The Melos Ensemble was founded by musicians who wanted to play chamber music scored for a larger ensemble in a combination of strings, winds and other instruments with the quality of musical rapport only regular groups can achieve. The Melos Ensemble played in variable instrumentation, flexible enough to perform a wide repertory of pieces. All its members were excellent musicians who held positions in notable orchestras and appeared as soloists. The founding members, namely Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), Cecil Aronowitz (viola), Richard Adeney (flute), and Terence Weil (cello) planned a group of twelve players, a string quintet and a wind quintet with harp and piano, that might be expanded by other players, to perform the great octets by Schubertand Mendelssohn, the septet by Beethoven, Ravel's Introduction and Allegro and the Serenade by Arnold Schoenberg. Neill Sanders (horn, a member for 29 years until 1979), and Adrian Beers (double bass) were members from the beginning. All these musicians stayed with the group for decades.
Other early members included Emanuel Hurwitz (leader 1956-1972), Ivor McMahon (second violin), William Waterhouse (bassoon), Osian Ellis (harp), James Blades (percussion), Lamar Crowson and Ernst Ueckermann (piano), Peter Graeme and Sarah Barrington (oboe), James Buck (horn), Edgar Williams (bassoon) and Keith Puddy (clarinet), expanded by Colin Chambers (flute and piccolo), Alan Hacker (bass clarinet), Eric Roseberry (piano), Leonard Friedman (violin), Kay Hurwitz (viola), William Bennett (flute), Stephen Pruslin (piano), Leonard Friedman (violin), Hilary Wilson (harp) and Timothy Brown (horn). In the opinion of William Waterhouse (writing in 1995), "it was the remarkable rapport between this pair of lower strings" (i.e. Terence Weil and Cecil Aronowitz) "which remained constant throughout a succession of distinguished leaders, that gave a special distinction to this outstanding ensemble."
The Melos Ensemble performed regularly at British and International Festivals, among others Warsaw,VENICE, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Bordeaux and theAldeburgh Festival, their first U.S. tour was in 1966. The group gave many BBC broadcasts, and made over 50 recordings, first with the publisher L'Oiseau-Lyre. Gervase de PeyerDIRECTED the extensive recording programme of the Ensemble for EMI.
EMI reissued in 2011 a selection from historical recordings, titled "Melos Ensemble – Music among Friends". The principal players were Richard Adeney (and William Bennett, flute), Gervase de Peyer (and Keith Puddy, clarinet), Peter Graeme (and Sarah Barrington, oboe), Neil Sanders (and James Buck, horn), William Waterhouse (and Edgar Williams, bassoon), Emanuel Hurwitz (and Kenneth Sillito, first violin), Ivor McMahon (and Iona Brown, second violin), Cecil Aronowitz (and Kenneth Essex, viola), Terence Weil (and Keith Harvey, cello), Adrian Beers (double bass), Osian Ellis (harp) and Lamar Crowson (piano).The ensemble was expanded for single works by Christopher Hyde-Smith (flute), Anthony Jennings and Stephen Trier (bass clarinet), Barry Tuckwell (horn),David Mason and Philip Jones (trumpet), Arthur Wilson and Alfred Flaszinski (trombone), Robert Masters (violin), Manoug Parikian and Eli Goren (violin), Patrick Ireland (viola), Derek Simpson (cello), Hilary Wilson (harp), Marcal Gazelle (piano), James Blades, Tristan Fry, Jack Lees and Stephen Whittaker (percussion), and singers Mary Thomas (soprano) and Rosemary Phillips (contralto). The collection of 11 CDs contains the works for large ensemble - six to thirteen players - for which the Melos Ensemble was founded, some composed for the ensemble:
Mátyás Seiber: Three Fragments from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a Chamber Cantata for Speaker, Chorus and Eight Instruments, with Peter Pears (Speaker) / Dorian Singers / Melos Ensemble London conducted by Matyas Seiber (1960)
Ravel: Introduction and Allegro / Poulenc: Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano / Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon / Francaix: Divertissement for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon / Divertissement for Bassoon and String Quartet EMI (1969)
Following the death of Ivor McMahon in 1972, and the departure of three other members, the group briefly disbanded in 1973, but was reformed in 1974 with eight of the original players. In the later period the following musicians were also among those playing for the ensemble: Hugh Maguire (violin), Thea King(clarinet, 1974–1993), Nicholas Ward (violin, from 1977), Sylvie Gazeau (principal violin for many years), Gwenneth Pryor (piano), Iona Brown (violin), Patrick Ireland (viola) and Keith Harvey (cello). In 1975 the Melos Ensemble presented its 25th anniversary concert in London. In 1982 the Melos Ensemble appeared in Graz in a retrospective of Egon Wellesz, playing his Oktett für Klarinette, Fagott, Horn und Streichquintett Op.67.
Composers created music for unusual groupings with the Melos Ensemble specifically in mind, leading in turn to the formation of similar chamber groups.Hans Werner Henze composed Kammermusik 1958 for tenor, guitar and eight solo instruments, for example. In that way, the Melos Ensemble hasDIRECTLY and indirectly influenced music for new combinations of chamber musicians in contemporary music.