapel

The College Chapel dates back to the end of the thirteenth century and stands at the heart of our ancient College as a witness to Christian worship over almost 750 years. Today the Chapel is home to a lively and diverse Christian community which continues this faithful offering of worship with daily services during term time. Visitors are welcome to join members of the College at all our services.  Each year a number of Mertonians get married here, and the Chapel is also a popular venue for concerts and plays.  To find out more, contact the Chaplain, Simon Jones.

Information about booking the Chapel for concerts and recordings is available to download. For any further enquiries, please contact the Chapel Administrator.

The Chapel Bells

The Chapel bells were cast by Christopher Hodson in 1680. They are the oldest complete ring of eight by one founder in existence. The tenor weighs 24 hundredweight and is tuned to E♭. One or two bells are tolled before every service in the Chapel. All eight are rung on a number of special occasions in the year, including Remembrance Sunday (half-muffled), Shrove Tuesday (when the College commemorates the Founder, Walter de Merton), HM The Queen's Official Birthday, and at weddings. They are normally rung by the Oxford Society of Change Ringers.

The Choir of Merton College

The Choir of Merton College is one of Oxford’s leading mixed-voice choirs and sings the services, during term-time, in the thirteenth century chapel. The choir consists of thirty undergraduates and post-graduates, many of whom hold choral scholarships at Merton College. Tours have included France (2009, 2010, 2011, 2016, and 2017), the USA (2011, 2014, and 2016), Sweden (2013), and Italy (2017). Recent performances have included Duruflé’s Requiem in Gloucester Cathedral, as part of the Cheltenham Music Festival, Tallis's Spem in alium in the Beaujolais Festival, Mozart's Requiem in St Germain-des-Prés, Paris, Orff’'s Carmina Burana in the St Jude's Proms, the première of David Briggs's Messe Solennelle in St Paul’s Cathedral. Regular appearances in London include concerts at Cadogan Hall, St John’s Smith Square, and The Temple Church.

The choir plays a leading role in the annual Passiontide at Merton festival, including performances of Bach's Mass in B minor, St John and St Matthew Passions, Handel's Messiah, MacMillan's Seven Last Words, and Arvo Pärt's Passio. In the 2014 festival the choir gave the premiere of Gabriel Jackson’s The Passion of our Lord.

The choir's debut CD In the beginning featured music by Gombert, Weelkes, Holst, Copland and Jackson and was named 'Gramophone Choice' in the December 2011 edition of Gramophone; the choir’s most recent recording Viri Galilaei was named as a Critic’s Choice of 2016 by Gramophone. Recordings shortly to be released include a disc of Christmas music with the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, and the choral music of Richard Allain. Merton College Choir regularly broadcasts live on BBC Radio 3. Particular highlights have included a broadcast of Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia as part of the composer’s centenary celebrations in 2013, and two broadcasts in 2017, the second of which was Choral Evensong from St Peter’s Basilica, Rome. The choir was filmed for the BBC series Music & the Monarchy.

In the last few years Merton College Choir has given first performances of new choral works by Judith Weir, John Tavener, James MacMillan, Jonathan Dove, Ēriks Ešenvalds and Cecilia McDowall, and in November 2014 gave the première of a new motet by Sir Harrison Birtwistle.  The choir spent 2014 in a ‘new music’ partnership with Choir & Organ magazine, and enjoys a relationship with Faber & Faber as ‘choir in association’.

Press

  • "this choir is a 2008 creation, yet has quickly gained distinction" Sunday Times, December 2013
  • "the superb performances are characterised by a phenomenal sense of control and restraint, with every note carefully crafted and bathed in the radiant acoustic of the college chapel" Church Music Quarterly, March 2014
  • "exquisitely sung" Sunday Times, December 2012
  • "one of the UK's finest choral ensembles" Gramophone, December 2011
  • "outstanding" Guardian, October 2011

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