The Monteverdi Choir, a British ensemble with roots in the early music movement, did much to bring that music alive for general audiences. In recent years the group has broadened its repertoire beyond early music and has become one of the world's most renowned choral ensembles.
The 1950s witnessed a sudden growth of interest in Baroque and earlier music, but to many, this wave of the early music movement tended toward a careful, academic quality in performances, with often dry and ascetic results.
In March 1964 John Eliot Gardiner, then an undergraduate at Cambridge University, formed the Monteverdi Choir for a performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 (the Vespro della beata Vergine) at King's College Chapel at Cambridge. His aim was to bring out the passion and color of Italian music within the solid British choral tradition. The choir made its debut in London with a 1966 appearance in Wigmore Hall.
Since then the Monteverdi Choir has expanded its expertise in both directions from its base in the Baroque era, achieving a large and broad repertory. Often appearing with the English Baroque Soloists (a period-instrument orchestra founded by Gardiner), the choir is famous for rich, committed performances with a strongly vital rhythmic sense and amastery of style of various eras.
It has performed and recorded Renaissance and early Baroque music (by composers such as Schütz, Gabrieli, Gesualdo, Carissimi, Campra, and Leclair), more familiar Baroque music (all of Bach's major choral works, most of Purcell's semi-operas, several Handel oratorios), Classical era masterworks (Mozart's Requiem and Mass in C minor, Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons), Mozart's Thamos, König in Ägypten incidental music, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis), Romantic repertory (Berlioz's Roméo et Juliet, the choral music of Schubert, Verdi's Requiem and Falstaff, Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem, Léhar's The Merry Widow), and the modern era (Britten's Spring Symphony, Kurtág's Songs of Despair, and music of Percy Grainger).
The choir frequently tours. One of its most notable trips, in 1989, marked its 25th anniversary and included a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in St Mark's Basilica in Venice, the acoustic environment Monteverdi had in mind when he composed the work. In 1996 the group participated in the inaugural Lincoln Center Festival in New York, where it joined Gardiner's Orchestre Révolutionare et Romantique in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and Missa Solemnis. It has presented a series of concerts exploring little known chorus-and-orchestra masterworks by Robert Schumann, which it subsequently recorded.
The Monteverdi Choir has recorded for DG Archive, Philips, Erato, Decca (London) and EMI.