St Albans, England and Worms, Germany, twinned 1957

Worms lies on the Rhine, an hour south of Frankfurt, and is one of the oldest cities in Germany. With a population now of some 80,000, it has a Celtic and Roman heritage, but takes special pride in its medieval history, having been the location for much of the anonymous saga of the Nibelungenlied; and a statue of the legendary Hagen stands on the banks of the Rhine, holding the treasure high above his head before he hurls it into the river. Worms was also the location of the famous Diet (assembly) of 1521 where Martin Luther defended his doctrines, and has a great number of historical sites: a fine cathedral, numerous churches, some surviving city walls, a rebuilt Synagogue with an original mikvah (ritual bath), a restored Jewish Quarter, and the world’s largest Reformation memorial (Lutherdenkmal), to name only a few.
The twinning link was forged in the post-war spirit of reconciliation by Hertfordshire Education chief John H Newsom, and signed by the then Mayor of St Albans, the Fifth Earl Verulam in 1957. Celebrations for the Golden Jubilee of the twining in 2007 included reciprocal visits by civic delegations, and a Kaiserlinden tree was planted in Clarence Park, St Albans, to mark the continuing and growing links between the two cities. There is a wide range of connections made over the last half century; the oldest and most active link is the friendship between the St Albans Chamber Choir and the Wormser Kantorei, which started in 1969.
For more information on Worms: www.worms.de/englisch/tourismus/index.php
If you are interested in becoming involved in twinning activities, please contact the St Albans – Worms Partnership – E-mail: michael.waddilove@ntlworld.com

St Albans Chamber Choir and the Wormser Kantorei have been making music together since 1969. The following articles were originally written for the 40th anniversary of this friendship in 2009, and have been subsequently updated.

A forty-year choral partnership: the Wormser Kantorei and the St Albans Chamber Choir 1969 – 2009
These two choirs, founded within three years of each other – the Wormser Kantorei (WK) in 1955 and the St Albans Chamber Choir (SACC) in 1958 – celebrated the 40th anniversary of their friendship and joint music making in 2009. SACC visited Worms for the first time in 1969 with their then conductor Richard Stangroom to perform in two concerts, with the Worms Chamber Orchestra in the Worms Museum and with a male-voice choir in Osthofen (a village just outside Worms). SACC was keen to establish a link with a mixed choir in Worms (which was twinned with St Albans in 1957) and this resulted in an informal get-together with the Kantorei and their conductor Tobias Ihle in Schloss Worms-Herrnsheim. The two choirs met for a joint singing session, and after this ‘getting to know you’ session in the afternoon, the ‘engagement’ followed that evening aboard a boat on the Rhine during the fireworks celebrating the Backfischfest (the annual local festival). The ‘wedding’ took place two years later in St Albans in 1971, when the two choirs met for their first joint concert in St Albans Abbey.
From the beginning, both choirs decided to engage in joint concerts so they could perform larger-scale works. Whilst motets for double choirs were performed in 1973 and 1975, the first truly combined concert was given in Worms Cathedral in 1977, when SACC and WK sang Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 together as one choir. Two years later, J. S. Bach’s St John Passion was performed in St Martin-in-the-Fields in central London. In the years to follow, many oratorios featured in the choirs’ joint programmes, from Bach’s B Minor Mass to other masters of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern periods.
Among these many memorable events, the most unforgettable was the joint concert in 1985, when Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, composed to celebrate the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral, was performed in the Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Trinity Church) in Worms - Coventry and its Cathedral were destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1940, as Worms and the Dreifaltigkeitskirche were by the Royal Air Force in 1945. Forty years after the end of the War, English and German singers joined students of the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie for an unforgettable week of bonding through music, demonstrating that it is not violence and war but only mutual understanding that promotes the well-being of mankind. As at the premiere in Coventry, the Worms performance was led by the two conductors, a display of friendship on not just an artistic but also on a personal level.
Almost equally significant were the concerts of 1991 and 1993. Sir Michael Tippett, possibly the most thoughtful English composer of the 20th century, wrote A Child of our Time as early as 1939 -1941, during the War itself. Tippett’s oratorio reflects on the incident of 1938 which precipitated in Germany the events known as Kristallnacht: on 7 November a young Polish Jew shot the German Embassy Secretary in Paris in protest against the inhumane treatment of Polish Jews in Germany. The reaction of the Nazis was terrible: synagogues burned, shops and homes of Jewish citizens destroyed. This marked the beginning of the terrorising of the Jews, of which the horrible end was the Holocaust. Tippett’s oratorio does not only reflect these historic events in music, but goes further: A Child of our Time becomes a metaphor for the passion and suffering of oppressed humanity wherever in the world division, discrimination, persecution, rape and murder are to be found. When Tippett’s work was performed in St Albans in 1991, it reflected unhappy reality: the Gulf War had just ended. In the joint concert of 1993 we were privileged to perform this stirring statement of belief again in Worms with our English friends – cross-border co-operation and reconciliation reflecting the last movement of the oratorio “The living waters renew the earth – it is Spring.”
The 30th Anniversary of the Town Twinning in 1995 was celebrated in St Albans Abbey with Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. Following their joint rehearsals, the two choirs – some 120 singers – demonstrated the difference between the gentlest pianissimos and the loudest fortissimos in their fitting performance of this multifaceted and colourful oratorio of the German Romantic period. In their separate rehearsals, the conductors Richard Stangroom and Tobias Ihle laid the groundwork so that the two choirs – as on former occasions – could quickly come together as a single unit. This was the last joint concert for Richard Stangroom, who was retiring; his conducting made this a memorable experience for singers and listeners alike. Tobias Ihle led the Kantorei until the Millennium, when a few members of SACC made a special trip to join WK for a valedictory performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana.
Two works, two choirs, two new conductors – but one melodious unity. In the 32nd year of the partnership (2001), two contrasting works were performed. SACC’s David Hansell conductedwith great expression Fauré’s Requiem, that enraptured vision of heavenly peace. In contrast, Rutter’s Magnificatis full of action, changing from phrase to phrase, and combines a variety of instrumental and rhythmical effects with relatively traditional melody and harmony; WK’s Stefan Merkelbach conveyed these with verve and visible joy. Although these works are so different, they also have a lot in common: they both seek to unite the spirit of the liturgy, the legacy of Gregorian chant and earlier compositional techniques with new and contemporary stylistic effects. The combined choir of the WK and the SACC demonstrated an admirable variety of sound and expression.
Two Classical concerts followed, Mozart’s Requiem in St Albans in 2003, and Haydn’s Die Schöpfung (The Creation) in Worms in 2005. The journalist Philip Schäfer wrote in the Worms local paper on 4 April 2005: “The highest respect is also due to the singers of this evening’s concert, who under Stefan Merkelbach surpassed themselves. The German–English cooperation produced a single unity, and SACC, outstandingly well-rehearsed by David Hansell, blended completely with their partner choir. The men and women of the choir followed precisely the expressed wishes of the maestros, and it was most rewarding to hear the choir devoting so much concentration and dedication to this 'heavenly music' – and to see it!” In 2007 David Hansell celebrated his retirement as SACC's conductor with a performance by the two choirs of the ever-popular Handel's Messiah in St Albans Abbey .
On 18 April 2009 the 40th anniversary of the choirs’ partnership was celebrated with a varied programme at a subscription concert in the Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Trinity Church) in Worms. As a reflection of the partnership, Stefan Merkelbach and John Gibbons, SACC’s new conductor, chose the programme together: music from German and English composers to be performed by the joint choirs and conducted alternately by the two musical directors. The German choice was four sections from Franz Schubert’s Incidental Music for Rosamundeand Johannes Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltze. The English choir opted for Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Towardthe Unknown Region, which was the composer’s musical breakthrough when premièred in Leeds in 1907 before an unremittingly enthusiastic audience, and George Dyson's song of praise to London, In Honour of the City.
Vaughan Williams is recognised as among the most important English composers of the 20th Century, and in 2011 SACC welcomed WK to St Albans to perform together Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony, the composer's first and highly original choral symphony. This was paired with Schicksalslied by Brahms, and the choirs were accompanied for the first time by St Albans Symphony Orchestra.
May the motto of the Town Twinning between Worms and St Albans apply equally to the partnership of the Wormser Kantorei and the St Albans Chamber Choir: Ad multos annos - may it continue to flourish for many years to come!


