Sunday Playlist: Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) And The Verse Anthem

Orlando Gibbons small captionedThe death of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625) in 1625 of what was probably a brain haemorrhage robbed England of one of its musical giants. He had a strong influence on the development of the English anthem while his secular music is also well worth listening to. A musician from a musical family Gibbons received his earliest training as a choirboy in 1596 in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge at a time when his brother Edward was master of choristers there. Just seven years later he began his career at the Chapel Royal.

Types of Anthems

Gibbons’ church music can be divided into two types there are the settings of the texts for the ordinary offices such as the canticles for morning and evening prayer and there are his anthems which can be further subdivided in ‘full’ and ‘verse’ type anthems. The ‘full’ anthems as you might expect from the name are settings for the full choir and in many of them you can hear echoes of Tallis. This is because Gibbons considered Tallis’ music to be the epitome of English polyphony and sought to build upon his illustrious predecessor’s achievements. I’ve picked Gibbons’ ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ which you can hear below  as a good example of one of his ‘full’ anthems.  .

Verse Anthems

The verse anthems consist of solos for one of more voices interspersed with short full choral passages that either amplify the solo material. This second type of anthem probably originated in the consort songs performed during the choirboy plays that were popular during the late sixteenth-century and in which the ‘Children of the Chapel’ regularly appeared. Gibbons’ early death meant that the verse anthem of which he was the prime exponent never quite achieved the influence it might have had. But that doesn’t mean that Gibbons’ innovative form wasn’t influential – far from it, for from it Henry Purcell, Maurice Green, and William Boyce took the verse anthem and developed it further so that for a century and a half after his death the verse anthem form which he developed and promoted became the basis of many English cathedral anthems.

I’ve picked Gibbons’ verse anthem ‘Thou God of wisdom’ as a good example of the verse anthem. The performers are Winchester Cathedral Choir conducted by David Hill, with Stephen Farr (organ), and trebles Jack Standen and Benjamin Walton. I hope you’ll enjoy their singing and will leave the last word on verse anthems to Charles Butler who in his ‘Principles of musik’ published in 1636 praised the verse anthems as follows:

a solemn Anthem, wherein a sweet melodious treble, or countertenor, singeth single, and the full quire answereth (much more when two such single voices, and two quires interchangeably reply one to another, and at the last close all together) … maketh such a heavenly harmony, as is pleasing unto God and Man.

Source:  Charles Butler, ‘Principles of musik’  London 1636


Text: Hosanna to the son of David & Thou God of Wisdom

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Hosanna to the son of DavidThou God of Wisdom

Hosanna to the son of David.

Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Blessed be the king of Israel.

Blessed be the kingdom that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest places.

Hosanna in the highest heavens.   
Adapted from Matthew 21: 9

Thou God of wisdom and of might,

Whose goodness cannot be expressed,

Preserve our king in happy plight.

Confound his hateful foes professed,

That he may prosper through whose reign

Such happiness we do obtain.

So shall we sing due songs of praise

Unto thy holy name always.

Be thou his castle of defence

To whom he may for succour fly,

And through thy wonted providence

Defend him from all treachery.

Let his escaped dangers past

Make all his enemies aghast.

So shall we sing due songs of praise

Unto thy holy name always.

Preserve our queen, our prince protect,

Possess him with thy gifts of grace.

Teach him thy laws, his heart direct

Thy heavenly wisdom to embrace.

Bless all their royal progeny

With health and long prosperity.

So shall we sing due songs of praise

Unto thy holy name always. Amen.

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