Written by Ian Lamont
A concert of mostly Coronation music, sung by the choir of St John’s Church, was well received by a sizeable audience on Saturday 23rd June 2023. Those attending even had the chance to join in at the end.
The concert’s title was The Coronation of a British Monarch (who’s also a bit German!), inspired not only to celebrate the recent crowning of King Charles III in May but coronation music through the ages. The repertoire featured music spanning nearly 350 years, dating back to the Coronation of James II in the late 17th Century.
The quirky title also allowed the inclusion of music by German composers JS Bach and Johannes Brahms, an acknowledgment of the Royal Family’s lineage.
Both halves of the concert began with pieces called I Was Glad. The text accompanies the monarch’s entrance into Westminster Abbey and was formalised in 1662 as part of the Book of Common Prayer.
Drawn from selected verses of Psalm 122, it has been used at Westminster Abbey coronations since 1626, when King Charles I was crowned. However, the concert’s opening version by Henry Purcell was first used at the coronation of King James II in 1685. The more modern version, by Hubert Parry, was commissioned for King Edward VII’s coronation in 1902 and has been used at all three subsequent coronations.
As Clement Hetherington, the St John’s Director of Music, told the audience in one of his speeches before each piece, when the work was first performed, the Abbey’s music director Sir Frederick Bridge misjudged the timing. He had finished the anthem before the King had arrived and he and the choir had to repeat it when the right moment came.
The first half also featured Rejoice in the Lord Alway, an anonymous 16th Century item, and O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht by Bach. This featured an accompaniment on the recorder, beautifully played by a recent choir recruit Celia Lister, working alongside our highly accomplished organised Robert Cooper, whose association with St John’s stretches back to being a chorister as a child.
To end the first half, the choir sang Charles Stanford’s Te Deum in B-flat, an anthem that many might have heard at a St John’s choral evensong. However, with the choir singing where the front altar would normally be instead of their usual place in the choir stalls, the 80-strong audience enjoyed a totally different experience to that of hearing the music in services.
The second half featured SS Wesley’s most famous work, Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace, which has been sung on many state occasions including at the coronation of the late Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. After Brahms’s Geistliches Lied - a challenging work featuring a double cannon where the tenors follow the sopranos and the basses follow the altos, but a nine apart - the concert concluded with Handel’s grand and popular opus, Zadok the Priest.
At least, that’s where the audience thought the concert would end. They were then invited to join the choir in singing The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune, arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams, another item originally composed to begin Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
About St John's Choir
The St John’s Church choir comprises a thriving section of juniors, aged 6-12, senior youngsters up to 18 and adults. Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings. They sing regularly in services on Sunday mornings and at semi-regular evensongs, as well as periods of major festivals such as Christmas and Easter.
They have also performed several concerts under the current Director of Music. If you would be interested in joining please email firstname.lastname@example.org