My interest in the festivals started several years ago when I came upon a volume of programmes for the 1864 festival in a Warwick bookshop. I was quite surprised to see that Adelina Patti was one of the singers there. I had not realised that the festivals attracted singers of such a calibre and this led me to look into the festivals in more detail. I have subsequently collected several volumes of programmes and have an almost complete run from 1852 to 1912. I am missing the 1870 and 1903 volumes.
My volumes together with those at the Birmingham and Cadbury Research Libraries, have been the main source of information for the lists of singers etc. Please see the Cadbury Research Library page for more information on the volumes held by them.
It seems that programme volumes were printed prior to the festival with soft covers and contained programmes for the concerts and a prospectus. Copies of these were either purchased by or given to local dignitaries and others who intended to attend several concerts. Individual programmes for each concert were also printed and on sale on the day of the concert. Both individual programmes and the first edition of the programme volume are quite scarce.
Subsequent to the festival another programme volume was issued which was bound more lavishly. These contained details of donations, amount raised during the festival, plans of the Town Hall, details of stewards etc, etc.
All programmes include wordbooks, which provide a record of the solo performers engaged. Some were quite large with over 40 pages. From 1826, documentation for each Festival includes lists of the choral and orchestral ensembles (not 1843 or 1846): where no prospectus is held, this information is given generally given in the programme for the first performance. Between 1826 and 1834 and from 1855, a list of the Patrons is also given. From 1888, the prospectuses begin with a brief historical introduction to the Festival.
From 1855, the programmes begin to introduce historical and descriptive notes. From 1885, these are increasingly analytical and include detailed musical examples. Such notes are variously contributed by Joseph Bennett, C.A. Berry, George Grove and A.J. Jaeger.
From 1864 onwards the volumes include a detailed listing of performers and prospectus at the beginning.