Excerpts from the Festschrift 1955 – 2005: 50 years of Wormser Kantorei.
Texts mostly by Tobias Ihle, collated by Hubert Listmann. (Translated by Dorothee Nauth)

Forty years of singing together: the choir partnership between St Albans Chamber Choir and the Wormser Kantorei, 1969 – 2009
This account of the first forty years of the partnership of St Albans Chamber Choir and the Wormser Kantorei highlights the social side of this relationship, which has grown to be so important for both choirs.
The link itself and the character it has developed are very much due to the warm personal friendship which grew between Prof. Tobias Ihle and Richard Stangroom, the conductors at the time of the first meetings. For nearly thirty years they not only led the two choirs through a series of very successful concerts but also brought a great spirit of fun and personal connection to the exchanges, which was mirrored in the many close friendships that grew up between individual choir members and their hosts on both sides. Whole families became involved, with children being welcomed as well as their singing parents, and many of these friendships continue to flourish – several singers who have left the choir have returned to travel to Worms or to offer hospitality for years afterwards. Even romances between singers in the two choirs have not been unknown, with the Chamber Choir gaining a member when Dorothee left Worms for a new life in St Albans with Michael.
All the meetings have involved much more than just rehearsals and concerts. From the first trip on a boat on the Rhine, numerous social events have been enjoyed by all concerned. Everybody in the Chamber Choir looks forward to the wonderful buffet supper the Kantorei provide for the first evening of each visit, and we hope they have enjoyed the various entertainments we have organised for them in return. Not that they are allowed to relax too much on these occasions: they have included an Old Time Music Hall and various different kinds of dancing – Scottish, Barn and Minuet among them - for all to join in. There have been many memorable moments over the years: the reception held at Schloss Herrnsheim in 1985 was a highlight of a particularly special visit, and no-one who heard it will ever forget Richard and Pauline performing Rossini’s Cat Duet!
There have of course been various panics over the years, but somehow we have got through. A complete electrical failure during the first Chamber Choir concert in the Liebfrauenkirche could have been a disaster as although some light was soon restored, the organ remained silent, but with the help of a handy tuning fork the choir, undaunted, continued unaccompanied. On another occasion a well-known soprano soloist demanded exactly two rolls and three bananas before she could go on, so some hasty shopping was required.
2009 saw the first joint concert, Worms, directed by Stefan Merkelbach and the Chamber Choir’s new conductor, John Gibbons, and for new members of both choirs, the first chance to enjoy this very special exchange. We met again in St Albans in 2011 and we are confident we will continue meeting, making music together and enjoying each other’s company, for many years to come.