Tonus Peregrinus is a vocal ensemble consisting of a core of a dozen singers and a conductor. The vocalists sing a cappella, offering a repertory that is broad but generally focusing on the early and the modern; that is, on Medieval and Renaissance-era, as well as on twentieth and twenty first century works. The group's recordings have appeared on the Naxos and Hyperion labels.
Tonus Peregrinus was founded at New College, Oxford University, in 1990 by composer and musician Antony Pitts, then a student at the college. He has led the group since its founding and written many works performed and recorded by the ensemble, including the antiphon O Wisdom of God (1991), The Lord's Prayer (1997), and numerous hymns and choral works.
In 2006, the eight singers were sopranos Joanna Forbes and Rebecca Hickey, altos Kathryn Oswald and Alexander L'Estrange, tenors Benjamin Rayfield and Alexander Hickey, and basses Francis Brett and Nick Flower. The group has performed a limited schedule of concerts over the years and each of the members has managed successful singing and teaching careers apart from their work in the ensemble. The name Tonus Peregrinus was derived from an ancient psalm tone used in the early Christian church, said to have a Jewish liturgical source. It is conjectured that this melody may have been sung by Christ and the Apostles at the Last Supper.
In the 1990s Tonus Peregrinus toured the U.K. and occasionally appeared on radio broadcasts, generally meeting with success from both critics and audiences. But they did not attract a significant international following until the release of a CD in 2000 (available from Hyperion Records) containing Antony Pitts' 1998 work Seven Letters, as well as several smaller pieces by Pitts. As a result of its success the group was signed by Naxos, and its first effort for that label, the 2003 recording of Pärt's Passio, was given a Cannes Classical Award in 2004. It also became a best-seller, topping the BBC Music Magazine chart.
Thereafter, Tonus Peregrinus turned out a string of popular recordings on Naxos, including the Naxos Book of Carols (2004) and the 2006 issue of Adam de la Halle's Le jeu de Robin et de Marion. The ensemble's 2006 concert schedule included an appearance at the first English Music Festival in Oxfordshire, England, in October, to perform works from the Eton Choirbook.