The Bach Choir is one of the oldest and most respected amateur choirs in the world. In the 19th century, several choral groups were founded in London, of which the Handel Society (1882-1939), the Royal Choral Society (founded 1871), and the Bach Choir were the longest lived.
In 1875, A.D. Coleridge organized a large choir to participate in the British premiere of Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor under the direction of Otto Goldschmidt. The performance, held in 1876 at St. James' Hall, was such a resounding success that the choir continued in existence as a formal organization. The title "Bach Choir" was chosen in honor of the occasion rather than a mark of its intended repertory; its by-laws states that its purpose is "The practice and production of choral works of excellence of various schools." Queen Victoria granted the Bach Choir royal patronage in 1879 and successive monarchs have been its patron ever since. The Prince of Wales is the patron of the choir.
In 1885, noted composer Charles Villiers Stanford became its conductor. He remained until 1902, during which time he added to the choir's regular activities a part of three-day festivals of Bach's music. Subsequent conductors were Walford Davies (1902-1907), Hugh Allen (1907-1920), Ralph Vaughan Williams (1920-1926), Adrian Boult (1926-1932), and Reginald Jacques (1932-1960).
In 1960, David Willcocks became the musical director. Remaining until the end of the season in 1998, he was the longest serving leader of the choir and brought it to its highest level of proficiency and prestige. He was known for innovative and wide-ranging programming and for leading many outstanding recordings. He took the choir on frequent international tours, including trips through Europe and to the United States, Hong Kong, Israel, and New Zealand. In 1998, the choir announced as Willcocks' successor the noted organist and choral conductor David Hill, who had already worked with the chorus and earned its respect.
In 1997, the choir visited South Africa, becoming the first foreign choir to visit the country following the end of the cultural boycott that was lifted after the abolition of apartheid. The choir also organized a major celebration of the 300th anniversary of Bach's birth in 1985 and in 2000 commemorated the 250th anniversary of his death. It was invited to take place in major events such as the opening of the new Royal Festival Hall and the 1995 celebrations of the 50th anniversaries of V-E and V-J Day.
Although it remains a choir of amateur singers, its has high standards for membership and as such is arguably the most prestigious amateur choir in the world. It sings over 20 concerts ever season, appearing in the major London concert venues and with the best professional orchestras and singers.