The village of Jordans lies on the south-eastern edge of the Chiltern Hills between Beaconsfield and Chalfont St Giles.
Jordans Music Club was founded in 1943 by a number of musicians, including the viola-player Joyce Cook and the conductor Reginald Jacques, who had come to this peaceful Quaker village to escape the bombing of London. The formation of the Club was prompted by the success of a series of concerts organised in aid of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit and of a concert given in the Mayflower Barn at Old Jordans on 11th August 1942 with the support of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) by the Griller Quartet and James Phillips (cello). The programme consisted of a Haydn quartet and Schubert’s String Quintet in C. As well as being members of the star-studded RAF Symphony Orchestra the Griller Quartet were the official quartet to the RAF; they were billeted most conveniently at the White Hart, Three Households, barely a mile from Jordans. James Phillips was principal cellist of the orchestra; he had a slightly longer journey that evening - from Uxbridge where both the orchestra and the RAF Central Band were based.
The Club’s first season of concerts was given in the summer of 1944 and included performances by the Griller and Menges Quartets and by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten. This was to be the first of over seventy seasons of summer concerts by many of the finest national and international artists, not a few of whom returned several times.
Joyce Cook remained the Club Secretary for some forty years and for many of these the Club benefited greatly from her friendship with Emmy Tillett of the famous concert agency, Ibbs and Tillett. The list of artists who have appeared at the Club over the years is quite remarkable. Among quartets, the Griller, Busch and Amadeus ensembles stand out in the early years. Later years saw the legendary Smetana Quartet in Jordans three times and they returned as part of their farewell UK tour. More recently the Skampa Quartet made one of its first UK appearances here and the Berlin Philharmonia its very first; both of them and the Panocha Quartet from Prague have been re-invited at least once.
Pianists of the standing of Clifford Curzon, Rosalyn Tureck, John Ogdon, Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis come to mind as do such string players as Yehudi Menuhin, Josef Suk, Jaqueline du Pré, Steven Isserlis and Julian Bream. Leading wind-players heard here include Leon Goosens and Denis Brain while singers have included the two Elisabeths, Schumann and Schwarzkopf, - though not on the same evening! – Irmgard Seefried and Janet Baker. In addition to the Jacques Orchestra, outstanding ensembles have included the Morley College Choir conducted by Michael Tippett, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, London Winds, the Wind Ensemble of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Czech Nonet (the longest-established chamber ensemble in the world) and the Guarneri Piano Trio of Prague.
Two dates stand out in particular. In 1949, Pierre Fournier and Francis Poulenc, who had already appeared here twice as piano accompanist to Pierre Bernac, gave the first public performance in this country of Poulenc’s Cello Sonata. The Club has always made a point of engaging promising young musicians but none was surely more promising than the 20-year-old Simon Rattle who conducted a performance of Walton’s Façade in 1975.
The concerts have until recently taken place in the 17th century Mayflower Barn, thought by many to have been built with timbers salvaged from the ship that carried the Pilgrim Fathers to the New World. Indeed, the summer season was originally chosen for the concerts because the wooden construction of the Barn meant that the building could not be heated. During these months the Barn and its grounds have proved an idyllic setting for music-making.
The Mayflower Barn stands in the grounds of Old Jordans, adjacent to the Jordans Meeting House, and was until recently owned by a consortium of four Quaker meetings. The Meeting House, built in 1688, is one of the oldest remaining meeting houses in the country. Its burial ground contains, among many others, the grave of William Penn, the “proprietor” of Pennsylvania.
The village of Jordans, built alongside the hamlet of Old Jordans, is of much more recent origin. It was initiated in 1928 as a model village to be developed and run in accordance with Quaker principles. A significant amount of property in the village is still occupied by Quaker families or controlled by the Village Committee.
In 2005 the Society of Friends felt obliged to sell Old Jordans, and with it the Mayflower Barn. The Club has therefore moved its concerts to the Jubilee Hall in the neighbouring village of Seer Green.