Birmingham Triennial Music Festival

longest-running classical music festival (1784–1912)

The Birmingham Triennial Musical Festival was a festival of classical music that used to be held in Birmingham, England. It was started in 1784 and continued until 1912. “Triennial” means that it happened once every three years.

Birmingham Town Hall where the festival was held from 1837
Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, Town Hall 1834
Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, Town Hall 1845



The first music festival was held for three days in September 1768. It helped to raise money to complete the new General Hospital on Summer Lane. Another festival was held in 1778 to get more money. The hospital opened in September 1779.

From September 1784 the festival was held every three years. It continued to raise money for the hospital.

The church and theatre where the festival was held became too small, so in 1834 they built Birmingham Town Hall which had much more room.

Many famous musicians performed at the festival. In 1837 Felix Mendelssohn conducted a performance of his oratorio St. Paul, played the organ, and played the piano part in the first performance of his Piano Concerto No. 2 which had been especially commissioned by the Festival. In the next festival he played his Piano Concerto No. 1. In 1846 (a year before he died) the festival commissioned him to write his oratorio Elijah. It was a huge success. He was paid 200 guineas. Elijah was played at every festival after that.

The festival commissioned other composers to write works, these included: Arthur Sullivan, Max Bruch, Charles Gounod and Antonín Dvořák.

The great conductor Hans Richter was made principal conductor in 1885.

Edward Elgar wrote several works for the festival. In 1900 his oratorio The Dream of Gerontius was given its first performance. In 1903 he performed The Apostles, and 1906 The Kingdom. In 1912 he wrote The Music Makers. The principal conductor for 1912 was Henry Wood.

The 1909 and 1912 festivals lost a lot of money and they could not give any money to the hospital. This was soon followed by World War I, so the festival stopped and did not continue after the war.