Thursday, June 5, 2008

Orlando Gibbons

Today we mark the anniversary of the death of Orlando Gibbons in 1625. I usually prefer birthdays (except all those saints who are commemorated for their deaths) but Gibbons's birthday is unrecorded. His christening date was December 25, 1583, but I think I'll be busy on that anniversary.

Gibbons remains one of the most acclaimed of all English composers, even outside the realm of church music. During his time as organist at the Chapel Royal, and later at Westminster Abbey, he composed for keyboard and stringed instruments in addition to his well-known church anthems. A hymnbook first published in 1623, The Hymnes and Songs of the Church, contains several tunes by Gibbons, some of which are still sung today.

Peace, perfect peace, above the whole world's din?
The voice of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus' bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus' keeping we are safe and they.

Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, who sits upon the throne.

Peace, perfect peace, death foll'wing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

Edward Henry Bickersteth, 1875; alt.
SONG 46 (10.10)
Orlando Gibbons, 1623

SONG 46 was originally matched to the hymn Drop, drop slow tears but has been used for others since then. The hymn tunes of Gibbons have been known by various names over the years, thanks to fanciful hymnal editors, but today they are generally titled as written, with a number such as SONG 46.

You can go to You Tube for a recent performance of Gibbons's setting of the Te Deum in English.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

Interesting, I've never seen (or sung) "Peace, Perfect Peace" set to anything but PAX TECUM. The first line here differs from the "in this dark world of sin" I'm used to.

Leland aka Haruo

Can Bass 1 said...

Ah, Orlando Gibbons! What a pity that the sentiments contained in his setting of 'The Silver Swan' are not shared by a great many of my colleagues in the choir!

C.W.S. said...

Though I suppose you wouldn't want the choir's voices "unlocked" only as their death approached. (I had to go look up the words).

As for different tunes: while I do like mixing up text/tune combinations (as with today's Stainer tune), I have never sung this hymn to anything but the Gibbons tune. Differences in denomination/tradition - one not better or worse than another, except perhaps in personal taste.