Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Record of John

One of my favourite "verse-anthems" from my days singing at the Toronto Oratory is The Record of John by Orlando Gibbons. Gibbons was born in Oxford in 1583 and was one of the last great polyphonic English composers amongst the likes of Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Robert Parsons, John Tavernal, Robert Sheppard and others. The verse-anthem was an English creation of short scriptural passages for the emerging protestant services after the "revolution" and rebellion of Henry VIII and his successors. It uses a soloist and choir in a verse (soloist) anthem (choir) format and there is usually an accompaniment of viols or organ. Of course, that does not take away from the beauty of the music and its appropriate use today. Gibbons would have written for the Holy Mass had it not been illegal by his time at the pain of death.

The original score is for a counter-tenor soloist, five-voice choir and two viols, a little beyond the scope of most church choirs in the Catholic Church of today. In the Usus Antiquior, this anthem could be used as a processional perhaps, but of course, not in a Sung or Solemn Mass and given that it is not connected with the liturgical action of the Offertory or Communion, it cannot be used in a Read Mass with Music. However, the reformed liturgy, the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite does give this flexibility. It could be used on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist or in the Ordinary Form on the Second or Third Sundays of Advent. The challenge of the counter-tenor or alto soloist, the viols, the five voices caused me to spend some time arranging Gibbons' great work in a simpler and more accessible format. Being a Bass myself, I moved the solo line to the Bass. Now, I'm not sure what Gibbons would think of this, but it always made more sense to me anyway. I created an organ underlay using all of Gibbons original notes and a violin solo and formulated the choral anthem into two and sometimes three voices, this was done for a small choir I had formed at my local parish at the time. In a casual email conversation with the Editor at CanticaNova Publications the subject had come up and he asked me to send it to him. Imagine then my surprise, when he wrote me to advise that they wished to publish it.

I won't give up my day job, but every June it's fun to get that envelope in the mail.

Now for your enjoyment, here is Gibbons original, though you will need to stop or lower the player above.

A blessed Advent to you.


From George said...

Congratulations Vox. Happy publishing for your musical arrangement.

Vox Cantoris said...

Thank you George; and thank you for your poetry and Carmelite spirituality!