Three Choirs Festival. Name for the annual meeting of the 3 (Cath.) Choirs of Gloucester, Hereford, and Worcester, held by rotation in these cities. First was held probably in 1715 with aim of alleviating poverty of widows and orphans of clergy in the 3 dioceses. Early meetings lasted 2 days, and in 18th cent. mus. of Handel was frequently perf. In 1737 William Boyce was engaged for Worcester as chief cond. of fest. Messiah was first oratorio to be perf. complete in the caths. (Hereford 1759, Worcester 1761, Gloucester 1769). In 19th cent., ‘star’ singers became chief attractions and the mus. of Mendelssohn the staple fare. In 1875 the church authorities at Worcester refused use of the cath. because the perfs. could not be equated with the idea of worship. In the 2nd half of the 19th cent. the fests. became a leading forum for Eng. oratorios etc., from Sullivan's The Prodigal Son (1869) to Parry's Job in 1892. In 1878 one of the orch. violinists was a local man, Edward Elgar (a Catholic), who was to become the prin. figure at the fests. from 1902 to 1933, although few of his works were specially written for the 3 Choirs. Exceptions were Froissart (1890), Lux Christi (1896), and the Te Deum and Benedictus (1897). The organists at this period, Ivor Atkins ( Worcester), G. R. Sinclair (Hereford), and Herbert Brewer (Gloucester) were Elgar's friends, Sinclair being immortalized as G.R.S. in the Enigma Variations. Elgar cond. Gerontius at Worcester, 1902; thereafter his conducting of his own major works was the foundation of the programmes each year. Other composers who came to be assoc. with the 20th-cent. fests. were Coleridge-Taylor, Walford Davies, Vaughan Williams (several of whose works had f.ps. at the fests., e.g. Tallis Fantasia, 5 Mystical Songs and Hodie), Holst (Choral Fantasia), Bliss, Howells, Finzi, etc. Sibelius's Luonnotar had f.p. at Gloucester in 1913, and Kodály's Psalmus Hungaricus was cond. by the composer there in 1928. There were no fests. 1914–19 but they resumed at Worcester in 1920. A similar break occurred 1939–45. Since 1945 the programmes, both sacred and secular, have been much expanded and a more adventurous policy has been followed. For many years the LSO led by W. H. Reed provided the chief orch. support, but the RPO, CBSO, RLPO and BBC Philharmonic have lately been engaged. Works by John McCabe, Geoffrey Burgon, Philip Cannon, Malcolm Williamson, Jonathan Harvey, Gordon Crosse, Maxwell Davies, Christopher Steel, Paul Patterson, William Mathias, Howard Blake, and others have been commissioned or performed, and the programmes have been broadened to include Mahler's 8th Sym., David Fanshawe's African Sanctus, and Walton's Belshazzar's Feast (for many years regarded as too ‘barbaric’ for these surroundings).