December 2018

I was glad

st margaret’s church, westminster abbey

Gabrieli             Jubilate Deo
Victoria             Kyrie & Gloria Missa Laetatus sum
Purcell               I was glad
Victoria            Credo Missa Laetatus sum
Britten              Jubilate
Victoria            Sanctus, Benedictus & Agnus Dei Missa Laetatus sum
Parry                 I was glad
Monteverdi    Magnificat primo à 8

Laetatus sum (‘I was glad’) is a choral introit traditionally sung as an anthem at the coronation of a British monarch. The text is from Psalm 122. The Jubilate Deo, from Psalm 100, is a song of thanksgiving, translated in the King James Bible as ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord’. As one of the most important liturgical psalms, it has given rise to many choral settings.

The Venetian Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) studied in Munich with Lassus before succeeding his uncle, Andrea Gabrieli, at San Marco in 1585. His works were hugely influential, amongst others on his pupils Monteverdi and Schütz. Although untypical of Gabrieli in the sense that it is not polychoral, the joyous madrigalean 8-part Jubilate Deo, with its constantly shifting divisions and subdivisions into antiphonal duets, trios and quartets, is one of his most attractive and often-performed works. The text is compiled mainly from the psalms, in the manner of a litany. The second line, ‘Deus Israel conjungat vos’ – taken from a nuptial blessing in the Book of Tobit – brings to mind the Doge casting a ring into the sea to symbolise Venice’s union with it and suggests that the piece (along with the composer’s two other settings of the same text) was associated with a particular Venetian festival such as the Ascension.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) was the greatest Spanish Renaissance composer and one of the leading figures of church music. His music ranks with the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance and is characterised by a direct emotional appeal. The monumental 12-part Missa Laetatus sum is set for three choirs and is of great brilliance, richness and variety. Mixed vocal and instrumental performances were very likely in its time, and tonight the three choirs are accompanied by organ, strings and brass, highlighting the polychoral aspects and lending a contrast of colour.

Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695) composed the full anthem I was glad for the coronation of James II in April 1685, where it was sung at the entrance of the king and queen at the start of the service. Scored for modest SSATB forces, it was for a long time mistakenly ascribed to John Blow. The opening section is in rich five-part harmony with joyful dotted figurations on ‘glad’, after which the various tribes of the Lord appear one by one, joining in homophonic thanks. The mood briefly alters to one of supplication, before the lighter, triple-time metre returns with the hope of peace and plenteousness. An exultant Gloria follows. The compositional highlight is the setting of ‘world without end’: here a four-note descending scale is first treated conventionally and then in inversion (ascending) and inverted augmentation (half speed). Finally, the S and A parts take the theme in both original and inverted versions and the tenors in inverted augmentation, all of which appears over a magnificent final double augmentation in the bass.

Benjamin Britten (1913-76) acknowledged choral music as the bedrock of British musical life in centuries past. His Jubilate Deo, a setting of Psalm 100, was composed in 1961 for St. George’s Windsor at the request of the Duke of Edinburgh. It is a spirited, joyous work, with an organ part full of runs and detached, staccato birdsong. The choral parts are antiphonal, with S/T answered by A/B in not-quite unison. A middle section is more hushed and introspective, but the joyful music quickly returns and the piece ends with a brilliant ‘Amen’.

I was glad, by Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918), was commissioned for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 and is considered by many to be the greatest ceremonial anthem ever written. At its first performance, the signal indicating the arrival of the King was mistakenly given too early and the anthem was sung before the procession could begin, thus necessitating an almost immediate second performance. Parry revised the introductory bars radically for the 1911 coronation of George V, to make it much more arresting in effect.

Claudio Monteverdi left four settings of the Magnificat in his two great anthologies of church music. The magnificent Magnificat I is from the Selve morale e spirituale of 1640 dedicated to the Empress Elenora. It is the only setting for double choir, although the A2 and T2 parts are lost and so have been reconstructed by various editors. The work is scored for ‘eight voices and two violins and four viole [violas or cellos] or four trombones’. The first two verses have contrasting passages for soloists and full ensemble and the middle section consists of solo sections for pairs of voices interspersed with a warlike choral refrain. The final two verses, depicting God’s mercy, are run together in one of Monteverdi’s most exquisite passages.